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#FOMO@Stanford: Making the Most of My Master’s Program

Two students talking
Apr 8 2014
Education, Events, Students

By Shannon Birk Jibaja, MA ‘13

Before beginning my intensive master’s program in the Graduate School of Education (GSE), I could not have anticipated the immense academic, professional, and personal growth I would undergo in three short quarters. Now that graduation is behind me, I’ve been reflecting on my experience: How did this all happen, where did I begin, and what was my plan?

Students talking

As an undergraduate I attended many academic, professional, cultural, and social events that crossed my radar. It was certainly a time of exploring my varied interests, but also a 4-year case study on “FOMO” (Fear Of Missing Out), a syndrome I expect many students experience. Consequently, when I came to Stanford as a master's student, I resolved to “stay focused” - to bury my head in my work and not look up until graduation, despite my great temptation to dive into Stanford’s countless opportunities. Despite this well-intentioned resolution, I quickly (and happily) learned that getting the most out of my year at Stanford would require a more holistic approach. 

During one of my first weekends at Stanford I attended the VPGE’s phenomenal Negotiation and Influence workshop. After meeting graduate students from other schools and learning more about negotiation and influence in 48 hours than I thought possible, I knew I needed to capitalize on my full-time student status by taking advantage of the opportunities afforded to Stanford graduate students.
To list all of the courses, individuals, workshops, and events that so dramatically shaped my year at Stanford would take up too much space. However, some specific experiences are worth highlighting and some general advice is most certainly in order (Note: these are in addition to my courses for my degree!):

Stay Informed

Make time (15 min./day, tops!) to know what’s going on at Stanford in areas that are most relevant to you. Figure out early on which emails you should regularly dig into and which you can fly through. I highly recommend reading the monthly “Grad Announce” email from the Graduate Life Office (GLO) (yes, they are long, but so good too!). This is one of the most important emails all graduate students receive, though I suspect it’s also one of the least read. Grad Announce aggregates upcoming professional and social opportunities from GLO, VPGE, GSC, and GSPB*, making it a valuable one-stop shop for us busy students.

Find Mentors and Trusted Peers

The former may sound intimidating and take you back to your awkward 15-year-old self, asking or being asked, “Will you be my boyfriend/girlfriend?” except now you’re using the word “mentor” and somehow feeling just as uncomfortable. I made a point of nurturing relationships with individuals I respect who were both at a higher level than me (e.g., professors, administrators) and on my level (fellow graduate students). Engaging in on-going conversations about where I was at, areas in which I wanted to grow, etc. was utterly essential and provided me with a diverse human accountability system. Even more valuable, I encountered some people who challenged me and were honest with me, even when it hurt. I made sure to have regular reencounters with those individuals and they have had a great impact on my life. 



Large group of students

Also, sign up with SAM (Stanford Alumni Mentoring), a stellar mentoring program organized by the CDC. My Stanford alumna mentor and I did bi-monthly Google Hangouts (she lived in Southern California) for the duration of my master’s program and this mentoring relationship was invaluable during my time as a graduate student.
Develop Emotional Intelligence
Learn about it and how to use it! I knew little about emotional intelligence before coming to Stanford, but was quickly thrown headfirst into the subject. The VPGE’s Quick Bytes-Using Emotional Intelligence with Fred Luskin was particularly powerful, as were workshops coordinated by my graduate program.
Know Your Strengths
What are your strengths? How are you already capitalizing on them and perhaps more importantly, underutilizing them? Taking the Strengths Quest assessment through the CDC was empowering as it prompted me to “reframe” and begin to appreciate some of my greatest strengths that I had either previously not acknowledged or undervalued.
Explore the
Take a class on designing your life! I took the pop-up class “Designing Life, Essentially” during spring quarter, which provided me with the time, space, and co-designers (i.e., fellow graduate students) to get a macro-view of my life. Equally important, it challenged me to grow more deeply in a few areas (as opposed to minimal growth in many areas) and live a more intentional life.

Students graduating

Networking and Informational Interviewing
If these words are intimidating or confusing, then it’s time to dig in! The CDC and other careers centers and units (e.g., the GSE’s EdCareers), offer workshops on how to network and conduct informational interviews. The CDC even puts on workshops in which students can practice conducting informational interviews with Stanford alumni – it doesn’t get any easier than that! Hearing others’ life and career stories were some of my most insightful experiences as I learned about them and myself.

In conclusion, though my time at Stanford was more focused than my undergraduate years (and briefer!), I still battled with FOMO throughout the year, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. I encourage you to get to know yourself: Where do your natural talents lie? What do you enjoy doing? When are you happiest? What are your top priorities? No, you can’t do everything, but honesty, courage, and discipline will take you a long way in getting the most out of your invaluable time at Stanford.
Originally published in the Autumn2014VPGE News & Notes; photos courtesy of Shannon Birk Jibaja, VPGE