A Week in the Life of a Graduate Student: Jessica Van de Kemp

 Jessica 2
One of the best things about these Week in the Life of a Graduate Student posts is that I learn so much about what our grad students are doing. Did I know PhD student Jessica Van de Kemp had just published a book? Not at all. Find out what else I didn’t know by reading her contribution to Words in Place. –JLH

In anticipation of Teacher Appreciation Week (May 4-8), I returned to my hometown of Bradford West Gwillimbury to visit the high school that I attended. Surprising some of my high school teachers and exchanging stories with them renewed my sense of purpose. I’m on the right course.

Keep going, that’s what they said. That’s what I want to say you. Keep doing what you love.

That night (April 29th), I went to a poetry reading at the BWG Public Library and Cultural Centre. I read from my new poetry chapbook, Spirit Light. I have two passions in my life, teaching and writing, and I have to do both to be happy. Having the winter term off from teaching allowed me to work on the poems for this project. After the reading, I donated a copy of my chapbook to the BWG Library’s Local Author Collection.



Sometimes I feel like I’m on a boat and I can’t see anything for miles. All there is is boat and water. Graduate school is like being told there’s land somewhere in the distance. But how do I sail to it? How do I stay on course?

For me, the answer is time management. It’s the beginning of the spring term, so I’m working on creating a task schedule. I need to pencil in time blocks for my classes, TA and SAGE meetings, teaching responsibilities, second-language study, and comprehensive area exam preparation. This schedule takes the form of printed calendar pages. This helps me stay on course.

I keep fluorescent post-it notes for my mental health must-dos, including visiting family and friends and working on creative writing projects. This helps me sail.

These practices stem from lessons that my high school teachers taught me:

  1. Learn how to time manage effectively. This involves learning when your optimal work period is (e.g. Do you write more efficiently in the morning or in the evening?) and which work environment best suits you (e.g. Do you work better in social spaces or in silent spaces?).
  2. Learn how to manage your stress levels. This involves learning how to read your body (e.g. How do you physically and mentally respond to stress?) and what kinds of things you can do to maintain good mental health (e.g. organize, socialize, etc).


I’ve started a new writing project. The poems are confessional. It’s the style that I started with in high school and the style that I want to return to.

I’m teaching again and my new group of ENGL 109 students are amazing. I can’t wait to help them achieve their goals as writers.

Graduate school is the hardest journey that I’ve ever been on. It’s easy to forget when you’re sailing on that boat what made you set out in the first place. It’s easy to sail off course.

But I want to keep going. I’m reminded that this journey isn’t mine alone. My family, friends, and teachers built for me my boat. I sail for them.


3 responses to “A Week in the Life of a Graduate Student: Jessica Van de Kemp

  1. Pingback: PhD Student Longlisted for Poetry Award |

  2. Pingback: What are the Grad Students doing? |

  3. Pingback: PhD student’s play to be performed |

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