A Week in the Life of a Graduate Student: Salman Jivani

Super Mario, Princesses, and Zombies: this week in the life of a grad student guest post has it ALL. Thank you to Salman Jivani for making time to talk about his life in the UWaterloo English graduate program. If you want to know why Salman describes himself as shameless–or what Zombies and gardening have in common–read on.–JLH

To begin, I’d like to say that my week doesn’t look like the week of a typical grad student—I’m doing a part-time Masters while also working full-time as a Development Officer for the Faculty of Engineering. That being said, much of my time is consumed with the average activities of a grad school student: procrastination, napping, and plenty of skimming through texts. I feel like grad school is designed to teach students how to best manage their time—it’s about learning to balance school, work, and other highly valued activities. When you are required to read, more or less, the equivalent of a novel each week, it becomes imperative to create a schedule that allows you to be both efficient and effective: how do I use my time in such a way that I am able to perform well at school and work, while also meeting my personal goals and maintaining my social commitments? Generally speaking, I have a rather structured week. As most of my weeks are similar in terms of tasks I need to accomplish, I use the previous week as a template when planning the days ahead. With 168 hours in a week, my time is usually spent as follows:

Sleep: I spend at least 56 hours sleeping. Even as an undergraduate student, I placed a great deal of importance on making sure I get adequate sleep. As is the case with most people, I’ve noticed that the amount of sleep I get on a regular basis dictates my mood and energy; as a result, it effects my ability to productive.  I’ve often been told that the luxury of an 8-hour sleep won’t persist during my lifetime, so I’m going to cherish the 8 hours a day while I still can.

Working full time: Officially, I spend 40 hours a week working full time. Usually, this number is higher because of the nature of my work— a sizeable amount of my time is spent driving to and from meetings and meeting with interesting people. Much of my time driving is actually spent sitting idly in terrible Toronto traffic – I’ll often use this time to think about all the schoolwork that I have yet to do and plan out the rest of my day, motivated to get everything done as soon as I get home. It never really pans out that way, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

Working on my start-up: I recently started a software company called Cultivaid with two of my good friends. Cultivaid builds software that helps fundraisers maximize the number of dollars that they are able to raise by helping them better manage their relationships with donors; this is done by using algorithms to help prioritize donor interaction and analyze donor patterns. Yes, I just shamelessly plugged my startup. KW has a distinctly entrepreneurial spirit; it has been the perfect place to begin and grow a startup endeavour. Some days, I spend time at Communitech, building relationships and promoting our product. I also have ongoing discussions throughout the day with my team to ensure that we’re hitting our development goals and sticking to a predetermined schedule. Startup-related commitments take up a varied amount of my time, as the types of tasks that need to be accomplished are so diverse. On average, I spend about 15 hours per week here.

Playing video games: I don’t think I could function if I wasn’t able to unwind by shooting zombies or saving princesses. Naturally, as my workload fluctuates, so too does the amount of leisure time I have at my disposal. I would approximate that I spend about an hour gaming on a regular weekday; weekends allow for a lot more.

Masters-related work: I am currently enrolled in one course, which only demands 3 hours of my time per week in class – extremely reasonable. Last week I had a seminar in my ENGL 770 class that I had to prepare for and it was done in a two person group. I spent at least 8 hours working with my partner face to face preparing for this seminar, in addition to working for about 12 hours on my own. In total, last week I spent around 20 hours on schoolwork. I feel as though collaboration is critical in grad school. Everyone brings their own unique ideas and perspectives to the table and there is so much to learn from your peers. Everyone I’ve met has been remarkably bright, which makes it so that group work is a real collaboration and an intellectually enriching experience (not always the case as an undergrad). Schoolwork has always been a time-consuming task for me; I usually take an hour to do 45 minutes of work. Personally, I can’t read for a long period of time, so the second I get to the point where I’m re-reading the same passage for the fourth time because I’m staring up at the ceiling trying to determine whether or not that black dot is a bug (and I swear that I see it move every time I look away), is when I know that I’ve got to take a break. Sometimes I’ll walk around my house aimlessly, other times I’ll play some sort of video game that I know I can turn off after 15 minutes. I also think it’s important to take mini breaks to maintain mental clarity and keep the body and mind working in a relaxed, productive state.

Miscellaneous: This includes going to the gym, hanging out with friends and family, driving, watching tv shows, eating, and whatever else people generally do with their time. I started gardening in my backyard, so that’s been pretty cool.

Doing this Masters part-time has been a great experience for me because after taking some time off after my undergrad, I’m coming back to school because it’s something that I genuinely want to do, not because it’s expected of me. I also find that the way courses are structured for part-time students makes work-life balance achievable, which has been a wonderful experience. The downside of doing my Masters part-time is that at times, I don’t feel like I’m part of the grad student ‘ecosystem,’ if you will. I don’t have office hours, I don’t TA, and I don’t have the same hours as my classmates, so I haven’t built the same relationships that I would’ve been able to, had I been full time. However, as a full-time working adult, I feel confident that the positives definitely outweigh the negatives. I’m glad that I’m able to take part in this grad school journey at my own pace. To conclude, I was trying to think of how to end this blog post; I thought I’d end by saying something witty. Something witty.

Image credit: Waterloo Engineering Advancement Team’s 2015 CanBuild Entry


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