5 Essential Pieces of the MSA Routine

Humans are creatures of habit. After a stimulating, busy, and successful summer and start of fall at the Institute for Advanced Analytics, I’ve found that MSA students are no exception. In a program as intensive as this one, it’s essential to establish a routine that works, and then stick to it. Everyone’s routine looks different in terms of both content and timing, but these are five priorities that I think could benefit all MSA students.

1 – Stay active

There are plenty of ways to do this: go to Carmichael Gym on main campus, go for a short walk during your lunch hour to Lake Raleigh, or even play a sport with your classmates.

Man at gym near weights.

During hours when we’re not in class or occupied by other work, I’ve spotted my classmates playing ping pong on the Institute’s table, forming IM sports teams, or running games of pickup basketball or soccer. I even know of some who love a morning or evening cycle (on two wheels or one). Getting some sort of physical activity at least a couple times per week is a great way to release some pent-up energy from the day, ensure a better night’s sleep, and relieve stress.

2 – Do something you enjoy

Speaking of stress relief… don’t be afraid to make some time to do something that you truly enjoy. Destressing is necessary and productive as long as you’re still scheduling enough time to complete your other tasks. Maybe the thing you enjoy also happens to include physical activity. That’s great! Knocking out these two birds with one stone will help you to save time and increase your efficiency. For me, lifting weights and playing sports are things that I truly enjoy. Others may enjoy other activities like playing video games, making art of some kind, or even working on an analytics-focused side project. Spending a little time on these things helps my brain to feel clearer, and I find myself more focused and motivated when I return to my work.

3 – Remember to eat

This may seem silly, obvious, or trivial, but it is incredibly important. When I get exceptionally busy, which happened a few times over the summer, I find myself skipping breakfast to sleep in, working through lunch, or forgetting to eat dinner while pushing to meet a midnight deadline. As a result, my physical health declines, and I become less mentally sharp. As a graduate student, resources like time to cook or grocery shop and money to spend at restaurants are certainly scarce, but budgeting for these can make your life a lot better.

Four meals packed for lunches.

I now meal prep my lunches and dinners for the entire week on Sunday mornings so I don’t have to spend too much time cooking during my busier weekdays. I’ve gotten used to lunchtime meetings with my team where we discuss our project status while enjoying a meal together. I even eat a quick breakfast while I drive to the Institute every day so I am energized for my morning classes. Eating is an easy thing to overlook when juggling a busy schedule, but I highly recommend prioritizing it so you can optimize your body’s ability to complete your other tasks.

4 – Take some time to reflect

I have learned that honest self-reflection is almost required to get the most out of the program. The MSA curriculum encourages you to think about what goals you have, what you hope to achieve, what kind of job you could see yourself in, and how you want to brand yourself, among other things. Of course, these thoughts take time, but I often find myself thinking about them during short moments of free time throughout the day. When I’m lying in bed at night, driving around town, or walking the aisles of the grocery store, I reflect on these things and jot down some notes as soon as I have a chance. The natural next step is then to think about how well you are achieving your goals, how you’re making progress, what you’ve learned, what you could do better, and what you should continue doing. This cycle of introspection, reflection, and serious thought about yourself is productive and conducive to more learning. 

5 – Stay in touch with your support network

With everything else in your schedule, you may be too busy to spend long periods of time with all of the people in your life. You may not get home to see your family as much. Your friends from a previous endeavor like school or work will likely see less of you. Your pets may even miss you while you’re away at the Institute on particularly long days. While you may not have as much time as you want, make sure that you don’t ignore these relationships. Your support network is what helped you get to where you are and will likely continue to support you on each subsequent step in your journey. Taking a couple minutes every day to send them a quick text or have a quick chat with them on the phone to catch up, tell them how you’re doing, and ask about their life will ensure that these relationships last despite the difficult strains of a busy graduate student lifestyle.

Young man and woman posing for the camera

In short, MSA students have a lot on their plates, but making time for a few essential activities like the ones I’ve outlined can allow you to be more efficient, productive, and successful in completing all of your important tasks.

Columnist: Ethan Scheper