When you come to SIPA, you are also part of the larger Columbia University community and have access to great resources. Here are three great resources, both free and paid, I took advantage of while at SIPA.
Physically located in Philosophy Hall and right over the Amsterdam Ave pedestrian walkway from SIPA, the Writing Center is a great place to grow your writing skills and have another set of eyes read over your writing. I didn’t use it my first semester, but I decided to use it more this remote fall semester.
You can reserve free weekly one-hour blocks to meet with a consultant and have them look over your writing. You can see from the website that a number of consultants have varying backgrounds in discipline and type of writing to help you. I’ve used the Writing Center to review personal statements for scholarships and fellowship, plan how to structure a policy paper, and attend workshops on the craft of writing.
Make sure to book appointments fast as undergrads tend to book them. And while you may think that you already have solid writing skills, the Writing Center is a great place to experiment with your writing to improve it further. Being able to write economically, clearly, and compellingly is perhaps one of the best skills you can leave SIPA with.
The ancient Romans had the phrase, mens sana in corpore sano: a healthy mind in a healthy body. It’s important to both take care of the body and mind in the stress of grad school. The final two resources will touch upon the mind and body, respectively.
There is often a stigma surrounding seeking counseling and psychological services. These are often rooted in cultural or personal beliefs. However, if you feel comfortable, CPS is available and a great resource. Grad school and life can be stressful, and CPS is here to help you. As part of your Columbia Health Fee, you have access to CPS for individual counseling sessions along with a broad range of support groups. I’ve taken advantage of the support groups during the remote semester.
COVID-19 afflicting the world, taking classes online, and not seeing friends can be mentally taxing. I’ve participated in several support groups including a procrastination workshop, mindfulness training, and goal setting programming. While taking these and other workshops would likely be expensive outside of school, I get to do them for free! They’ve really helped me find balance in this new normal and hearing from other students outside of SIPA has been really helpful. Some sessions have literally been guided meditations and they were a great break to find calm during the long Zoom days. It’s important to do the mental self-care work so you can keep preserving.
Staying physically active, whether taking classes in-person or remotely is very important to mental and physical well-being. The Dodge Fitness Center, located underground, is a great way to do a variety of activities. When in-person, I participated in Specialized Classes which are classes you pay for to get instruction. I bought a pass my fall and spring semester for Lap Swim to use the pool. While you can ordinarily use the pool during the open hours, those tend to get too crowded (I’ve heard 4-5 people to a lane). At lap swim, I usually had a lane to myself or would share with one other person, so it was money well-spent. There was also a coach on-hand to provide instruction and pointers. You can also buy classes in squash, fencing, and even kayaking (which I believe they do in the pool!). Unfortunately, the classes are only offered in-person and Dodge is indefinitely closed. But the classes are something to check out when it does open.
In the meanwhile, Dodge offers free and paid access for virtual fitness classes online. You can find free virtual well-being courses like yoga or pay for virtual group fitness classes with great access to classes like cardio kickboxing and body sculpt. When I did lap swim, I treated it like a SIPA class and put it into my schedule. That framework of treating it like an academic commitment and going after a class helped me stay on track to attend as many of my fitness classes as possible. Similarly, putting a virtual workout class in your calendar might help you stay on track.
These are just some of the resources I’ve taken advantage of both in-person and remote at SIPA and Columbia. Taking care of yourself both mentally and physically is very important, especially now as we stay socially distanced. If anything, taking courses remotely has saved me a lot of travel time in between buildings to use for services I usually didn’t feel I had time for, like the Writing Center or CPS. However, asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. 2 years at SIPA will go by fast. Columbia has these and many more resources to take advantage of to graduate as a better version of yourself, not only academically and professionally, but also mentally, spiritually, and physically.