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This GradHacker post was written by Amy Rubens, Indiana University PhD candidate in English, @ambulantscholar

During the first winter break of my graduate school career, I left campus for more than a month. When I returned, I discovered that all of my mail had been removed from my mailbox and had been returned to the senders courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service.

Image by flickr user drkfiber / Creative Commons licensed

Easy rookie mistake.

I was no stranger to being on my own and having my own place, but I was never far from my parents' house while I was an undergrad. I grew up in the same town where my undergraduate institution is located, and so in many ways, "going away" to college simply didn't apply, particularly when I moved off-campus. During that time, I spent holiday breaks visiting my parents' house by day but sleeping at "my" house at night.

As a result, I came to grad school not fully knowing what needs to be taken care ofbefore an extended absence from campus. Case in point: if you leave your tiny apartment mailbox unattended and make no arrangements for your mail to be held, the post office won't help you out. (And I can't blame them.)

As you wrap up the semester, start preparing for your departure from campus (if that's in the cards for you). "Winterize" your life. Even if you're leaving campus for a short period, planning ahead is important, and you should consider the needs of your academic, professional, and personal selves.

Some points to consider for winterizing your:

Academic life:

  • Return unneeded books to the library, and ask for a receipt; the semester's end is a popular time to return borrowed items, and sometimes, things can get lost in the shuffle.
  • Renew books you want to keep over break. While this might be accomplished online, some items might be subject to renewal limits or special regulations, and electronic renewal might not be permitted.

Professional life:

  • Empty your campus mailbox. A new year, a new start, right?
  • Clean out your side of the office refrigerator! Take home the reusable lunch containers lying around your work area, too.
  • Don't forget the plants. Ask someone to "adopt" your office greenery during break; alternatively, consider buying or making an automatic watering device.

Personal/home life:

  • Arrange for the postal service to hold your mail. You can opt to have your mail temporarily forwarded, but there are benefits and drawbacks to this service. (How could I forget this tip?)
  • Refill all necessary prescription medications. If you don't have refills remaining, call or visit your health care provider so that you can get new scripts before leaving.
  • Clean out the refrigerator. Donate, discard, or compost all perishables.
  • Pay rent and utilities for the month; consider paying next month's rent (or other bills) if you will be busy or traveling.
  • Ensure that your vehicle is running smoothly if you will be using it to travel. Check your oil and have it changed if it has been more than three months or 3,000 miles since it was last replaced. Check the pressure in your tires. At your local service center, ask to have all fluids (e.g., wiper fluid) topped-off and all belts/hoses checked.
  • Clean out your car if you are leaving it behind. Frozen, exploded soda cans create quite a mess. Remove all valuables from your vehicle, as well.
  • Lower but do not turn off your heat while you're away (if you're in a colder climate). Frozen pipes will create more of a headache than frozen soda cans. To prevent this plumbing nightmare, keep the thermostat at or above 55 degrees. The Red Cross lists more tips for preventing frozen pipes on their website.
  • Deter theft from your residence. Lock the windows and close the blinds while you're away. Purdue-Calumet provides more tips on their website; scroll down to find the "Before Leaving for Long Breaks" section. Additionally, inquire as to whether your institution offers theft-deterrent services for students living in off-campus housing. Marquette, for instance, has a Vacant House Watchprogram.

What reminders did I miss? Do you have a winterization "don't" to share?