Planning with Flexibility: Some tips for Grads at all levels

The fall 2016 semester is now in full swing, and aside from trying to get back into “the groove” of college working after a busy summer, continuing to plan with flexibility is something that I’ve decided to be more intentional about as a second-year Ph.D. student. There are a few specific academic, professional, and wellness practices that I try to maintain throughout the semester to remain accountable for my goals and matriculation progress:

  • Maintain a physical academic planner.

Although this may seem a bit “old school,” I still find any kind of personal planner to be important for life success. Usually, academic planners are used to maintain important assignment deadlines, campus events, and my daily check-list of things to complete by the end of the day, which typically ends somewhere around 9pm during the week. I also pencil in any meetings that I need to attend, their locations, and times as well. My planners are the 8 x 10 size that I usually buy from Target, but a free one, or smaller version can be just as good to maintain a routine and schedule.

  • Go to see some of your current and past professors/instructors during their office hours.

As a professional level graduate student, it is important that I maintain positive and productive relationships with faculty members at IU. I consider going to visit a professor during their office hours as a way to continue intellectual conversations about topics discussed in class, and also as a way to establish a working relationship for potential academic research opportunities. You could connect with a professor on a pre-dissertation proposal topic to get into an area-specific conference, or even just attend an event related to a mutual research interest that they may have access to, and are willing to share with you. The sky is the limit when we, graduate students, show interest and invest in relationships with former professors in our major concentration fields.

  • Lastly, pick and mark specific times on your academic calendar that you will workout, catch up with family and friends, and rest.

This last tip might seem obvious. Maybe even a bit idealistic, but it is important to make time for yourself and those that are valuable to you. The truth is, when you enter graduate school there is a greater expectation for your production. You are expected to generate and engage ideas in your area of interest, and also produce research topics that can add value to the current or inventive conversation about the subject matter that you’re passionate about discussing further in a dissertation project. The load can be heavy, which is why balance and flexibility are necessary. I schedule my time off, and my workouts. I also pencil in phone calls for friends and associates who want to connect every couple of months, and of course my family correspondence. Sometimes I miss my schedule by an hour or two, and occasionally I miss the schedule entirely. Usually, this happens towards mid-semester, or at the end when there are so many urgent items to complete at once. However, I do not stop trying to get it together, and to stay connected to my foundation. I make time for the people and things that are important to me. These are the relationships that keep me connected to the world as a human being.

So, if you are a current graduate student, do not fret. I encourage you to find a rhythm or routine that works for you. I would not necessarily freestyle graduate school in terms of not planning what you need to do, and also distinguishing the best times to get things done. You should be flexible to the demands of a given week, and adjust accordingly. This means, if it makes more sense for you to workout in the mornings before you start prepping for a night class, do that. If you need to work in visiting a past professor an hour before class, do so, and arrive on campus a couple of hours before with reading materials that might be required for the following week, in the event that you have to wait in the hall for your professor to finish up with a current student. These are just some practices that I’ve used, but I’m sure you catch my drift.

Remember: Plan ahead, be flexible, and enjoy this journey because it is ours to create and pave as the paths towards our deliberate success.