Dissertation Grind

For this post, I am sharing my experience about the dissertation grind! I officially started my dissertation in December 2018, and have submitted one chapter so far. What has become evident for me is how different it feels to be in this particular phase of my academic journey. While I have been a doctoral student for four years now, it really all leads up to this point. It feels great to have advanced to this part of my journey as it signals that the finish line is getting a little bit closer, but it also means that there is so much more work to be done by me and me alone. While you are taking classes there is a certain sense of community because you are reading and discussing the same readings and topics with others. However, when working on your dissertation, it is mainly you (and your advisor every couple of weeks). As such, you have to re-learn how to navigate your space.

The dissertation journey is very different from other academic experiences. While taking courses, you often complete readings and then write a final paper in which you receive a grade a few weeks later. When working on your dissertation, your submission is never complete on the first submission and you have to work your way through the revision process. Simply put, dissertation writing is completely different than coursework writing. For this reason, it helps to connect with others going through the same process. This semester I joined a dissertation writing group which provides a time and space for me to work and also connect with others who are in a similar place. Whether you join a formal group that meets weekly as I did, or create your own writing group with friends, I definitely find this to be a beneficial tool that is allowing me to make progress through the dissertation grind.

Fall is Here!

As you can see from the photo, fall has arrived in Bloomington, Indiana! The IUB campus truly offers some breathtaking views during this time of the year. In this post, I will highlight where I am academically at this point in the semester–Week 11–so that you can get a sense of the workload that you may experience should you attend IU.

I am currently taking three doctoral education courses and the end is in sight for all three. In the past, this has not typically occurred for another week or two, but I am ahead of the game. In my online course, I have already completed my final paper which is not due for another month. I appreciate how, especially in online courses, I can usually tackle end-of-course assignments fairly early. For my in-person courses, I have a final paper that I still need to begin and just a few minor assignments. I am in a great position for the remainder of the semester and will not have to do too much work during Thanksgiving break which is nice! I am also taking advantage of IU’s excellent art scene this semester. This Friday, I am attending the Hansel and Gretel opera. Next weekend, I am attending the Potpourri of the Arts produced by the African American Arts Institute. Overall, this has been a pretty enjoyable and doable fall semester. Enjoy the lighter semesters when they come along because this is not always the case!


Make Time for Good Habits

Even though this is my 4th year in a doctoral program, I was recently reminded of the importance of self-care. Over the summer, I found myself staying faithful to a good exercise routine and participating in the free cycling course at the SRSC. Once summer came to its inevitable end, my workouts stopped. They did not slow down or gradually decrease, I mean they completely stopped. This was partially due to my schedule and also not wanting to make trips to campus on days that I did not have to be there. However, my main reason for not working out was that I wanted to relax during the little free time I had instead during the first month of the semester. While I possibly saved myself some aches and pains in the moment, I lost all of the benefits that come along with working out regularly. After taking over a month off from the gym, I recently returned and am trying to get into a new rhythm for this semester. Due to scheduling conflicts, I will not be able to have one workout partner this semester, but it looks like I will be able to piece together some sort of routine where I can lift with friends. This extra accountability will hopefully be enough to keep me in the gym now that the semester has settled down. Moral of the story: make time for the gym! Author Michael Altshuler states that, “The bad news is time flies. The good news is that you’re the pilot.”

Photo by Garrett Carter

Treat Yourself!

For this post, I would like to highlight two of my favorite eateries in Bloomington. Why? Because sometimes you just need to escape and indulge!

Baked has the best cookies! The business just moved to a new location, losing some of the character of the previous building, but gaining a lot more space. Baked works because it does not try to specialize in everything; just cookies. First, you choose your cookie dough, then your mix-in ingredients, and finally your topping or icing. After almost two years of experimenting, I created the perfect mix for myself: sugar cookie dough, m&ms, chocolate chips, cheesecake bites and pretzels mixed in, and cream cheese frosting. It may sound super sweet, but the pretzel adds a nice contrast. Baked is the perfect place to escape from papers, projects and work. It has a great atmosphere for catching up with friends and being entertained by all of the writings on the chalkboard walls.

Cookies from Baked! Photo by Garrett C.

The Tudor Room
The Tudor Room, located inside of the IMU, is the best all-you-can-eat buffet in Bloomington–on Sundays anyway. Priced at nearly $20 per person, a student ID gets you in for about $14 and it is worth every penny. Staples for the Sunday brunch usually include: made-to-order omelets, french toast, bacon, sausage, prime rib, chicken, fish, fruits, vegetables, soups, and amazing desserts! Something inside me always perks up when friends say they have never been because it is a must while in Bloomington and it gives me the opportunity to take them there. In addition to the food, the room itself is reminiscent of a dining hall from Hogwarts for all the Harry Potter fans out there. The room is grand, elegant, and a nice escape from everything on your to-do list.
It may seem small, but you must take the time to treat yourself because you deserve it!

Day-to-Day Life in Bloomington

While all graduate students have different schedules, I thought for this blog entry I would share what my typical week looks like as a Ph.D. student in Education Policy Studies. Please note, my schedule for this semester is 10x better than it was last semester!

Mondays-Class 9:30AM-12:15PM, Work 12:30-4PM

Monday morning classes are rare in my program, but this year there was no avoiding it. While I enjoy the course, it is a bummer as I must return to Bloomington by Sunday evening in the event that I go out of town for the weekend. My part-time job is with the Balfour Scholars Program and, fortunately, I can set my own hours so I choose to work Mondays after class is out.

Tuesdays-ME DAY!

I rarely leave my apartment and avoid scheduling any meetings or appointments on this day. It is nice waking up on Tuesdays knowing that I do not have to go to campus and am on my own schedule. I tend to complete several assignments on Tuesdays.

Wednesdays-Teaching 4-5:40PM

For the first eight-weeks, I only teach one section but the second eight-weeks I will teach two sections. It is really convenient that I was able to have all of my teaching on one day. I also try to do some grading on Wednesdays. I am an Associate Instructor (AI) for the Student Academic Center (SAC) and it is a great place to work! If you are in need of a graduate assistantship and are interested in teaching, check them out.

Thursdays-Bible Study at 7PM

The only time I have to leave my place on Thursdays is for bible study. As a result, I tend to put in a few hours at the Balfour office prior to bible study. Since I already have to leave my apartment, I am more flexible with scheduling meetings and appointments on Thursdays than I am on Tuesdays. I also use Thursdays as a reading day for my Monday class.

Fridays-Staff Training at 1PM

Each Friday, the SAC has a staff meeting for our undergraduate teaching interns and I am often charged with leading the meetings. After the training is over, I usually stay at the SAC to finish my grading for the week and run copies for my next class. In the evening, I usually get together with friends. Last Friday, a group of us went to IU Late Nite which featured karaoke and free bowling.


Saturdays are mainly work days during the morning and afternoon and then I hang out with friends in the evening. Sundays are mainly work days after I get home from church.

I should also note that this semester I have a weekend class. We only meet 5 times throughout the semester: three Saturdays from 12-5PM and two Sundays from 9AM-2PM. It is actually a pretty good deal and frees up my schedule during the week.

I hope this day-to-day has given you somewhat of an idea of what life may be like for you as a graduate student!


Student Academic Center
Photo by Garrett Carter


A New Semester!

With a new semester beginning on Monday, I thought I would share some steps and tips that I take to prepare myself.

Purchase color-coded notebooks and folders-Maybe this is because I am a former middle school teacher, but I still purchase the same color notebooks and folders for each class. This small trick makes organization a bit easier.

Say no as needed-The beginning of the semester always seems to bring a ton of meetings, appointments, etc. Say no when you need to. The new semester can already be overwhelming with new classes so you may need to focus on your studies and hold off on scheduling non-urgent meetings and appointments.

Schedule time for yourself-It may not happen if you don’t! If going to the gym is important to you, put it on your schedule as if it is a class and make it happen. Same goes for massages, seeing friends, weekend getaways, etc.

Happy New Year!

Photo by Garrett Carter

The End of the Semester…

For those contemplating a return to school, I thought it might be useful to give you a snapshot of what the final weeks of the semester look like. To provide some context, I am a third-year Ph.D. student in Education Policy Studies. Let’s begin with the Thanksgiving break that wasn’t…

While I enjoyed the opportunity to go home for a week, I went into break with one smaller paper to complete (7-10 pages) before returning to school, and two larger papers (20+ pages) due on December 11th. Since I did not want to be working on two large papers at the same time, I decided that I would complete my smaller paper and put a big dent in one of the larger ones. The good news is that I completed the smaller paper and put a dent in the larger paper! However, this came at a cost. One, I did not tell many friends that I would be in town because I knew I would not have time to see them. I work best when I have full days to work as opposed to days broken up by luncheons and dinners. Second, I chose to cut my break two days short because I knew I would get more work done at my apartment in Bloomington than at home where I would rather be spending time with my family. So, while I technically had a break, I also felt like I did not have much of one since I was still doing work. While this was a sacrifice, it definitely paid off upon my return.

While several of my friends were cramming to complete several large assignments in the final weeks, I was left with just a few pages to finish on one paper and then my other large paper. There is no right or wrong answer here; you just have to know what works best for you. Some people needed Thanksgiving break to rejuvenate and then tackle all of their work during the last few weeks. I knew that it would be better for me to get work done over the break, so I only had one major assignment to complete afterwards. As a result, I finished up my semester on Friday, December 8th leaving me with a full month of no work before returning on January 8th. This time, I will tell my friends I am home!

One of my large papers!
Photo by Garrett Carter

Happy Holidays, and I hope that you have an opportunity to take a little break as well!


FALLing into the New Academic Year

Photo by Garrett C

Photo by Garrett C

The first few weeks of class have certainly proven to be busy! I just began my third year as a Ph.D. student in the Education Policy Studies program. It feels great to be at this point in my academic journey not only because it means that I am getting closer to the finish line, but also because I am much more familiar with this vast campus and the resources that it offers. After a recent appointment with my advisor, I am reminded that there is still much that I have to do, but I am not overwhelmed and can see how I will get there.

I have many goals for this year and one of them is to attend more school events. I often hear graduate students speak with such pride about their undergraduate institutions and years, but that same pride and excitement is not necessarily there now. Yes, we are older and the academic load is more rigorous, but this year I want to connect more with my institution. I recently attended IU Late Night with some friends and we had a great time. We went through an escape room, played virtual reality games, ate and received t-shirts and other free items. I also attended my first Big Ten football game on Thursday when I saw IU play OSU at a sold-out Memorial Stadium. While we did not win, I had a great time being an Indiana Hoosier!