Plan B…Plan C….Plan Z?

Grad school is all about being able to bounce back when things don’t go as planned. Whether it’s a class assignment that didn’t turn out the way you expected, a manuscript that gets rejected, rejected again, and still rejected once more, or data that just do not want to cooperate with your hypotheses, adaptability is one of the most important skills to have as a graduate student. Ironically, most graduate students tend to be a little neurotic (after all, chances are that to get this far academically you have to care, ya know, a little bit). So, how did I, neurotic grad student Evelyn develop the adaptability skill? Glad you asked. Here are a few tips:

1) Focus on what IS working for you. Make a list of your tasks for the week, and cross them off as you go along. That way, even if you hit a road block, you’ll be able to objectively see what you have accomplished. Hopefully that will give you the “oomph” you need to push that road block out of your way.

2) Play an upbeat song. My go-to is “Roar” by Katy Perry (I’m *almost* not ashamed to admit that). Whether it’s something cheesy or super serious, find music that speaks to you and put it on repeat until you’ve found a new solution.

3) Think outside the box. If you’re banging your head against a wall with no luck, try banging your head against a different surface–maybe you’ll get different results! But, in all seriousness, sometimes a little change in perspective will help you discover your Plan B. For example, if it’s data that’s not working, what’s a new way you can think of your hypotheses? Try sharing your thought process with a friend outside your field. They may see something that you have taken for granted differently.

No matter what you do, don’t give up! Even if it feels like you’ve gotten all the way to Plan Z and still don’t know what to do, pat yourself on the back for your resilience, and keep pushing. Maybe plan AA will be the one that works :)

Graduate & Professional Student Organization

Are you interested in student government? Do you love the idea of making a difference, or at least being around other people who try their hardest to do so? Great! The Graduate & Professional Student Organization (GPSO) may be for you! This organization is the governing body of IU grad students, and the various committees and officers serve as our voice to the administration and campus at large. Each department gets one representative (or more, if it’s a big department) and that person votes on behalf of their student constituents. That person also serves on one of many committees (the Diversity committee, Sustainability, Programming, etc.), and those committees work to pass resolutions which help let the administration know the issues that graduate students are thinking about. Check out the website for more information!

Black Graduate Student Research

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Photo Courtesy of Katrina Overby

On February 7th, executive members of the  Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA) participated in the “Black Scholars Showcase” at the Neal Marshall Black Culture Center on IU’s campus. Graduate and undergraduates students presented various research presentations from dissertation proprosals to conference research papers. Pictured below are (left to right) Gloria Howell (Secretary), Carl Darnell (Black Chair), Katrina Overby (President), and Brandi Caruthers (Vice President).

Organizations for Graduate Students

So what are you into?  Ok great, that’s exactly what you should look into.  Chances are, at IU there is an organization or club that touches on that exact thing that you like.  For me, I like salsa dancing  Yes, there is a club for that.  I have competed in a couple triathlons.  Check, there is a running club, biking club, and swimming club (and team).  Professionally, there are so many options. I am part of a student organization for those within my field of study. I am part of the Emissaries for Graduate Diversity.  The opportunities to join an organization or almost limitless. Outside of the university there is a professional organization for just about every field in existence.  I have yet to hear of a field that does not have a national or international organization for said field.

From personal experience, you will not have enough time to participate in every organization pertaining to your interests. They key is to select a couple and be active in those. Balance is important: you don’t want to pick to many and experience burn-out or exhaustion; you don’t want to pick to few and not have many experiences outside of coursework.  2-3 organizational affiliations seems to be healthy for any grad student…from what i can tell.  For me, that has seemed to work pretty well.

What the…whaaaaat?

So everything seemed to be going well but there is now an enormous boulder in your way that you were completing not expecting. So grad school threw you a curve ball. Well welcome to the club. Know that you are joining some elite company. Let me guess, you’ve always been an excellent student?  You’ve always gotten along well with all of your professors and just about all of your colleagues? For the most part, you achieve all of your goals? Does that sounds familiar?  Well if that accurately describes you then know that you are the rule, not the exception. So what happens when things don’t go quite as planned?

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The nature of grad school is one in which challenge is a common occurrence. Grad school is meant to be difficult.  It is designed to stretch you. It is not intended to be like the undergrad experience. Arriving at that realization can be difficult, even painful.  I know making the transition from undergrad to grad school was very difficult for me.  Could how I handled a challenge as an undergrad work to handle an obstacle or challenge in grad school?  Nope.

So what to do then? Regardless of the type of obstacle or the depth of the challenge, it is really important to know that you are NOT ALONE in facing an unexpected situation. I can count 4 or 5 times between the MS and PhD where I felt like I had been punched in the gut: some outcome had gone 180 degrees from what I was expecting.  As a God-fearing person I am a strong believer in doing all that you can within your control and then not stressing the rest. I believe strongly that how you respond to difficulty is revelatory: you reveal yourself to yourself through adversity.  So what has experience taught me? I truly believe that hard work and smart work can overcome a lot of the challenges and curve balls that arise in grad school. I truly believe that a humble attitude is 100% to maintain a level of peace and sanity during grad school.  I believe in you-get-what-you-give or what-goes-around-comes-around. In fact, every single person (including myself) that reacted positively to adversity or challenge had a positive experience down the road.  Every single time. There are so many other grad students who likely have had a similar challenge that talking to one (or three) you trust can only be helpful.  The same goes for a faculty member or two that you trust.  I’ve mentioned in a previous post that surrounding yourself with a core of people that you have high amounts of trust is very very important during grad school.  This is one of the reasons why.  Work hard, work smart, rely on those you really trust, and you will likely be just fine and have an equal or even better outcome then what you originally planned. That seems to have worked well for me.

Resources to Take Advantage Of

Sometime school can be stressful…okay, school is usually stressful, especially during the week preceding an examination, presentation, or really just any deadline.  There are many people to help you de-stress: friends and family foremost.  But IU also has several people/places to help too.

One building for sure that has helped me, both body and soul, has been at the IU Health Center.

IU Bloomington Health Center

IU Bloomington Health Center

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When Things Don’t Go As Expected

You’re in a deep panic, you just turned in a proposal or a portion of your thesis and the response from your advisor was a simple head shake and a paper full of red markings. You feel like crap, your legs are walking but your movements lack motivation. You think to yourself “Maybe I have enough money in my bank account to buy a one way ticket to some place where Sallie Mae can’t find me if I decided to begin my life a new as a monkey trainer.” You get in your car and begin to drive home, contemplating driving hours back to your hometown to begin your career as the guy who lives in his mom’s basement. You stop at a red light, you notice a man walking crossing a buy street with two McDonald’s bags in his hand and in his other he has managed to use all of his fingers to carry four Happy Meal boxes. Life can be hard, struggle is relative, but always remember you’re pursuing your dream and you haven’t touched the ground in a very long time.

212° the extra degree

One of my closest friends and mentors once shared a short book with me called 212° the extra degree.  He is a highly successful businessman who is an IU alumnus, former Hoosier football player, and whose dad was also a Hoosier football player who went on to play for the 1972 Miami Dolphins team that went undefeated and won the Super Bowl.  My teammates and I owe him for his continued guidance as we grow from teenagers into adults, and we are all grateful to have him in our lives.

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212° the extra degree by S.I. Parker. Photo by Ren-Jay S.

The premise of 212° the extra degree, is that “at 211 degrees, water is hot.  At 212 degrees, it boils.  And with boiling water, comes steam.  And with steam, you can power a train.”  Now this might sound like a gimmick, but over the years I’ve come to appreciate the meaning of this book and how applying its principles can help you advance in your studies, career, and life.

The book discusses how a difference of just 1 degree distinguishes hot water and steam, and goes on to give many examples of how the smallest of differences can have a large impact.  One of my favorite examples is the average margin of victory in the Indianapolis 500 (we are at Indiana University after all) between 1997-2006 is 2.80 seconds, but the first place prize is $1,497,639 whereas the second place price is $587,321.  That 2.80 second difference over 500 miles of racing makes a huge difference in the outcome for the drivers in terms of prestige and prize money.  The book goes on to give examples of where and how you can teach the 212 philosophy and how small changes in your daily life can amount to big returns, such as eliminating 30 minutes of television every day to get 182.5 extra hours (or four and a half weeks of work) each year that you can devote to something else.

I would highly recommend this book, you can read it in about 15 minutes, but the message is powerful and can motivate you to take that tiny bit of extra time and effort to differentiate and distinguish yourself amongst your peers.  So ask yourself, “what have I done today to get that extra degree?”