I hope everyone had a very happy holidays and a pleasant break between semesters. I traveled home to Montana and enjoyed some quiet time with my family.
Friendly mule down the road from our house
VERY friendly deer… perhaps too friendly.
We ate a lot of food, played a lot of games, stayed up late, slept in late, and pretty much let our cares rest for a while. Since the breaks between the semesters are often a time for students and professors to catch up on work, it felt a little indulgent to relax so much.
But actually, taking breaks can help your productivity in the long-run (as I’m sure most of us have heard.) Here’s some advice for graduate students from Rachel Manes and the American Psychological Association:
First off, consider how long the designated vacation period will last. While writing up results of a study might seem like a tempting way to spend this time during the extended break, planning non-academic related events is an equally productive way to spend time during the designated vacation period because they stand to improve productivity after the break is over. These off-line activities could range from travel and recreation to leisure time with friends and loved ones. (rest of the article here)
So you see, there’s no need to feel guilty about your vacation – and I hope you took one! Instead, you can focus on transitioning into the new semester and having a productive start. Happy spring semester everyone!
This is an example spreadsheet that can be used to keep yourself on track during the process of applying to different schools. Using something like this will ensure that you didn’t forget to get transcripts for school number three or that you have enough recommendations for school number four. It’s short sweet and to the point. Put on it the dates and requirements for every aspect of every application and then check it off when you get it completely finished and ready to be shipped off. Hang it somewhere you will see it often so you see the dates and don’t fall behind. Its a little piece of paper that can help make your life much more organized and easier.
Now that I’m out of class I have started to do some mentoring and tutoring. Helping others is important to me and sometimes it gets pushed to the side burner when I get bogged down with things. However, I have a good handle on my lab work and I don’t have to worry about classes, so I asked for and received an undergraduate student to mentor in lab. My student is a sophomore bio. major who is interested in graduate school and its my job to not only teach her how to perform experiments but to shape her thinking to that of an independent scientist. I look forward to seeing her grow over these next few years. My other undergraduate mentee was appointed to me through a mentoring program. The focus of this program is to pair undergraduates with graduate students so that they can help them get into graduate school. The approach is one on one and should be very effective. I look forward to seeing how that young lady will advance in her academic career. Finally I began tutoring high school AP biology for some spare cash on the side. I really like it, Ive never tutored before but it’s very interesting. My student seems to be benefiting from our sessions so I can’t wait to see how he does on his upcoming final. This post isn’t really about getting into graduate school, its my personal post to say: “Never forget where you came from. No matter how self reliant you are, at some point someone helped you. As you grow it is your duty to help those behind you. Reach as you climb.”
There are many resources out there about when to begin studying for exams to when to begin narrowing down your options. I’m concentrating on resources that give you a timeline based on your current situation/status.
If you are in undergrad checkout sites that break down the checklist by semesters (i.e. what you should be doing during undergrad), like the one below
And finally, because not everyone thinking about grad school is an undergrad, single, and/or working part-time …Expand the timeline! While the timelines above include the major details and important months for most programs, you should customize the timeline to fit YOU with your own individual schedule. This may come in the form of an excel sheet or a calendar on the wall that spreads over 12 + months.
When the spring semester ends, all students get so exited about the upcoming summer which is incredibly awesome… no class, no assignment, no deadlines…yayyyyyy… On the last day of the class, we ask each other “What gonna you do in the summer”. It is fascinating to hear my classmates’ plan with innumerable attractive destinations: Japan, Europe, DC, Texas, Boston, New York…Everyone has their own summer plan and for me, “I take internship in an organization in California”…Two great things in one summer: California + Internship. California offers the amazing weather (AC is definitely not needed) with numerous landmarks to explore…San Jose, San Mateo, Monterey, Saratoga, San Francisco, LA, Las Vegas…I spend every single weekend to travel to a new place and meet with many great friends. I also join to various community activities, visit temples and practice Zen…Trying new things, seeing new places…are definitely the key to refresh anyone (including me) after a heavy semester at school.
Since my concentration at school is Nonprofit Management + International Development, working fulltime at the nonprofit organization offers me the practical training for my career in the nonprofit sector. I work with communication and fundraising department. My main assignments are to raise funds for development projects in Vietnam. Through the internship, I am aware of the significance of individual givings in the US and deeply acknowledge the importance of individual relationships as the key for fundraising success. Given the American cultural context, lots of typical practices in the nonprofit area are approached and they give me a comparative view of the sector between the US and Vietnam. My colleagues especially the executive directors are the great sources of knowledge and information sharing. Life is just amazing when we throw us out there, broaden our contacts, make friends and most important, have fun! And the organization that we do internship always has high potentials to offer us a job upon the graduation. Overall, a well planned summer will be a great summer
While browsing around the web recently (a form of procrastination I like to call “research”) I came across an article that mentioned “lack of structure” as one of the main reasons graduate school is difficult. It was only mentioned in passing, but it really struck me. Having recently finished my coursework, I kinda feel like this:
Floating – which can be fun, but not always very productive. It’s not like this observation is anything new. In fact, I stumbled upon it twice more before my procrastination was done that night. But as grad students, what can we do about it? I don’t have the answer, but here’s something small I’ve started doing -
- programmed the coffee pot to start brewing at 7:00 AM. I’m 100% more likely to get out of bed at a decent hour (especially on those days when I don’t necessarily have to be anywhere) if I can smell/hear the coffee brewing. It might seem silly, but here I am writing a blog post at – what? Oh. It’s after 8 already? It looks like I might have to have another cup of structure to get this morning moving along.
Anyone else have some tips or strategies to share?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about balancing all aspects of life in graduate school: academics, relationships, health (mental and physical), etc. While I can’t offer an ultimate solution for achieving a perfect balance between all of these (equally critical) elements, I do think it’s important to try to do so. I admit that I’ve never been the best at finding a happy medium–and that instead, I tend to swing from one extreme to the other. However, the older I get (and hopefully, the wiser), the more evident it becomes to me that if you let one aspect of your life overrun all the others–in the end, you’ll “feel it.” At this point in my life, I try to build elements of everything that I find important into my day. I don’t always succeed, but I’m determined to continue to try. Balance is important.
I hope you’ll all excuse a little silly home photography. I thought it would illustrate a point I have to make.
If there’s one thing I wish I understood better when I was starting grad school, it’s that grad school is a great balancing act. Of course everyone knows that it’s tough to divide their time between family, friends, careers, education, hobbies, relaxation and all other kinds of pursuits. Graduate school has definitely solidified this lesson for me. But more specifically (and here’s that insider tip for soon-to-be-grad-students) I’ve learned that balancing long-term goals with short term goals is one of the most important – and difficult! – parts of grad school. As a graduate student, it’s really easy to stay focused on the day-to-day and week-to-week goals, like getting your lesson plans together for that class you teach or finishing your class readings on time. The immediacy of those goals makes them loom huge in front of you. Meanwhile long term goals, like submitting an article for publication or putting together a panel for a conference, tend to fade into the background.
So what to do? If I could go back, I would set myself one or two long term goals each semester. Then, instead of letting them occupy one lonely space at the back of my calendar/planner, I would dedicate one weekend each month to putting in some quality time on those goals. My husband has a new motto: “Well begun is half done.” Even dedicating a little time to those goals can make a big difference down the line and prevent you from having to play catch up. In the end, a good balancing act might mean you’re more competitive for a job or that you aren’t on a frantic search for funding – and in considering that, it might not be so bad if your desk stays a little messy or that knitting project takes a little longer.
Maybe it’s a little early in the semester to be talking about rewards, but we all need some motivation to keep us plowing through the readings/papers/meetings/deadlines that are our daily routine. Even the most serious-minded student needs to take a break sometimes, and if you plan little “gifts” for when you get through certain tough spots you’ll be able to have an academic life and a life-life too. Don’t miss out on the sweet things – use them as motivation to keep yourself productive. One thing I never miss out on is enjoying Indiana in the fall – going hiking, picking apples, taking pictures. It’s absolutely lovely here during autumn, and getting outside to experience it boosts my mood. And there are always those other incidental benefits too…
Okay, well maybe it’s not foraging per se, but it’s fun and outdoorsy and you can do it at Anderson Orchards in nearby Mooresville.
P.S. If I seem too carefree it’s because I JUST FINISHED MY QUALIFYING EXAMS! Hooray! I’ll share some more serious advice on quals in an upcoming post.
Many people often ask me: what do you wish you had known about Grad School? Looking back, my answer is undoubtedly: time management and peer-networking. You will be surprised of how fast the weeks go by when you have A LOT of academic work, in addition to a “personal life”. Putting together a daily schedule will significantly improve your productivity, as well as enable you to schedule time for hobbies and other stress relieving activities. Furthermore, as Amy mentioned of her post: “Use your time wisely”, an organizational structure will prove most beneficial during your dissertation writing phase.
The other thing you want to develop early as a graduate student is a network of peers, that is, within your program, as well as outside your program (or even university). For instance, it took about two years into my graduate career to realize that, at least in computer science, coursework in not meant to be completed independently; even further, collaboration is not only encouraged but expected. Having a network of classmates will provide a support network for studying, working on assignments or projects, as well as relaxing when you are feeling overwork.
Finally, I remember when I was an undergraduate student and one of my mentors told me: “getting through grad school is mostly about perseverance because you will never run out on reasons to quit”. Hence, having a peer group outside your department will play a critical role in the completion of your degree. Ahmed does a terrific job on identifying most of things that grad students will wonder at some point in their graduate career in his post “The first li’l while at the rodeo …”, which I strongly recommend everyone to read. Hope this advice will prove helpful to you!