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.
And now the gag reel…
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!
If there was one piece of advice I would offer new grad students, it would be to develop good time management skills. As adults, grad students often have numerous personal and professional commitments that compete for time in their daily routine. The most successful grad students I know set a weekly schedule for themselves and stick to it.
A friend of mine who recently completed her doctoral program kept a weekly calendar where she scheduled her classes, time to study and complete assignments, work out, run errands, spend time with family and pursue her hobbies. Yes, that’s right. She even scheduled her personal time. While at first this might seem a little obsessive,when you think about it, it’s a really effective way to keep track of how you use your time. And time management becomes even more important as you approach the dissertation phase of your grad career, when you have lots of “free” time that is quickly eaten up by the mundane events of daily life, leaving you with little time to work on your dissertation.
Making a schedule and sticking to it is a great way to ensure you use your time wisely.
Welcome to a new year!! A time of many transitions! Why not, sounds catchy. So lets talk about Grad School 101. For starters, think about how these 4 areas will impact you while you’re here at IU pursuing a graduate or professional degree: Listening, Communicating, Networking, and Self. Initially, I thought I would speak on each in this first blog entry–but instead I want you! to consider how each may relate to both present and if possible anticipated experiences . Feel free to reply or simply keep this first post in mind (in other words–reflect a bit on your own) and I will definitely refer back to it the next time I make a post.
PEACE & Have a great semester everyone!!!!
The semester is ending in two weeks. [Insert surprised exclamation of choice here such as "Egad!", "Wha?" or "Whoa!"] Point being that I have a final paper, a manuscript revision, data analyses, and TA duties looming in the next few weeks. Some of you might be thinking, “Pssshh! That’s nothing!” And I am almost inclined to agree with you.
I say almost because I have a serious obstacle in my path. Something that makes the hill-ish pile of work ahead appear to be more akin to a mountain. Not quite Mt. Everest, but definitely up there. So what is this obstacle? It’s a game that some of you might know as Bejewelled Blitz. It’s a fairly popular game on Facebook. According to their Facebook page, there are currently 11,463,184 monthly active users. Sadly, I am one of them. Every Tuesday, when the weekly scores have been cleared, my need to establish an ever higher high score manifests itself. Scratch that. It’s a compulsion at this point. I have to play, and keep playing, till I have a high score that I can be satisfied with. Sigh.
So the next few weeks are going to be tough. Not only do I have a lot of work to do, but I also have to find a way to beat the game quickly enough each week that I will actually have the time to get the work done! So yeah. Egad! However, after five years in graduate school, I have a few tricks up my sleeve such as restricting my access to the internet, going to my favorite spot to work, and imagining how great the summer will be after all the work is completed. But in the meantime I still have some time, right? Enough to play just one game?
Today my sons and I attended our first “Little Five” race in Bloomington and I loved it! Although it was freezing I still enjoyed watching the cyclists power around the field in what seemed to be a never-ending endurance race.
Below is some background information about Little Five (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_500):
The Little 500 (also known popularly as the “Little Five”), is a bicycle race held annually at Bill Armstrong Stadium on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. The race was founded in 1951 by Howdy Wilcox Jr., Executive Director of the Indiana University Student Foundation, who modeled the race after the Indianapolis 500, which his father had participated in and won in 1919. Racers compete in teams of four, racing relay-style for 200 laps (50 miles) along a quarter-mile (440 yards) cinder track. Thirty-three teams are selected in qualifications trials to compete in the main race. Money raised by the event goes towards a scholarship fund for working IU students.
Little Five is a unique part of Indiana’s history, as the events surrounding the race “were dramatized in the 1979 Academy Award-winning movie Breaking Away, which depicts a group of Bloomington townies who enter the race as the “Cutters” (from the local Indiana limestone stonecutters) to defeat the favored fraternity team” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_500).
Useful Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_500
My first year as a PhD student, I took some time off for spring break and flew home for 10 days. Although, it was great to see some family and friends, it turned out to be a pretty bad idea. Not only, did I accumulate a ridiculous amount of work, (it took me about a month to catch up and get back on track), but I also manage to upset the rest of the people I did not have time to visit. I learned that, I much rather go home once a year for 3 weeks rather than going twice for 1-2 weeks each.
On the other hand, this year, I decided to treat spring break like any other week. Besides, the nuisance of planning around the campus shuttle reduced time schedule, spring break turn out to be much more productive than I expected and way more productive than any other week. Looking back and contrasting my experience with Ishani’s post “Spring break and the planning fallacy”, it seems that what made my experience such a pleasant success was the fact that my expectations, although very ambitious, were not completely out of reach, I just put together the workload I expect to accomplish on a typical 2-3 week period into one week. I will definitely be repeating this approach next year!!
This past weekend was a combination of amazing experiences that I needed. My parents drove 10 hours to spend half the week with me. As an only child, I often miss my family back home. Yet, to see how proud they are of me in pursuing my doctorate to drive so far, really confirmed to me that I have a great support system. While here, my mother cooked lunch for my coworkers and then hosted a huge, soul-food dinner for me and roughly 20 of my friends. This was by far the most amazing meal I have had in 2011! My friends also enjoyed the time that we shared together playing Taboo and Apples to Apples for hours. Throughout this semester, I have had difficulty successfully balancing my academic and personal life. This weekend was a great transition away from that imbalance and hopefully the rest of the semester will be equally enjoyable.
However, a personal triumph this weekend was my acting debut! The IU School of Education, the Office Multicultural Initiatives, the Department of Theatre and Drama, and the Arts in Education Club presented the play: “Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992.” Twilight, Los Angeles, 1992 is a groundbreaking piece of “documentary theatre” that explores the consequences of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, sparked in part by the acquittal of police officers charged with the beating of Rodney King. With its immensely diverse cast of characters, drawn from interviews with real people who experienced the riots, the play presents a balanced, 360 degree look at racial tension in The United States. The New York Times called it “an expression of the eternal search for order in an anarchic world” when the play made its debut, and following nearly unanimous critical praise, the play was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
My character was Gina Rae a Los Angeles community Activist. I thoroughly enjoyed practicing for this play and interacting with different people on campus from undergraduate students to staff members throughout this semester. The best part was to have my parents in town to witness the excitement.