A month ago the planet, not just university campuses, looked different. Rather than preparing for an extended Spring Break as many had hoped, we instead had to recognize that the whole world is dealing with traumatic changes with how we lead our daily lives. As my inbox became flooded with updates about the emerging crisis and how universities were responding, I decided to close the newsfeed and protect my mental health. In doing so, I protected my well-being from the fear, panic, and anxiety that was also spreading. The news was no longer going to be the first and last thing I was thinking about each day, I was tired. Remembering to listen to my body is one way I try to maintain balance.
Allow yourself to reflect if needed on the evolving circumstances or to fully submerse in work (if you are able) but also be mindful of how the constant virtual interaction and screen time can still be emotionally and physically draining.
Be Kind to Yourself, Be Gentle with your emotional well-being and realize that everyone is processing the current situation differently.
Something I’ve been working toward for nearly 7 years took place a few weeks ago – I successfully defended my dissertation! Despite the fact that it happened in the middle of a global pandemic, it went pretty well! I thought I would share some thoughts on gearing up for your PhD dissertation defense.
Find a supportive committee: first and foremost, gather a committee that will have your back. I had a wonderful committee who were dedicated to pushing my thinking and also to helping me finalize my dissertation in a publishable way. My advisor told me that if you and your committee, and especially your chair or director, are on the same page you will enter the defense prepared to pass. This is so reassuring going into such a big milestone!
Believe in yourself and your work, but don’t take yourself *too* seriously: This advice comes from a close friend who defended his dissertation just days before mine. Graduate students at IU do important work. We become experts in our fields about our particular topics. Yet the reality of criticism at the defense can feel like a threat to our work and our identities. Remembering not to take it all seriously but not too seriously (even if it is very serious work) can help us prepare for constructive criticism, and to recognize and let go of criticism that is not constructive or helpful.
This is not the only thing: This is related to the previous point. When you don’t take things *too* seriously, you also have space to remember that there is more to life than a degree. Especially in this global moment, it is important to remind ourselves that graduate school is not the only thing that matters. Take care of yourself, of your loved ones, of your communities, of the earth. Your work is not your worth. You are enough.
You got this! By the time you get to the defense, you’ve already written the dissertation. You have experience answering questions about your work and you’ve tried to explain it to folks in your field, outside of your field, and outside of academic completely. You know how to do this. You’re ready! You’re going to be amazing.
Last academic year, I was attending the annual Preparing Future Faculty Conference when folks from Writing Tutorial Services introduced me to the book Air & Light & Time & Space: How Successful Academics Write by Helen Sword. Since then, anyone who knows me has heard me talk about this book. I found it very beautiful and helpful. Even if I sometimes forget to take advice from this book, it helped me realize there is no one correct way to be an academic writer. Dr. Sword shows that academics from across the world and across disciplines have adopted very different strategies for getting their work done. This signals to me that my process should be less about finding the right strategy, but finding a good strategy for me.
Dr. Sword breaks writing habits down into four categories: behavioral, artisanal, social, and emotional. As you consider your own writing struggles and triumphs, consider: Where and when do/can you write (behavioral)? How do you move from getting your ideas on paper to crafting a completed product (artisanal)? How do/can you write for, with, and among others (social)? How do you feel about your writing products and processes (emotional)?
I really do recommend the whole book for all kinds of writers, but simply considering the four categories of habits listed here can help you learn more about your own writing style and help you feel more productive.
PS: Check out the other resources l mentioned here as well:
A great way to help you make a list of goals for your time in graduate school is to look at other scholar’s CVs, particularly ones you admire and/or early career professionals who are rising stars in your field. Doing this made me aware of several opportunities (professional development, awards, grants) that helped build my own CV. Several faculty members’ CVs are available on their department or personal website. Some things to look over are regional/national awards, professional development workshops and conferences, fellowships, and research grants. In addition, this practice can show trends in the field, such as how many publications one might need to obtain a position at a particular type of institution. However, it’s also crucial not to engage in self-comparison when going over other’s CV. It’s easy to see someone’s CV without having the context behind it and making certain assumptions. For example, some scholars had research assistantships from advisors that allowed them to publish more because they had 20 or more hours a week devoted to this. Therefore, it does not make sense to compare your CV to theirs if you’re not in a similar situation.
When I was an undergraduate, if I wasn’t feeling well I would skip class and clear my schedule and take things easy. As a grad student, those days truly seem now as if they were luxurious. One thing I didn’t think about when going to grad school is that during my graduate career, I would be teaching or serving as an Associate Instructor for some pretty large classes, sometimes upwards of 200+ students. Now that I have had some experience doing this, I know it is pretty easy to not only get caught up in being behind on personal assignments for grad school and grading for the class I am an instructor for, but it is very easy to get sick…especially when you are exposed to many people and some of who don’t think its necessary they stay home and get better. Just this week the tensions for the most recent outbreak of the Coronavirus have been amplified here at Indiana University as the US attempts to prepare as a whole for what they are expecting to be a large outbreak.
As we delve deeper into this season, here are some important tips to stay healthy:
- According to the CDC be sure to wash your hands regularly and often. Many people do not know the proper way to wash their hands and as a result can contribute to spreading germs or contracting an illness. To do so, wet your hands with clean water, turn off the tap and apply soap. Lather your hands with the soap – front and back, between your fingers and under your nails. Then proceed to scrub them with the soap for at least 20 seconds. Lastly, rinse the soap off and proceed to dry your hands either with a clean towel or let them air dry. According to an article at Harvard, although air dryers may seem like an eco-friendly contribution to the earth, they often suck up the dirty bacteria bathrooms are infested with – so try to avoid those!
- Get the flu shot! If you have health insurance through IU (and if you are a grad student, you do), you can get the flu shot for free at the student health center! You can even walk in without getting an appointment.
- Stay home if you are sick! This is probably the biggest factor and I myself am guilty of not listening to this. The worst part about grad school, especially during course work is that you are expected to be there and come prepared! The big exception to this is if you are sick – because then you will just spread the germs and get everyone else sick!
- Try to go to the doctor if you feel something isn’t right. You may need to be tested for various things or given an antibiotic to get better. Once again, the health insurance through IU will come in handy here. Also, if you can’t afford to be seen look into free clinics, federally qualified health centers, or talk to your mentor/graduate director. There’s no shame in asking for help!
- Stay hydrated! Drink 10x the normal amount of water you would drink on a daily basis!
- Eat healthy! Stay away from junk food and try not to overload on caffeine. Stick to fruits and veggies that will offer you a good diet and more energy. Also, be sure to stock up on some canned goods to have on hand like soup.
- Get some rest! This is probably another hard one during graduate school but try to set a sleep schedule to get the most of your sleep time.
- Listen to IU’s updates on these outbreaks! As of right now, IU is implementing a strict policy on traveling to certain places outside of the US. Be sure to follow these guidelines and keep checking the updates.
- Also, if you are teaching a class on your own and you are allowed to make your own policies, remember that going to the doctor is often times a luxury and not everyone can afford to go. Try not to make a policy requiring notes stating you require a doctors excuse but instead encourage students to come and explain themselves in situations where they become ill.
Stay healthy this flu and virus season!
Something I learned early on in my career was the importance of having an agenda and physically writing things down. Before I used an agenda, I would rely on my memory or a phone calendar for everything. This was a big mistake! I began to forget to do assignments, mixed up deadlines, and missed meetings. It was not a good look. There was a dramatic change when I started using an agenda. It allowed me to keep track of my various responsibilities and stay on top of everything. Getting organized in this way is one of the true keys to success in academia and life. Using an agenda to plan all my deadlines allowed me to see what was coming up in the next few weeks and plan accordingly, so I didn’t have several deadlines spring up on me at once. I also used my agenda for personal things I had to do, like going grocery shopping, doing laundry, and plans with friends. I typically broke each day into three sections: 1) Academics (e.g., classes, meetings), 2) Personal (e.g., laundry, shopping, etc.), and 3) Research/Professional Development (e.g., manuscript/grant writing). I still used my phone calendar for things that remained the same in my weekly schedule or commitments way off in the future, but I relied on my agenda most of all. Again, I cannot overemphasize how using an agenda to plan out all you have to do really does put you on the path for graduate school success.
For many of graduate students the spring semester can be stressful. With many of us are juggling conferences, classes and research each day can seem to be overwhelming when trying to get important tasks done. As a graduate student being organized can reduced the amount of stress and key you on target when trying to reach goals throughout the semester. A few important tips to remember when becoming organized for the semester:
• Create a semester spreadsheet and write down all the important deadlines (class, research, community service.) I personally keep a physical semester spreadsheet as well a digital one.
• Each week create a To-Do list that prioritizes each activity and a deadline of when you want to get these tasks done.
• When working on your To-Do list create a marking system that allows you to get through your task in an effective manner. I prefer to use the Eisenhower matrix listed below. It allows you to place items into four quadrants( Urgent,Non-Urgent, Important and Non-Important) for a better workflow in trying to complete your tasks.
• Review your system each week and update weekly. It feels great when you are able to mark off deadlines and reduces the amount of stress when you feel that you on track to completing your tasks for the semester.
Good Luck and have a wonderful organized spring semester.
Day-to-day life as a graduate student can change depending on the degree, year in your program and quite frankly the week. But one thing that is consistent across the campus and all disciplines is the lack of time and/or energy.
Something that has really helped me during my day-to-day activities during graduate school is cooking at home. Especially at the beginning of a new year (but also a new semester), creating a plan to meal prep a few items can really help extend your finances and save time. It really is a win-win! It doesn’t mean you have to be the ‘World’s Greatest Chef’, it just means taking the time to cruise the store ads (before you shop) to identify deals, plan a few menu items and then save it in the fridge. It can shorten energy it takes for making a few meals later in the week. Additionally, you can save money by eating at home instead of quickly grabbing fast food or pre-packaged meals, which tend to be pricier than purchasing ingredients. Consider your weekly schedule and identify which day(s) or meal(s) are the busiest and could benefit from preparing ahead of time.
For me, using a portion of my weekend to shop for groceries and then prep them for the week has helped me to eat better on those days that I just “don’t want to cook”.
Often times in graduate school, you will find yourself needing to communicate with your mentors, Professors, peers, and students. When approaching these people, you need to remember exactly who your audience is. Depending on who your audience is you need to determine exactly what the equation for approaching these people might be. For example, if you are taking on the role as an Associate Instructor and are only a few years off from your students in terms of age, you may need to learn to communicate the course requirements and expectations as an Instructor and not as a best friend necessarily. If you take the approach of acting like a best friend in this situation, it may become difficult for you to establish having assignments turned in on time or getting excuses such as having a rough night at Kilroy’s downtown last night. Regardless of who you are communicating with, it is important to express your goals and expectations that you hope to gain from having a conversation. Many people tend to struggle with this throughout their lives – not just in graduate school. However, if you can acquire the skill of becoming an expert at this while you are in graduate school then you can master it by the time you finish! If you aren’t sure how to approach people who are relevant to your career progress, ask a friend or cohort peer to see how they approach certain faculty. In addition, it always helps to ask other graduate students or mentors how they would approach communicating with people in your department. At the end of the day, you have to remember you are here because you want to be to better an aspect of your life in some way through acquiring “tool” skills to add to your tool box. Every day may not work to your advantage or will you come out feeling like you have your life together. You will experience difficult obstacles that you will have to learn to overcome. However, just think that eventually it will pay off – you just have to figure out how to climb the mountain first, and need some tools to help you out first! Communication will be one of those skills that will help you during the climb…
Hello! As Spring 2020 gets underway, I thought I’d review some of my favorite places to work around town:
- Wells Library Graduate Student Lounge: nice and quiet, only accessible to graduate students as you have to use your ID card to swipe in. This makes it feel pretty safe! The temperature can be a little wonky, and there are no windows, though.
- Neal Marshall Black Culture Center Library: another nice library space, better lit than the Wells Grad lounge and much quieter than the main areas in Wells. It is only open for limited hours, however.
- Crumble Coffee (both Renwick and Downtown locations): one of my favorite coffee spots in town! I’ve found that the Downtown location is a little less packed on Saturday mornings, which I appreciate.
- Cup & Kettle Tea: great when I need a warm drink but have reached my caffeine limit for the day. Cozy lighting and seating, although a little small.
- Switchyard Brewing Company: perfect for afternoons and weekends when coffee or tea won’t cut it. They allow outside food, so bring a snack!
Where do you feel most comfortable and productive in Bloomington?