I really don’t need to tell y’all how easy it is to sink down into the murky swamp of grad school. How many times have you sighed and resigned yourself with that well worn “Well, I’ll get to [enter cool/useful shit here] after [enter giant pile of stress and obligations]”? If I had a puppy for every statement I made over the past two years that ended in “…after quals are done.” then I’d give up blogging/grad school and be a full time puppy snuggler (I’m really good at hypotheticals). I acknowledge that Summertime as an academic can entail a wide variety of busyness levels, but for many of us it’s time to catch up and take control of our lives and routines. If nothing else, there are less meetings to be had, which makes a huge difference.
Rachel and I have compiled a (non-exhaustive) list of #AcademicSummer To-Do items that will help you make the most of your life while rocking out your field season, internship, research, etc. Continue reading “GraduatedAF: Summer Edition”→
Happy Summer Solstice! Last summer was so massively insane for us. I (Rachel) did, what I can only assume to be, the most field work ever. I have lots to do this summer, but I’m trying to prioritize work life balance a bit during this busy season. Having said that, I have to admit I sort of hate the buzz wordy-ness of the phrase ‘work life balance’ for a couple reasons. First, because balance somehow implies equality between multiple values or goals. It’s probably more accurate to call them ‘work life trade-offs,’ a phrase I think I got from my masters adviser. Second, I feel like, particularly in academia, people absolutely love to talk about balance, then keep right on working 12 hours a day or whatever. If you need some encouragement to choose to have a life sometimes, here’s a story. I recently co-organized a panel on non-academic careers in conservation (It was so, so great! Want to know more?), and Heather Tallis, the Lead Scientist for The Nature Conservancy, literally said we need to establish the pattern of work life balance you want in your career while you’re in graduate school, and that you absolutely didn’t have to destroy yourself to be a big fancy pants scientist (like her). We pressed her on it later and she doubled down; seriously, no need to not have a life.
And I (Meridith) last summer was, unbeknownst to me, still in the beginning of my Quals Take Three journey studying my face off for Quals Part Two, while living in Seattle for half the summer. It was a fantastic adventure, but the pressure of the looming exam definitely applied a layer of guilt and dread to everything I did that wasn’t directly related to studying. To be fair, I DID get to see some lovely people and explore a new city and attend my first Statistical Meeting. AND I didn’t have the added stress of the Field Season Life. This summer I have much more flexibility to focus on my own work life trade-offs while I continue advancing my research in preparation to ROCK my first statistical conference presentation.
I finished my first semester of my PhD program last month after a long, very long, oh-so-long semester. For context, my previous educational career was in the biological sciences, but when applying to grad school (round two) I made the decision to pursue a degree in Statistics. This semester has held a lot of firsts, frustrations, and failures, but now that the dust has settled, I can look back on it with a clear view (hindsight is 20/20!). I want to take this time to reflect so that I can hopefully emerge with a more confident approach to my future semesters.
I was a little reluctant at first to reflect too much on my semester. It’s easy to be pessimistic when the stress is taking over your emotions. For a while I was getting really down on myself because for the first time in my life I wasn’t one of the students at the top. Or even in the middle. Even during my Master’s there was a pretty even playing field and it wasn’t difficult to get all A’s. Penn State is a whole other level of educational adventures. No, I’m not going to be the top student in my cohort. But, my undergraduate mentor, Albert Meier, was always fond of telling his students to take credit for their work at least three times. I am the one that has ventured so far outside of my comfort zone that I can barely see my precious old zone full of security and science. I am the one that improved over 60 points from one of my midterm exams to the final. I am the one who organized homework sessions and study sessions and grad student development workshops. It’s so important to not let yourself ignore your own achievements, especially during tougher times.
Rachel and I being almost as cute as Garcia during a Skype Chat.
My weekly accountability partnership meetings with Rachel work wonders for my productivity and confidence. I love sharing the ups and downs of my week with Rachel (and her sister, Sara) and have a great, positive support group to send me into the next week freshly motivated. This motivation and focus is really what ultimately helped me to get a lot of the aforementioned accomplishments done amidst the struggles of classes.These meetings began to get more sparse once my exams started up and Rachel’s quals neared, but we agreed that sometimes it’s necessary to put things on the backburner for a while if you need to focus. No reason to feel guilty or stressed if you have to cancel or postpone on someone. You know best how much you can handle on your plate, and if you need to take a few things off, don’t let it get you down. I also found that when I was getting overwhelmed, it was helpful to just ask around for help! My cohort chums were vital when I was getting bogged down with homework. It’s easy to think that you’re the only one struggling, but a quick chat confirmed that there were several of us that wanted some extra help and we still work together to work/talk through our homeworks (which is encouraged by our professors as long as we all write it up separately).
Looking towards the future is always my favorite part. Well needed breaks from school are usually just what I need to get re-motivated for the path ahead. I’m heading into part two of what very well may be the single most difficult year of schoolings of my entire life and I want to have my head on right. My department’s PhD program had undergone some recent changes that went into effect with my class, so everyone is a bit frazzled, but also very open to making changes. I like that my experiences (however tough) and feedback are very much valued within the department. My main goal for this semester is to be vocal with my questions. I’m usually the one in the front row with my hand raised in classes, but I’ve been letting myself get more and more intimidated by professors and classes so I stopped asking as many questions. But no more! My new classes and professors have been very enjoyable and I can already tell I’m feeling more comfortable and confident.
There’s lots of events and programs that I want to be more involved with in the future. However, I do need to be mindful of my time and try not to spread myself too thin. A quick talk with your advisor/supervisor can help you settle on a plan of action. I talked with my academic advisor and we agreed that I’ll hold off on starting any research projects until this summer, after hopefully PASSING all three sections of my quals. I really want to focus long term on increasing my leadership roles within the department and university, but I will have to keep that to a minimum for now. It’s really frustrating to have to hold off on a lot of these tasks and goals that I feel personally better suited to, but mastering the foundation of the content is my number one priority!
Give yourself credit when it’s due!
Figure out the best way to keep yourself motivated and focused.
Don’t be afraid to say no or not now to opportunities.
Communicate with your cohort/fellow graduate students.
Eye on the prize.
Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions!
Communicate your plan with your advisor/supervisor.