Carving Out Time: Spring Semester

Academic “spring” may begin at the start of the semester in January, but March is always an exciting time as true spring is just around the corner (spring equinox, holla). This period of time can get very busy for graduate students. It’s tempting to get ALL THE THINGS done before summer hits: comprehensive exams, getting out that manuscript, and that other manuscript, securing summer field work or internships, and a whole slew of other goals. Keeping track of everything we hope to get done means a litany of lists. Both of us love to make lists, lists for groceries, packing, what needs to be done around the house, around the office, lists of code to run when it finally works, lists of things that could be wrong with our R code, all the lists. One of our favorite lists has got to be the List of Fun Way to Relax After Finishing a Thing. It’s very tempting to put off a lot of things while you’re hyper focused on an academic goal, but we think it’s important to carve out time for at least some of the fun things along the way. We also always love hearing how others deal with the constant work-life compromise struggle and warding off burnout.

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Checking Boxes: A Statistician in the Field

For nearly my entire life, I have lived within the home range of the Southern Flying Squirrel. However, if you asked most folks I grew up with or people around central Pennsylvanian, you’ll find is it rare to find anyone who has seen or even heard one. It’s likely they had no idea it was even a possibility! Growing up, I certainly never hear of any Southern Flying Squirrels in the woods surrounding our home. And perhaps it’s all this newfangled statistics knowledge making room in my brain by dumping stuff from undergraduate courses, but I also don’t really remember talking much about them in the Mammalogy course Rachel and I took where we were supposed to be able to ID EVERY Kentucky mammal. That course was a doozy – do you know how many little brown bats there are?! (Editor’s note: So many.  But they are in danger!)

Earlier this year instead of spending my day as I typically do (on campus working on research) I was able to join a fellow #StatStud graduate student, tagging along with her father out in the local wilderness. Steve Eisenhower is Regional Director for Natural Lands’ New Jersey preserves but since his daughter has joined the statistics department he has also expanded his work in New Jersey monitoring flying squirrel and kestrels into central Pennsylvania. These additional boxes have been added through his own personal volunteering efforts, in partnership with Shaver’s Creek, a resource for the community, and as a field laboratory for Penn State students to get hands-on experience teaching about the natural world. The extra opportunities to observe these species add to the general knowledge for conservationists, an they are a great opportunity for science outreach in these areas.

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Managing Your Motivation

Staying motivated in the unstructured work environment of academia can be difficult.  For me, it has always been easy to stay on task during the field season because the summer ticks away regardless of how much I get done.  I have to be organized and get in while the plants are growing and the tides are favorable. As summer gives way to fall, I have often gone through productivity slumps.  This was especially true after I was done with my coursework and, more recently, when I was struggling with some mental health issues. In spite of these challenges, I have been at this graduate school game for (*gulp*) nine years now, and I’ve learned a thing or two about how to bring structure to my days and set myself up for maximum productivity.  In other lucky news, I have tons of smart friends who kindly offered up some of their best advice on a Facebook thread I started. Thanks Tanya, Jeff, Christy, Brendan C, Danielle, Haley, Kevin, Sarah, Brendan H, Anne, Vadim, Ashley, Chhaya, Jamie, Lyndsey, Eddie, Jessica, Caroline, Sacha, Becky, Bjorn, Carlos, Aviva, and Colin!

Here are my top tips for staying focused and productive!

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That time I told the bartender I didn’t want popcorn and he told me I needed popcorn…and he was correct.

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