Wake up Call for Workaholics (Throwback Thursday)

Series note:  The following post is part of the Rutgers Graduate Student Blog Throwback Thursday blog series, in which we will repost one of our most popular blog posts from years past.

My fellow blog writers have talked about ways to stay motivated, keep a sense of humor, how to better manage time and even how to manage depression.  Almost all of us have mentioned taking some time to yourself.  I was struck that we have to specifically call out taking time for enjoyment.  We each have our own goals in life – earn lots of money, obtain influence, help others, enjoy the world.  But on each path, an individual will feel unsatisfied if he/she is not committed to, and happy with, the chosen use of his/her time.  For example, if I am interested in helping others, I may feel extremely dissatisfied with spending all of my time alone staring at a computer screen or 96-well plate. Continue reading “Wake up Call for Workaholics (Throwback Thursday)”

The Hidden Virtues of Wasting Time (Throwback Thursday)

Series note:  The following post is part of the Rutgers Graduate Student Blog Throwback Thursday blog series, in which we will repost one of our most popular blog posts from years past.

For the benefit of the incoming graduate students, my department in college used to take surveys of everyone about what they would do if they were starting graduate school over again.  (They called this “Starting Over,” and it was such a fantastic idea that I shamelessly ripped off the idea when I came here.  Here are our results.)  As interesting as all the comments were, I was always most fascinated by the clear difference between the current student responses and the faculty responses.  The current students tended to dispense wisdom about academics, research, and the minutiae of navigating a Ph.D.  A lot of “study hard for your quals” and “start writing your dissertation early.”  The faculty, though, rarely mentioned such details.  Rather, they focused on…..well, how to stay human.  They tended to submit entreaties to go outside and exercise, to make time for family and friends, to stay healthy, and so on.  Not exactly what we’d expect from a profession that is notorious for its workaholism (which also seems to have led to a serious case of caffeine addiction). Continue reading “The Hidden Virtues of Wasting Time (Throwback Thursday)”

Healthy Living for the Graduate Student – The Basics

Where were you for the last four hours?  Most graduate students will answer, “In the lab” or “sitting at my computer.”  With the focus required for literature review, data analysis, writing manuscripts and bench research, it is unsurprising that our health often drops down the priority list.  Previous posts in this blog have discussed the importance of fun and making time for yourself, but this is a reminder that your physical health is important.  Lack of care for your lab instrument or computer leads to an inability to conduct research.  So too will lack of attention and care for your body and mind.  In this post, I will write some general comments about starting a health routine.  In future weeks, I will follow up with more details of nutrition and fitness requirements.

food bike

So what is important to know?  Nutrition and physical activity are both necessary.  Hate running? Or can’t find the time for that gym class? Go take a 10 minute walk around campus once or twice a day.  Run up and down the stairs in your building a few times. Maybe invest in an exercise ball “chair” or a standing desk for your office.  Try a few things to figure out what will work to give your body a little energy boost a few times a day.  There are numerous studies that show physical activity improves mental stamina and acuity and is, therefore, critical for a graduate student to maintain a steady pace of work.

Now about nutrition.  We all have our quick fixes and our special comfort foods that may not be the best fuel for our bodies.  So it is key to find balance in your food choices.  Eating the same things all the time is not desirable as you may be missing key nutrients, so add variety in fruits and vegetables, in your meal preparations and in your protein and fat sources.  Also, eating sweets and processed foods or quick snacks is ok if those times are occasional and balanced by nutritious, real food the rest of the time.  Consider your food intake as fuel – so will a protein and vegetable stir fry or a greasy pizza produce more focused, sustainable work energy?

It is easy to write about nutrition and exercise routines, but much harder to put this into practice.  Two ideas have helped me to find a sustainable routine.  First, try to prepare ahead of time – prepackage meals and snacks at the beginning of the week so you can just grab a portion each day on your way out the door, like this blogger does.  This requires a little planning on the weekend but makes it easier to make healthy choices during the week when you are busy.  Likewise, plan your exercise times ahead of schedule so you don’t have to think about it during the week.  Book the time and stick to it to make it a habit.  Second, be forgiving as you are starting a new routine.  It takes time to make habits and sometimes you fail with one system before finding another that works.  Keep trying until the habit sticks.

As we start this semester, I encourage you to consider your current nutrition and exercise habits.  How well are they fueling your studies?  Try the USDA Healthy Eating Index to determine the quality of your diet and take a look at the Let’s Move initiative for information about physical activity requirements.  What changes do you want to make?  What changes are reasonable to make this semester? I am eager to hear your plans, so comment below with thoughts and questions!

Parents in Grad School: We’re Doing the Best We Can.

When I signed on as a blogger, our fearless leader, Claudia Farber, suggested that I write about the work-life balance, as I am a new mom as well as a grad student at the finish line of a Ph.D. program.  “I’ll blog about the work-life balance as soon as I find one,” I joked.

Well. Half-joked.

I can’t offer advice.  It would be downright fraudulent. Advice should only come from people who know what they’re doing, and I’m winging it. Instead, I offer a handy little list of lessons I’ve learned in my first year as a parent and as a graduate student.

  • We’re all doing the best we can.

When you’re a parent, judgment abounds.   Your parenting style, your appearance (You look great!  You look tired!), your schedule, your work – everyone from grocery checkout clerks to your pediatrician will weigh in on your life choices.  And it’s a bit redundant because no one is judging you more harshly than you probably are on all these fronts.  At least, I know that’s the case for me, and all the ink that’s been spilled on imposter syndrome tells me I’m not alone here.  Parents in grad school, especially new parents, have a lot to handle and not enough time in which to do it.  So something, somewhere, has to give.  Here’s the good news.  Parenthood also brings a remarkable sense of clarity, so it’s pretty obvious what relationships, habits, etc., need to go.  Sometimes, in fact, they’re self-selecting.

  • I do not have time for this.

This sentence pretty much runs on repeat in my head throughout the day. Grad school and parenthood are each colossal black holes for free time.  Membership in either of these institutions comes with enough stress to turn your hair as grey as a two-term president’s, and the combination of the two means that you will probably have less time for friends than you used to.  If you’ve got deadlines, girls’ night out is going to have to slide.  If you’ve got a newborn, you can bet the farm that you’re not making it to that 35th birthday party, and if you do, you’ll be home in time for the local news.  Which you’ll miss because you’ll collapse in a heap at the foot of the bed instead.  That babies and grad school mean considerably less time for socializing is patently obvious to you, but you will find yourself occasionally having to explain and defend your priorities to a few folks.  If you find that, “I’m doing the best I can” isn’t good enough, you know whose number you can delete.  Anyone who can be jealous of a baby or a conference paper is going to demand more time than you can give.  It’s not their fault.  Your life is completely foreign to them – which you’re not allowed to say because it sounds sanctimonious and condescending – but it’s not your fault either.  As Ben Folds sang, it just happens sometimes.  And you don’t have time for it.

  • You can do it all.  You just can’t do it all at once.

I call my system “parenting triage”.  While the baby is napping, you have an opportunity to do the things that you’ve let slide.  (By the way, let me offer one small nugget of truth here. The advice that new parents invariably receive – especially moms – to sleep when the baby sleeps is nice in theory but not necessarily workable.  When else will you shower?  Eat lunch?  Read?  Put out the fires that we used to call housework?  And – do I dare dream? – work on the diss?)  But here’s the thing.  You can’t do all of them. You can’t even do most of them.  So you prioritize.

First come the basic bodily functions.  Sleeping, eating, visiting the bathroom that has now become something of a sanctuary in your house because it’s the only place that’s quiet – all of these things usually come at the top of the list.  These are closely followed by basic hygiene.  Normally this isn’t negotiable either, but the fact is that you can leave your house without having showered.  You can’t really go on with the rest of your day, much less take care of a child, if you are a sleep-deprived, starving shadow of a human being.  The third-level priorities then include writing, taking care of household chores, catching up on e-mails, and the like.

Now here’s the thing.  And this is the absolutely critical point.  You can do one, and sometimes you can do two, but you cannot do all of them.  If you want to nap, you are likely going to do it at the expense of a shower.  You can eat and then write, but you cannot eat, shower and then write.  Your priorities will shift depending on how long you’ve let one or more of them slide. And it’s okay.  You’ll get there.  Just do the best you can.  Hating yourself because you’re not as productive as you’d like to be is going to make you less likely to meet your deadlines and less likely to enjoy your time with your kids, not more.

  • Having no time means having no time to waste.

Credit for this quote, which I’m paraphrasing, goes to Laura Bennett, Project Runway’s most famous parent.  It’s completely true.  You might not have much time anymore, but when you do, you don’t waste it.  The parenting triage principle translates smoothly to writing.  It’s just about cutting the fat.  What do I absolutely have to do first?  Solidify the argument, address any gaps in the research, track down the only text that ever described the one London garden gate that is the lynchpin for my chapter on the architectural orders.  Now, what is negotiable?  That excursus on the semiotics of classical architecture is interesting but rather beyond the scope of the chapter.  And I don’t have time for it…at least, not today.  Just as you can leave your house without washed hair but not without, say, pants and a reasonable blood sugar level, your draft can go to your adviser without the paragraph in which you take on Habermas just for fun.  But it can’t go without a clear argument and explanation of your contribution to the field. 

Look, parenting in grad school is hard.  So is being a working parent of any walk of life. That’s why a modicum of compassion for others and for yourself is crucial to survival.  Your friend with the new baby couldn’t pick up the phone after you got dumped?  Be disappointed, but be compassionate.  She’s doing the best she can.  Your friends are subjecting you to insulting conversations about your parenting choices?  Stand up for yourself, and end it if you have to, but don’t judge them. They’re doing the best they can.  Not everybody has to accept your life choices, even if they’re the right ones.  Beating yourself up because you can’t spend the day at the park with your daughter?  (Oh, the guilt.  The guilt that comes with being a parent is a mighty thing indeed.)  It’s temporary. It’ll pass.  So lay off yourself.  You’re doing the best you can.

Wake up Call for Workaholics

Recently, my fellow blog writers have talked about ways to stay motivated, keep a sense of humor, how to better manage time and even how to manage depression.  Almost all of us have mentioned taking some time to yourself.  I was struck that we have to specifically call out taking time for enjoyment.  We each have our own goals in life – earn lots of money, obtain influence, help others, enjoy the world.  But on each path, an individual will feel unsatisfied if he/she is not committed to, and happy with, the chosen use of his/her time.  For example, if I am interested in helping others, I may feel extremely dissatisfied with spending all of my time alone staring at a computer screen or 96-well plate.

While I am certainly committed to and happy with my choice to pursue a PhD and what follows, I also am committed to having a rich family life and community and challenging myself both physically and intellectually.  Yet, with one-mindedness I pursue my research and teaching activities, leaving out the other parts that I want in my life.  Is this sacrifice temporary and necessary for the degree or am I pursuing my degree in a way that is harmful to my life goal?  This article about graduate student workaholics tells me it is the latter.

In this article, the author describes a university environment that encourages students to work ALL THE TIME.  When we are not in the lab or classroom, we are glued to our computers grading, reading, writing, analyzing data, etc.  While we are all in a rush to make the most of our time, we are burning ourselves out.  There should not be guilt associated with having a nice dinner with family or drinks with friends. Rather, taking that time will provide stress relief, happiness and will inspire productivity and creativity.

So, I am sharing this article as a wake up to all those who may be closet workaholics.  I certainly wouldn’t have called myself that before reading it. However, I have certainly taken work with me on vacations, cancelled personal appointments to finish work and worked in the evenings and outside of office hours.  These workaholic behaviors are listed in The Artist’s Way at Work which is referenced in the above article.  The realization that I need to set up  boundaries to fit in all that is important to me in life is empowering.  I encourage you to make a list of things that are important to you and prioritize them, not just your graduate work.  Because the work will still be there for you in the morning.

-workaholic in recovery

Sometimes in grad school, the days are dark…

It’s spring! It’s spring!

Well…it sort of is. The calendar says that spring is here, but the weather doesn’t really seem to have taken the hint. But the days are slowly getting longer, and the sun seems to shine brighter.

But for some of us grad students, the days still seem dark. Depression is common in grad school, so much so, that we joke that it is the normal state of graduate students. And to some extent, this is true: sometimes our work will get us down. However, prolonged periods of feeling down (or suicidal) might actually be a sign of actual clinical depression or another mental health problem. (There’s even a NY Times article and a Science Careers article about it.) And for as much as we talk about grad school making us depressed, we don’t seek help often enough, nor do we encourage others to do so.

So this is a short post to remind you that if the days seem really dark, reach out to someone. Rutgers provides counseling services to all students, and don’t be afraid or ashamed to take advantage of them. In fact, Rutgers Counseling, ADAP and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) has a special program just for graduate students, because they know that we face unique challenges.

Even if you don’t think that you have a serious mental health issue, sometimes it’s just nice to have someone listen. And I promise that it doesn’t mean that you’re less brilliant or capable than your peers.

Hopefully as summer draws closer, we will see many more bright days.

Surviving Grad School: Some Advice

As my graduate student career slowly, slowly comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting on the lessons and skills that I’ve learned along the way. As graduate students, sometimes (actually, most of the time) our graduate work consumes us, and we can lose sight of all the other things that happen around us. Here are a few key things that I’ve learned and that have kept me sane throughout this experience:

  1. Community: the very nature of grad school is isolating. You’re working on a novel project, which few people outside your lab or department understand. You see the same five (or ten, or whatever) people every day. Your loved ones don’t really understand what you do, or why (they might think that you’re just an overgrown college student). So it’s very, very important to build a small community of people to walk with you through this experience. Friends who will drag you out of the lab to have lunch before you forget to eat. Colleagues who will remind you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Mentors who will encourage you to press on when you’ve convinced yourself that you can’t do it.
  2. Diversify: have a side project that you work on in the lab. Learn a new skill like coding or data visualization. Teach and get one of the TA Project teaching certificates as well. Start a blog (or write for this one! =D). Take something out of this graduate school experience which isn’t just your dissertation project. It will keep you busy when you’re waiting for cells to grow, or to get comments back on your writing. It will give you something to make your resume/CV stand out when you’re looking for jobs or postdocs. It will introduce you to new people or things. It will give you a place to channel your pent-up frustrations.
  3. Step away: Yes. Step. away. from. the. bench. Or laptop. Or desk. Remind yourself of the world outside the ivory tower. Hang out with people with whom you talk about things other than your work. Take a walk and enjoy nature. But just do something, sometimes, to help you clear your head.

What are some other bits of advice you have for surviving graduate school?

The Magic of Motivation

At some point, while you have been reading articles for classes, attending seminars, teaching and occasionally collecting data, you have progressed into the later years of your PhD.  One day you will realize, “Hey, I’m getting there!” and simultaneously feel “Ugh, so much more to do.”  This is the point in time when your motivation is as necessary as your experimental controls.  Why does this point in time happen so abruptly and how do you keep moving past it?

First, let’s briefly consider why this dichotomy of optimism and frustration occurs.  I think it has to do with the grand scope of a PhD program.  The large, amorphous goal is to develop, execute and communicate a project of to-be-determined size, depth and importance.  What you find at the end may be completely different than what you thought when you started.  And there is no simple roadmap of how to get from Point A to Point B while hitting all the landmarks in between.

From Point A to Point B

Our minds (and hearts) often have difficulty wading through the small details of a big picture. To better allow our brains to get to the end point, we need to set smaller, intermediate goals.  Now you may think, “Goal setting is obviously important for getting my papers written and my   experiments completed, but how does this help my motivation?”   Not only do these intermediate goals enable us to manage the day-to-day, they help us see progress on the messy path to Point B.  This article on mindtools.com has some great tips for goal setting and utilizing these goals as a compass toward your big picture.

Goal setting seems like the practical explanation to the question of how to maintain motivation.  I really appreciated this TIME article’s not-so-logical explanation of productivity loss.   Life is not just logic, and emotions alter our productivity and motivation.  So, what to do when you have an experiment that is just not working, your advisor asking you to do more and the feeling of frustration and fatigue inhibiting every reasonable plan of action? Here are three magical suggestions:

  1. Stay Positive: Whatever is going wrong is temporary and not the end.  If you are relating to this article, it is because you are in the middle of the long journey.  This means you have accomplished A LOT on your way to this point.  Remember all of those experiments that have gone well, those papers that you have really liked, that conference talk that was awesome.
  2. Get Rewarded: Tom and Donna from Parks and Recreation have this one solid with “Treat Yo’self Day.”  You don’t need a reason – you’ll feel happy and much more excited to get back to the grind.
  3. Get Peer Pressure: You care what your friends think, so use them!  Ask them to push you toward that scholarship deadline or paper outline.  Be deadline buddies and set dates to check in on your progress.

There is no one path to a PhD or one solution for staying motivated, so these tips are as good a place to start as any.  Slow days will come and go.  Stick with it.  There is light at the end of the tunnel…

My favorite pizza places near Rutgers

I’m not sure why NJ pizza is so much better than the pizza in every other state, but it is (debate is welcome!) Some people claim the tap water in NYC is what makes their pizza so good, but this doesn’t explain the magic of NJ pizza. Perhaps, it’s a historic trend since the NY/NJ area has the largest population of Italian-American immigrants. Whatever the reasons may be, I thought it would be fitting to give the list of my favorite NJ pizza places within one hour drive of Rutgers for any grad students looking for a weekend food adventure. As a lifelong resident of NJ, I’ve had my fair share of Garden State pizza – but please let me know if you’ve got any other recommendations for me to try!

Brooklyn Boys, Edison (http://www.bkboyspizza.com/)
Conte’s, Princeton (http://contespizzaandbar.com/)
DeLorenzo’s Tomato Pies, Robbinsville (http://www.delorenzostomatopies.com/)
Federici’s, Freehold (http://www.federicis.com/)
Mancini’s, East Brunswick (http://www.mancinipizza.com/)
Nomad Pizza, Hopewell (http://www.nomadpizzaco.com/)
Osteria Procaccini, Kingston (http://www.osteriaprocaccini.com/)
Pete and Elda’s/Carmen’s Pizza, Neptune City (http://www.peteandeldas.com/)

Time Management Power Rankings

I’ve been in the Volunteer Blog Industry for a solid 3 months now and in that time I’ve learned two things. First, my grammar is atrocious. Second, if it’s one thing that drives readership and discussion, it’s power rankings.

During a month where the number of exams and papers are higher than the number of remaining class days, it’s important to think about time management, and where academics currently lie in the power rankings of your life.

Now a disclaimer, my rankings may be questioned or mocked, but they are MY rankings. I’d encourage you to place your top 5 in the comments.

1. Research/Experiments
After all, it is the reason we are here, right? While we all have other obligations, when pressed, I think we would all say on some level that our research is at #1 on most days, right? Thankfully, I’ve been here so long that classes no longer have a place on my rankings since I’m finished with my course load.

2. Sleep
I can’t stand the taste of coffee so getting a solid 7-8 hours of sleep is almost integral to having a productive day. I’ve often spoke to older people who use their age as an excuse to go to sleep earlier. If that’s the case, I can’t wait to get older.

3.  Basketball
My closest friends would say I watch too much basketball, but how well do LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Ricky Rubio really know me? Don’t worry, not a total waste of time as I often will watch games on my iPad while on the treadmill.

4. Teaching
Oh wait, I just finished all my teaching obligations outside the final exam!! If my bosses are reading this, it was absolutely #2, but needed a gimmick for this post.

4. Data Analysis
The beauty of my research is that it actually allows me to pile up data for months (I can say this from personal experience), without having to rush to get it done before starting my next experiment. Excel has become my best friend and worst enemy at times, with the amount of manipulation I need to do for Excel to make graphs, however with the help of macros and templates, Microsoft might need to go in my acknowledgements of my dissertation.

5. Video Games
Now that teaching is over, time for my old #6 to move back into top 5. Let’s hope this old friend (future Hall of Fame status in my Top 5) stays at #5 without going much higher.

So, as we wind down another semester, remember to focus on why you are here, but also don’t let graduate school overtake your life. Whether it’s basketball or video games, find something a little fun and stress-less to add to your Time Management Power Rankings this month.

What’s your 5 and should it change?

Finding your inner grad student foodie

Now that you’re a grad student, it’s time to eat like one. You may have spent undergrad meal times in the dining halls, but some quick math can show you that dining hall meal plans are no bargain price-wise. Cooking and eating at home will save you money and calories as you forgo the take-out menus. Besides, life isn’t really going to get any easier after grad school, so it’s time to learn how to balance work with your basic human needs – and cooking can be a fun break from work! Understandably, we have time and money constraints, so here’s some tips on how to cook and eat at home in the most efficient way:

  1. Plan meals and make a grocery list – plan your meals out one week at a time, make a shopping list, and execute the shopping list by crossing out items as you shop. This saves you from wandering and wasting time in the store, buying unnecessary items, and making multiple store trips each week.
  2. Cook meals with a purpose – it’s most time efficient to do bulk cooking early in the week so that you can have lots of leftovers. However, for people like me who can’t stand the thought of eating the same meal all week, choose the order of your meals for Mon to Fri so that by the end of the week you are using ingredients that will actually stay fresh that long (eggs, bags of frozen veggies, canned goods, pasta, etc.).
  3. Invest in some Tupperware – whatever you make for dinner each night, make enough to have for lunch leftovers the next day. I like glass containers so I know they’re microwave safe.
  4. Make quick and yummy meals – nothing kills the spirit of cooking quite like laborious meal prep, or, even worse, long meal prep followed by disappointing results. For quick, easy, and healthy meals, look for recipes that already have reviews. Here are my suggestions: The Runner’s World Cookbook, One Pan – Two Plates, Poor Girl Eats Well blog
  5. Set the cooking mood – play some music or watch TV, have a glass of wine, relax and enjoy.

Visiting the Jersey Shore this summer

As a lifelong NJ resident and avid lover of the Jersey Shore, the approaching Memorial Day weekend is my favorite time of year – the beaches are officially open again! For anyone staying on campus this summer who wants to visit the beach, here are my personal recommendations for shore destinations within one hour drive of New Brunswick:

  • Asbury Park Boardwalk – Made famous by “The Boss,” Bruce Springsteen, the Asbury Park boardwalk is an iconic Jersey Shore highlight. The old Convention Hall and grand arcade give the boardwalk historical grandeur and there are many newer features like a small water park for kids, shops and places to eat. I recommend the Crepe Shop.
  • Jenkinson’s Boardwalk – Another boardwalk I recommend is Jenkinson’s at Point Pleasant Beach. It has a large amusement park with rides, lots of boardwalk games, shops and mini golf. The Jenkinson’s Aquarium is a nice retreat in case of a passing thunderstorm or to escape the heat. Also, there are fireworks every Thursday night in July and August – a longtime Point Pleasant Beach tradition.
  • Sandy Hook National Park – If you are looking for a beach with lots of options for outdoor activities, then I would recommend Sandy Hook. In addition to very nice beaches with a view of the New York City skyline, Sandy Hook has biking and hiking trails, camping and picnic areas, boat launches and historical landmarks like Fort Hancock and the lighthouse. Keep in mind, however, the park is very popular on weekends and they stop letting people into the park when they reach their maximum capacity of visitors. So, I would recommend getting there early or going later in the day. On another note, if you plan to do any hiking, watch out for ticks and poison ivy which are common here.
  • Traditional family beaches – Just a short drive or bike ride away from the busy boardwalks are quieter, more relaxed beaches. If all you are looking for is to relax on the beach with a book and take a dip in the ocean once in a while to cool off, then I would recommend Bradley Beach or Manasquan. Bring a towel, a beach umbrella, a game to play on the beach, and a cooler for food and water and enjoy the day.

“Sabbaticals” for graduate students

Dynamic Ecology is a fantastic blog (written by a small group of contributors) on various topics in academic research and careers, especially in evolution and ecology.  They just featured a provocative new post advancing the idea of taking a “graduate student sabbatical” — when a grad student spends a long period of time somewhere outside of his/her home institution — to achieve research goals (e.g., forming a new collaboration, facilitating field work) or to accommodate family needs (e.g., a significant other with a job elsewhere).  Usually we only think of sabbaticals for faculty members, but grad students often do similar things all the time, even if we typically don’t call them sabbaticals.  It’s a fascinating angle, I recommend checking it out!

Reflections and Advice after Many Semesters

Last month, fellow blogger Brian Tholl wrote some advice about the graduate experience from his perspective as a first year graduate student. I think his advice is very useful and informative, and I want to reiterate some of it and add some advice from the perspective of a senior graduate student.

Brian is right, that transitioning into graduate studies can be difficult, and although the process is unique to each of us, much of his advice is likely to be useful to graduate students (even senior students like me). However, graduate school is itself a series of transitions, including admission, coursework, one or more qualifying exams, preliminary thesis work, intensive field work, lab work, research work or other studies, and thesis writing – not to mention teaching, personal life, and myriad other responsibilities unrelated the completion of the degree.

Graduate school is about transition — growth and change as a scholar, researcher, and educator is achieved throughout these transitions. It is important for graduate students to map out their graduate experience, which may vary from field to field, advisor to advisor, even student to student. But it is important to have reasonable expectations about what one wishes to accomplish at each stage of the degree program, information one should be seeking from one’s graduate director, advisor, and other faculty. Besides having day-to-day plans about when and where to invest one’s time, graduate students should have a structured and firm grasp of what their long-term goals are and how to accomplish them.

Organizing one’s free time is critical for first year students, and that will not change throughout one’s graduate studies and after. The responsibilities of graduate students (and in their futures as faculty, scholars, educators, or work) are usually task-oriented, rather than time-oriented. Significantly, these tasks are often very large, high-level goals, e.g. “write a thesis”, rather than simple short-term tasks, e.g. read XYZ paper in ABC journal for next week. Besides allocating time appropriately, it’s important to break down large tasks into small, feasible subitems and complete those subitems on a reasonable (not too lofty, not too lazy) schedule. Constructing these goals and setting them in a reasonable fashion allows students to complete seemingly impossible tasks, e.g. “write a thesis”, by working through a series of smaller, more tangible tasks.

Brian also mentions that graduate students should participate in social events, look after one’s health, and try to reduce stress. Learning to manage the demands and stresses of research work is a very important part of graduate school. It is indeed important for us to prioritize appropriately healthcare, healthy eating, stress-relief, and sleep. The time and money we spend on these may seem like a waste, because every waking hour could be spent working on our theses. But to the contrary, if we have a good perspective on our progress towards completing a degree, and taking care of our other obligations, e.g. teaching, we do have enough time.

Taking care of oneself will result in more effective and efficient research or teaching. There is a point of diminishing returns when a graduate student spends too much time working. I’m not saying don’t work hard — hard work is important, and we are all aware that graduate students may work 60+ hours per week, but in the remaining 80 or 100 hours, we should set aside time for eating right, sleeping adequately, and taking some personal time to relax and stay sane.

I will offer some other practical advice briefly, as a list rather than expounding at length:

  • Have conversations. All the time, with everyone, talk about research, talk about teaching, talk about anything. Use your friends and colleagues as sounding boards, discuss your challenges with your advisor, and really listen when people do the same with you.
  • Attend seminars, workshops, conferences. These are informative and fun, and should help you expand your scholarly boundaries. Even if the topics are tangential or unrelated to your research, you will learn much and may find hidden connections or new interests. This is also a useful way to do “networking.”
  • Teach your own classes whenever possible. This requires a huge time investment compared to TA work in recitations, lab sections, grading, etc. but is an incredibly important part of professional development. Even if you only teach one class for one summer, that’s a great opportunity to get teaching experience.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff, at least, not every time. Graduate students aspire to be scholars, educators, and leaders in their fields of study, which often requires incredible attention to detail. However, it is important to recognize which details are crucial and which are expendable. There is that metaphor about the forest and the trees — don’t get lost!

Marie desJardins has written an excellent, lengthy guide to being a graduate student, and while not all her advice will apply to every single student, it is actually very relevant to most of us and is a very useful and frequently cited tome of advice for graduate students.

Take a Break and Get Out!

For those of you new to Rutgers you may not be away of all the cool opportunities students can take advantage of with Rutgers Recreation.  Each semester they have numerous non-credit classes open to both undergrad and graduate students.  They also organize day trips for local recreation activities like hiking, yoga, whitewater rafting in addition to trips to visit local cities like Philadelphia and New York.

My most recent involvement was on Friday 9/30/13 when I participated in the RU Muddy 5K obstacle race.  It was a chance to get out and have some fun running through the Ecological Preserve on Livingston Campus while completing obstacles and crawling through a giant mud pit.  Luckily the weather was pretty warm because I was coated from head to toe in mud by the end of the race.  Although I did end up a bit bruised and battered from the obstacles it was a lot of fun and a nice change from the daily grind.

Tomorrow, 10/9/13, I am participating in Illuminate the Knight a 1.5mi run through Livingston campus that culminates in a dance party.  The course will be lighted with black lights, strobes, neons, laser and more.  It is suggests racers show up in neon and white to help light the course.  The after party at the finish line will have a DJ and more Rave lighting.  Registration is still open for anyone interested.

Visit Rutgers Recreation Facebook page to see tons of pictures of recent events, you’ll even see some muddy ones of me.  Hope to see some of you out there tomorrow and at other future events!