Graduate school is challenging, frustrating, fun, rewarding, and so much more. Here are the 5 biggest lessons I learned from being a grad student this year:
- Email is a monster that must be controlled. I definitely had moments this year where I felt overwhelmed. One of the overwhelming factors was that I felt like email was taking over my life. One day, I made a promise to myself to stop checking email after 6 PM (most days), and guess what–nobody died! Turning off my email at night made me feel instantly better. Other countries are catching on to the psychological danger in constant email, check out this NPR post about the push for an “anti-stress regulation” in Germany, urging companies to reduce stress in the workplace and attempting to ban employers from contacting employees after hours.
- Writing is tough, and I’m not alone. Writing is hard, it turns out. This year I realized a couple things that I think will help in 2015: (1) first drafts are never awesome, but you just have to get started and (2) writing time can be scheduled, just like anything else. A grad student who I admire for his time management skills introduced me to Paul Silvia’s How to Write a Lot, and I love it. It essentially breaks down all excuses (I need a fancy desk: false), and basically argues that the way to write is to schedule it. Simple, brilliant, and something I’m working on. It helps to know I’m not alone in struggling to sit down and write. Check out this hilarious post “How to Write a Science Feature” by Cassandra Willyard on procrastination. I can identify with almost every step in her bunny-chasing-cat video tangents and late night kitchen runs.
- Being interdisciplinary is challenging but rewarding. As an aspiring historian of paleoanthropology, I have been fortunate to work with the Institute of Human Origins at ASU. We hope that keeping me educated and up to date on paleoanthropology will make me a better and more relevant historian. I took my first grad level paleoanth course this year, and it was difficult to say the least. Having studied anthropology as an undergrad, I knew the basics, but I was definitely overwhelmed with the abundance of hominin fossils (way more than I thought), as well as amount of information paleoanthropologists infer from those fossils. It was hard work, but I learned a lot and I feel very fortunate to be somewhat interdisciplinary (whatever that means).
- Fresh air is critical. In a world of windowless offices and constant nagging that I should be writing or working, the only way for me to truly disconnect is to go out to somewhere where I can breathe fresh air, soak up sunshine, and not have cell service. I am fortunate to live in a beautiful parts of the world (Arizona and Montana), so lakes like this one are just an hour away. I try to make it outside and unplug every Saturday, but even time in my backyard helps keep me sane and helps me to work more efficiently.
- Academia is a funny little corner of the world, and we must laugh sometimes. Like any corner of the world, academia is full of quirks and odd practices. The twitter account Shit Academics Say puts these oddities into perspective in a very comical way. Laughing about this life is a must.
Those are just my thoughts on 2014. I look forward to developing these practices even more in 2015. My windowless office will not steal my sanity!