Grad Student Life: What Worked for Me in 2015

IMG_6471Grad school was crazy in 2015. I finished my courses, defended my prospectus, and even started writing my dissertation! Throughout the year, I struggled to maintain motivation, keep up confidence, and manage the workload (like many PhD students). Looking back on the year, 5 things stand out that helped me work through it:

  1. Hack the Commute: Audiobooks are Awesome. Audiobooks saved me in 2015. Early in the year, I moved to a town further away from the University, shifting my commute from a short bike ride to a long, traffic-filled freeway journey. At first, I had difficulty navigating this because the commute subtracted hours from my day and drained my energy. I tried listening to music, meditation, podcasts, you name it. But something clicked with audiobooks. Now my commutes are fascinating, I learn about mammoth DNA, dinosaur fossils, and more! This simple “hack” has changed the way I view my whole day. It has instilled me with confidence. I no longer “waste” this time, but instead use it to learn, which in turn makes me more motivated throughout the day.11822455_10155917552900077_6112795395327015781_n
  2. Ask for Writing Help: Even if it’s Painful. This one is simple: I started visiting the graduate writing center. Before sending my advisor drafts of dissertation chapters, I reviewed those drafts with an ediot. Every two weeks, I trekked over there with a section of a chapter, and every two weeks a patient editor read my draft out loud, making changes and discussing how I could improve. Listening this was painful, but I learned from it tremendously.
  3. Switch Gears: Read a Variety of Things. Dissertation writing can mean that reading is focused and purposeful. However, there are times when my energy drops and I just can’t do dissertation-level work. I just can’t take any more notes on Homo floresiensis teeth, and I can’t think deeply about what it means to be human. In the past, this energy drop meant I’d walk away, quit for the day. While sometimes this can be a good solution, I learned in 2015 that I can switch gears. Though I feel fatigued, I’ve found can still read–just different stuff. I might have had my fill of hominins for the day, but I can still pick up a book on dinosaurs, or the history of space travel–something that keeps me thinking but doesn’t require focus on at a dissertation level. 11902520_10156008382850077_1008282690347979639_n
  4. Stay on Track: Set Goals and Track Progress. In 2015 I finished my courses and swapped my teaching assistant position for an online research assistantship. I had no classes to attend, no place I had to be every day. Suddenly, my days opened up, stretching out like a vast ocean of possibilities. This was terrifying. I needed to figure out how to hold myself accountable and make good use of my time. I used a variety of methods to set goals and track my progress. I often set daily word count-goals (for example 500 words of dissertation a day), and I work with other grads in writing groups.

And as always, make sure to play! Even though I worked hard in 2015, I definitely also found time to play. From Arizona to Peru, I hiked around glaciers, skied in the mountains, and ran around the desert. I believe these breaks allow me to return to work more focused, committed, and excited. (Photos in this post are mine, from some of those great adventures!)

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What helped you all stay motivated and productive in 2015? Do any of these tips resinate with you?! Cheers to a great year and looking forward to making 2016 even better!

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