Grad 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!)
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!