Work Hard, Play Harder, and Be Gentle with Yourself: Advice for the Beginning of Grad School and Beyond

I have a lot of thoughts on my mind as I wrap up my prosem on graduate education. I have spent a semester talking to young, hopeful, bright first-year graduate students about how to be successful in graduate school. I have also been supporting several students this semester who are currently on the job market and are having a mixed experience. I am also prepping for my PhD Job Market class for next semester and planning a series of posts here related to that course. Finally, I have read some books about productivity and academia the past few months, all of which emphasize well-being, though from vastly different perspectives. Here are some tips for new graduate students to keep in mind as they move through grad school. And some points that all of us would do well to remember.

Don’t let your self-worth get tied up in your graduate school performance

Let's all migrate here! photo credit: chuck4x5 Happy via photopin (license)

Let’s all migrate here!
photo credit: chuck4x5 Happy via photopin (license)

This is so hard to avoid. But graduate school performance is determined by many factors, a lot of them that are outside of your control. Perhaps you don’t realize going in to graduate school that your advisor rarely publishes, or no one told you to look and see if they do. Maybe you and your advisor just don’t mesh. Maybe you realize you really don’t like your research topic. Maybe a professor holds some kind of implicit bias against you. Maybe you just don’t like research and writing. Maybe you are feeling inadequate and experiencing imposter syndrome. All of these things can lead to you being less successful as a graduate student. And, going into graduate school, you may not realize many of them. Thus, just because graduate school doesn’t go well for you, or just because your CV has no publications on it, or just because you have no motivation to get research done, it doesn’t mean that you are not an awesome, smart, capable person. You are. But, maybe this is not the right environment for you. If it isn’t, I officially give you permission to quit and move on with your life. Maybe it is, but you need to make some changes. I officially give you permission to switch advisors, departments, or institutions. Make sure you remember that your self-worth is much more than your academic performance.

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Writing Group

As the mother of four (2 sons born in grad school, 2 sons born on the tenure track), people are always asking me “how do you do it?”  [Note, my husband never gets asked this question, which is a whole other blog post on gender attitudes.] My go to answer is always “high quality husband, high quality childcare”.  This is true. But, I have also been interested in productivity for a while. I have read several books on the subject, including books designed for academics like Advice for New Faculty by Robert Boice and How to Write a Lot by Paul Silva, and those designed for a general audience like Leave the Office Earlier by Laura Stack. I also participated in the National Center for Faculty Diversity and Development’s Faculty Success Program with Kerry Ann Roquemore, which I really enjoyed.

Recently a friend posted on Facebook that he and his wife, who are both on the tenure track, were going to need some tips for success with multiple children.  So, my friend Dave’s comment is inspiring my next series of posts.  I am going to post a few tips that I have found have helped me be productive.  Most I have implemented in the past five years or so, and I really think they have helped up my productivity.

The first tip I want to share is on my writing group.  After reading How to Write a Lot, my colleague Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan and I started a writing group with our graduate students. We started out simply; I remember that our first semester one of our tasks was to read How to Write a Lot.  We devised a schedule for the quarter (though Ohio State is now on semesters, so we now devise our schedule by semesters), and each person in the group took a week to share a piece of writing with the group. We usually distribute a draft of a paper, though sometimes it might just be an idea for a paper, or a conference proposal. Sarah and I both take turns in addition to the graduate students. The group helped boost our productivity by creating deadlines for the students, and for us.  For instance, if a student presented a paper at a conference in the fall, we would encourage the student to put the paper on our schedule to read in the spring.  This is very important because publishing is key for both tenure, and what I call the “first tenure track” – grad school.  The job market is so competitive, and to stand out at all, students need to make sure they are submitting their work for publication early and often. We found that writing group was successful and resulted in several submissions.

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