Building My Own Life for College and Beyond

Hi! My name is Valencia Nguyen and I am a second-year Industrial and Systems Engineering student working on the KEEN project as an undergraduate research assistant. I am also a first-generation student who initially had no idea how to navigate college, let alone figure out my career path. So, I thought I’d share my experiences and how I ended up where I am today. 

Going into college, I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I’ve seen what’s in the movies but had no idea what it’s really like. I ended up having an un-traditional first-year experience due to COVID-19. When I look back on it, it’s almost a blur. In the beginning, I remember how I barely left the dorm. All classes were online so there was almost no reason to leave except to get food from the dining halls. I had roommates who I will always be grateful for as it felt like we were all in it together. However, I still felt quite isolated. I knew there was more to college than just academics. 

So, I put myself out there. I went to the Student Involvement Fair in the fall and ended up with a whole list of organizations that I was interested in joining. At one point I was “in” 8 clubs at once, which I do not recommend. I created a tier system to determine which clubs I was going to stay in and those that I would leave. There were clubs that I wanted to get involved with their leadership, then there were clubs that I enjoyed just being a part of the general body, and then the clubs that I felt weren’t my priority that I would leave. Finding the right organizations that I wanted to be a part of was a big step for me in making college my own. Currently, I am involved with the Society of Women Engineers and Off the Lake Productions. Society of Women Engineers allowed me to find a community of women from all engineering majors and be able to grow professionally and personally. I’ve taken on a leadership position for next year as Website Director. The second is Off the Lake Productions which is a student-led theatre organization in which I am the Musical Technical Director. I wanted to dedicate time away from academics and into my passion for theatre. I have found so much value in getting involved within these groups as a way to meet new people and form awesome relationships. 

Next, I looked for an on-campus job. I honestly can’t remember what got me interested in looking for one, but I knew I thought it’d be cool to have a job throughout my college career. I started my first job in the second semester of my freshman year as an instructor assistant for a python class. I had taken it my first semester and enjoyed it so I decided to apply for the position. I really loved the opportunity to help other students throughout the course. While I loved my time as an instructor assistant, I wanted to do more. So, I explored how to get involved with research on campus. I “researched” the different projects that were going on around campus, which is an insane amount. I then stumbled upon a team within Engineering Education called the RIME Collaborative which I was interested in. I set up a meeting with Dr. Rachel Kajfez and here we are! During my time with RIME, I’ve been able to work on my own research paper for the KEEN project and have been able to dive into the research world. 

Another challenge I had to navigate was building my professional career. I had no connections and no idea how I was supposed to get an internship. I utilized Engineering Career Services and Society of Women Engineers events on building your professional profile and network. I also attended several career fairs in order to gain exposure and practice talking with companies. If I were to share any advice, it would be to advocate for yourself during interviews! In addition, I learned to not be afraid to apply to jobs and companies that may be a reach to get an interview with. You never know where you’ll get an opportunity. Last summer, I got an internship with the Navy through a scholarship I applied for. I didn’t even end up getting the scholarship but they still reached out to me. This upcoming fall, I’ll be doing a co-op with Disney in which I got an interview by simply submitting my resume. The work scene can be unpredictable, so I apply for things I am interested in no matter what because you never know where it can take you. I have learned a lot throughout college when it comes to navigating the professional world and feel confident about the future.

To conclude, there is no way to do college right. Everyone has their own path and way of doing things. Something I will always advocate for is not to be afraid to reach out for help! I know I am no expert in certain topics, so I try to reach out or attend sessions where I can educate myself.

Day in the Life: How to not get burned out as a UTA and/or URA

My day begins the night before as I’m tucked into bed by 10:30 to meet my minimum 7 hours of sleep.  The next morning, I’m up at 6:00 AM and at the gym by 7:00 AM.  I do 40 minutes to an hour of vigorous exercise before walking back to my apartment, eating a light breakfast, and finishing the morning routine with a cold shower.  After my routine, I attend my duties as a TA for the Honors Fundamentals of Engineering Class (I am their favorite TA), then go to my classes (yes, all of them).  Following my classes, I do two 90-minute deep work sessions to complete all my homework and then another 90-minute session to work on one of my many research projects.  My work day ends at 5:30 PM and I spend the rest of my day working on my own creative passions and spending time with family and friends… is what I would say if I had a perfect routine.

The truth is, my routine is far from perfect, and although I do incorporate parts of my fantasy routine into my daily life, I frequently miss meetings and let deadlines slip past me.  Being both a UTA and URA can be exhausting and can leave you questioning how you ended up here.  Add on some extra credit hours a semester and you could easily earn a one-way ticket to Burnout City.  However, as a second-year student in my undergraduate journey, I’ve learned to spend less time on busy work (work is endless, but you have the power to put a pause on it) and spend more time on prioritizing the work that matters to me, something that I believe is highly underrated.   Here are some tips from my fantasy schedule that I personally incorporate and that I believe you should incorporate as well.

#1: Quality Sleep

“…as I’m tucked into bed by 10:30 to meet my minimum 7 hours of sleep”

Although this sounds like wishful thinking, I’m completely serious.  I know that unless you’re a toddler, quality sleep is hard to come by, especially 6-8 hours of it.  However, from my personal experience, research that’s out there, and common sense, quality sleep is vital to proper function.  As someone who has to grade students, write research papers, and spend unethical hours on homework, it’s crucial that I perform with mental clarity and with adequate cognitive function to avoid letting work bleed into other important areas of my life.  What about drinking coffee?  While coffee may offer temporary benefits such as jittering and the occasional extreme focus, the residual sleep deprivation eventually creeps back in as the coffee wears off.  The optimal solution for mental sharpness?  Drink coffee AND get 6-8 hours of sleep.  Your cognitive function and overall health will thank me.

#2: Physical Movement

“I do 40 minutes to an hour of vigorous exercise”

With this tip comes the concept of making time.  While humans are limited by their ability to create time out of thin air, we have the power to organize our days the way we want to.  If we can scroll on social media for hours at a time, then we can get some movement too.  Other than the obvious physical benefits of exercise such as improved health, working out FEELS GOOD.  Physical exercise has been known to release dopamine in the brain, improving mood and overall well being.  Personally, working out early in the morning establishes the tone for the rest of my day.  No longer am I groggy walking to class 5 minutes after I wake up, but I am refreshed and accomplished because of overcoming resistance early in the morning.  Whether it be walking, jogging, lifting, playing sports, or rolling in the grass, anything that gets you moving for at least 40-60 minutes will do.

#3: Social Interaction

“…spending time with family and friends”

This tip is highly underrated.  A lot of people may view social interaction as a waste of time when “hustle culture” dominates as the current societal norm.  However, working 80 hours of week alone in your room is not the key to a good life.  Not only is social interaction just plain fun and relaxing, collaboration for me has also stimulated my creativity in many ways.  By talking to my friends and family about the crazy ideas that I have in my life, I’ve been able to bounce ideas and generate new, creative solutions to different problems in my life.  Don’t isolate yourself because you think it will help you do more work.  Not being able to talk about your long day will just lead to longer days until you eventually burn out.

#4: Deep Work

“I do two 90-minute deep work sessions to complete all my homework”

The tips aforementioned will greatly benefit your overall mental health and physical health and set a good foundation for you to separate work from life.  However, you may be asking how you can fit all of this into your busy schedule.

“I don’t know how I can get quality sleep, get at least 40 minutes of exercise a day, and get social interaction when I’m taking 17 credit hours and have a research position and teaching position!” – me, probably.

But this is where the magic comes, the game changing tip that has altered the philosophy of my work-life balance: The 90 minute deep work session.  After I learned about the 90 minute session, I stopped working from 9 AM to 12 AM, scattering myself to respond to student emails, then switch to write one sentence of my paper, finish half a homework assignment, then scroll on Instagram for an hour.  Instead, I now let myself work with no distractions for 3-4 hours a day and prioritize the work that I either need to get done (homework with immediate deadlines), or work that I am passionate about and work that will hone the skills for my future career.  How do I do it?  I let myself believe that the work that I’m doing in front of me for the next 90 minutes is the most important task that I have in my life because it’s what will make me grow as a person and as a subject matter expert.  Obviously, I also turn my devices on do not disturb or put them in another room.  For example, if I am grading, editing a paper, or doing homework (tedious work that does not require much thought), I will finish that within one 90 minute session.  This gives me at least 2-3 more hours in a day to commit myself to long term studying for exams, or even personal projects such as doing a new project in Python or making a short film.

The rest is simple arithmetic.  7 hours of sleep + 4 hours of work = 11 hours.  24 hours in a day – 11 hours = 13 hours to go to class, join meetings, respond to emails, do physical movement, and have social interaction.


It’s Time for the KNC!

Tomorrow I will be traveling to the KEEN National Conference (KNC)! The KNC is a gathering of individuals interested in developing the entrepreneurial mindset (EM) in engineering students. During my time at OSU, I have been involved with KEEN (the network around EM) in a variety of capacities. I’ve been involved with grants, classroom implementation/curriculum development, and coaching after a summer workshop. While KEEN is very focused on undergraduate education, I have been able to apply what I’ve learned about EM to many aspects of my work including my research and work with graduate students.

My favorite part about working with this group is the people. I’ve met so many amazing faculty at institutions across the United States through KEEN. It has been extremely rewarding to get to know them and learn more about their programs, many of which are very different than our programs at OSU in terms of focus and size. It’s been wonderful to learn so much from them and develop collaborations and connections around and beyond EM. I’m looking forward to seeing so many familiar faces at the KNC and getting to meet new people as well.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to at the KNC is just being in person! I love the energy around an in-person conference and really missed that over the last few years. Hallway conversations can be some of the most important at conferences and those are very difficult to recreate in a virtual world. While being in-person for conferences is really exhausting in the moment, it is also really energizing as you come back to campus and think about all the new things you can try based on what you’ve learned. I’m looking forward to being tired after this event!

Toy Adaptation with Hilliard Schools

Dr. Kajfez recently met with a group of 4th graders at a local elementary school. Check out the story here:

Tips for Writing Multiple Papers Simultaneously

My semester has consisted of writing, writing, and more writing! Because of this writing workload, I had to be extremely organized with my hours and writing time. Below are some tips and tools that I found helpful along the way to keep me on track, hold myself accountable, and achieve my writing goals that I hope will be useful to others writing multiple papers simultaneously.

#1: Make and continually assess a long-term strategic plan

Each semester I make a week-by-week plan with all my papers/projects so that I can see all my goals and tasks in one table. This helps me to ensure I meet deadlines for all my assignments (see tip #3) but also to manage my workload (see tip #2) on a weekly basis. As I’m creating my plan, I consider deadlines for each paper, mine and my team’s schedules, and other responsibilities outside of writing so that I may balance my workload each week to meet deadlines without burning out. I continually revisit this strategic plan every week or two to ensure that I am progressing, including assessing whether the plan needs to be adjusted. I also build in a buffer for each paper to account for any final reviews or edits that are needed prior to submitting – or in case I fall behind schedule. By creating and continually reassessing my plan, I am able to see what’s coming, so that deadlines don’t sneak up!

#2: Set short-term goals to manage workload

At the start of each week, I set my weekly writing goals and how I am going to allocate my time between my tasks. Weekly goals help me to break down my long-term goals into actionable, achievable items. Each week, my goal is to make incremental progress on each of my papers, which may range from small tasks (e.g., starting an outline) to larger tasks (e.g., writing a whole section of a paper). As I set my weekly goals, I utilize the long-term plan created in #1 to ensure that the heavy writing items for my papers do not all fall within the same week. By setting short-term goals, I stay on track while feeling a sense accomplishment each week that I am progressing on each of my papers.

#3: Create personal accountability structures

In order to keep myself accountable for my writing tasks, I consider both external and internal deadlines. I make sure that external journal and conference deadlines are clearly indicated in my strategic plan (in #1), with a reasonable workload each week to reach those deadlines. If there are no external deadlines, I will work with my team to set internal deadlines to keep our writing on track and hold each other accountable. I may also create a personal accountability structure by asking a teammate or colleague in advance if they are willing to review my writing. By setting deadlines, I am more likely to keep on task and work toward my writing goals!


All that being said, my long-term strategic plan helps me to see the bigger picture and balance my workload. Weekly goals allow me to make continual progress by completing manageable tasks. And an accountability structure provides motivation to achieve both my short-term and long-term goals. At the end of the day (or week or semester), I reflect on my accomplishments, whether a small writing task or a larger writing goal. I remind myself that any progress is good progress and that it will all get done in the end.

Dissertation Research Decision Making

Throughout the dissertation research process there are many decisions you must make. What is your topic of choice? Which methods will you use to answer your research questions? How much data do you need? But how do we make these decisions? I try to follow the three-step method below for making research-related decisions.

  1. Consult the relevant literature. Find examples of what other researchers have done within your field around your topic of choice. Often you can easily find helpful information on your topic within the literature that can inform your decision making. Sometimes you cannot and that is okay.
  2. Discuss potential options with trusted mentors and peers. Take advantage of the wealth of knowledge your advisor, dissertation committee, and even your peers have within your field. Your mentors have completed the dissertation process themselves in addition to the research they are currently performing. Their experience and expertise can help guide you toward an informed decision.
  3. Trust your gut. At the end of the day this is your research, and you will need to make final decisions. Sometimes, whether you think you are ready or not, you will need to make research decisions to keep making progress toward graduation. Use all the help from literature and trusted mentors or peers and make the decision that feels right to you. Just don’t forget to document the ‘why’ behind your decision.

Give this research decision making method a try!

The Beginning of a Journey: My First Month as a PhD Student in the EED

This semester, I began working on my PhD in Engineering Education here with RIME. I finished my M.S. in Mechanical Engineering this past spring, and couldn’t wait to get away from the calculus and technical work of my last two years of school. It was interesting and made me think critically, but I was eager to take on more of a human-centered approach to engineering.

When this new semester began, I was determined to dive deeply into this new world, learn more about the research being conducted, and begin searching for a research topic that I am passionate about. Even though this is something I am excited to do, it can be a little daunting when you think about how much literature in this field exists and how many facets engineering education touches on. Luckily, the courses I’m taking this semester are encouraging me to reflect on my engineering experiences in and out of the classroom, teaching me about myself and my values, and helping me develop some fundamental skills needed to be successful in this field.

All three of my courses (Foundations of Engineering Education, Learning Pedagogy & Assessment, and Qualitative Research), are full of reading, reflecting, writing, and discussions which juxtapose the typical education setting of technical engineering fields. It’s been a nice change of pace from all the technical work that went into my Masters. Because there is so much reading and writing in this field, I’ve found myself having lots of thoughts and ideas. To keep track of all these thoughts, it’s been handy to have a notebook with me at all times to jot them down so I can free up that headspace again for more thoughts. From things related to possible dissertation topics, to journal articles that have encouraged me to think differently, this notebook has quickly become a valuable tool for me in this first month of my PhD. My goal is to have a large whiteboard and write all these ideas on there too so I can take a step back, see my thoughts, make connections and use them to weave a larger narrative of what’s going on in my mind.

Like I said earlier, there’s been plenty of reading to do in this past month. Another PhD student of my cohort tallied up the total number of readings we’ve done in our Foundations and Learning Pedagogy class over this past month and we’re already at 30 articles! I didn’t realize how much ground we’ve already covered, but it’s been a good reminder for me to keep writing thoughtful summaries of each article and to keep my Literature Trace up to date so I can recall and refer back to all of these readings with ease when it’s time to study for my Qualifying Exam next summer.

With all the reading, writing, reflecting, and discussions I’ve had in this first month of my PhD, I’ve been able to refine the lens I want to conduct my work through and even added aspects to it that I hadn’t thought of before. It’s certainly a work in progress right now, but I’m confident I’ll be able to tailor it to suit my needs and desires and I’m excited to see what I discover in this field over the course of this year!

Reflections on the Qualifying Exam Experience: Advice for Future EED Students

Qualifying exams, sometimes referred to as preliminary exams, are a common milestone in most Ph.D. programs. Although varied in structure and design, these exams seek to measure a student’s ability to apply the skills and knowledge acquired during their graduate courses. In the EED, qualifiers are comprised of two components: (1) an oral portion modeled after an NSF review panel and (2) a written portion that requires students to craft essay-style responses to three-question prompts. The written portion of the exam is designed so that each of the three prompts pertains to the content covered in one of the core EED courses. The exam is regarded as the first major milestone in the Ph.D. process and is typically taken after the first year of study when students have completed the required courses (I.e., Foundations of Engineering Education, Learning Theory, Pedagogy, and Assessment, and Research Design.)

As someone who took the EED qualifier this past July, I have spent much of the last few weeks reflecting on my exam experience and thinking about what I could have done to be better prepared. In reflecting on this experience, I have identified 3 key pieces of advice for future EED graduate students to consider as they begin preparations to take their own qualifying exams.

  • Start preparing for your qualifier on the first day of classes.
    While the qualifying exam is probably the last thing on your mind during your first few weeks as a Ph.D. student, developing a long-term study plan and getting organized early in your Ph.D. experience can help set you up for success. This does not mean that you need to be drafting practice responses during your first week. In fact, you will likely be somewhat limited in how much “studying” and practice you can do until after you complete at least one of the required EED courses for the exam. Rather, I encourage you to begin by coming up with a broad plan for how you will organize your knowledge and course resources (I.e., course readings & notes). The written portion of the exam requires you to support your assertions with appropriate evidence. Organizing the readings/notes in a way that is meaningful to you and is easy to navigate can save you time during the written portion of the exam. In addition to setting up your organization system, you can begin to develop a plan or schedule for studying during the latter parts of the first semester and the entirety of the second (spring) semester. How long will it take you to review the course readings and your notes? Do you plan to practice writing a response for the exam? How do you plan to prepare for the oral panel? If you are struggling with where to start with regard to developing a study plan and getting organized, I encourage you to chat with your advisor(s) as they can serve as an important resource and guide.
  • Utilize the resources available to you.
    In addition to beginning preparations early, I also encourage you to take advantage of the resources that are available to help you prepare for the exam. For me, one of the most useful resources for preparing for the exam was reviewing examples of previous qualifier questions and their associated rubrics. Accessing and reviewing these materials provided insight into the types of questions that could potentially be asked during the exam and provided guidance with regard to the different components that were expected to be present to receive a “passing” score. In addition to reviewing the previous exams and rubrics provided by the department, I also advise future EED students to engage with other grad students in the department who have already gone through the exam process. Students who have taken the qualifiers can provide important insights into the exam process and share advice on how to be successful. I encourage you to ask these students about their experiences with the exam, what helped them be successful, and what they wish they would have done differently. While they are not obligated to share them with you, you can also ask these students to see their written responses, which may give you further insight into what a “passing” response or “failing” response looks like.
  • Practice, practice again, and then practice some more.
    The last piece of advice I have for future students is to practice drafting responses for the written portion of the exam. Although the questions vary each year, you can use questions from previous qualifiers and the associated rubrics as a guide for crafting practice responses. I highly recommend drafting at least one response to each of the questions to get a feel for the amount of work and time each prompts requires. This practice can help you plan and develop a realistic schedule to follow during the exam itself. Additionally, engaging in a practice round of writing can also illuminate areas of improvement with regard to how you have organized your course readings/notes, providing you with an opportunity to correct or reorganize these resources before the exam. In addition to drafting a practice response for each of the questions, I also encourage students to seek feedback on their work. Your advisor(s) and fellow Ph.D. students in the department can serve as great reviewers and provide you with suggestions on how to improve your writing for the actual exam.

I am hopeful that these 3 pieces of advice will help future EED students in preparing for the qualifier exam!

A toolkit for sustainable progress

As we approach the beginning of the autumn semester, I’m already missing the open calendar and minimal meetings of the summer months. Despite the greater flexibility the summer offers for my work schedule, it is often accompanied by dips in motivation where I feel a lot of resistance to furthering professional projects. In these last few weeks of the summer, I have noticed myself frequently reaching to tools in my kit of “things that I try when motivation is low.” Many of these “tools” are mindset-based and some are literal (e.g., Cuckoo Timer). I’ve decided to share some of those tools here, with the acknowledgement that these are things that work for me and might not work for everyone. This list has evolved over the last 10 years through trial-and-error and self-reflection and is also influenced by myriad works of others: books, conversations, podcasts, and social media content (some are listed below but I cannot possibly list them all!). I hope that in those times when work feels hard or just less-than-ideal, some of these approaches may help you reframe “work” to decrease resistance.

  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
  • Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zin
  • Playing Big by Tara Mohr
  • Deep Work by Cal Newport
  • Chelsea Tanner’s content
  • Adam Grant’s social media pages and on the Rich Roll podcast
  • Brad Stulberg on the Rich Roll podcast
    • shoutout to Dr. Julie Martin who encouraged EED postdocs to read Deep Work and Playing Big
    • in reviewing the authors I added to this list, I noticed the lack of diversity in the authorship, and wanted to call this out because in drafting this post, I’m encouraged to make an active point to seek out work from BIPOC, AAPI, and LGBTQ+ communities

Manage your energy versus your time.

I am a firm believer in tuning into your energy levels and then adjusting expectations and tasks accordingly. For example, I have gone through periods where I do a 5 or 10-minute meditation in the morning and observe what’s going on in my mind and body: Am I feeling fatigued or refreshed? Are my thoughts racing or quiet? What is my mood? If my mind and body give me the green light, I will jump right into a high energy task; red light, low energy task; somewhere in between, medium energy task. For this to be most successful, it’s best to designate energy levels for your tasks and have those written down wherever you track your tasks. For me, some examples include high: drafting a discussion section for a manuscript; medium: making edits to existing curriculum or manuscript text; low: grading and data management. Of course, energy and time are very intertwined, and it is impossible to divorce the concept of time from our work lives. So, I find this approach works best on days when you have several meeting/teaching-free hours devoted to solo tasks. Importantly, a morning check-in can reveal unexpected things that are going on in your mind and body and are always important to listen to!

Pick just ONE high energy task per day.

Following on my approach to managing energy, it’s important to aim to tackle just one high energy task per day. For every working day during which I have 2+ hours devoted to solo work time (“deep work” as Cal Newport says), I pick just one high energy task that I promise myself I will devote energy to. I usually choose something that takes a good amount of activation energy to begin (again, like writing). You’ll know which tasks these are because they’re likely the ones on your list that are “very important, not urgent” and keep getting pushed to tomorrow. I think it’s important to pick just ONE because the moment you have two things, you may prioritize the one that takes less mental energy. In practice, this works 3 out of every 5 times I set a high energy task intention. It’s not perfect, but it usually gets me to start to tackle some daunting tasks and lowers the activation energy substantially when I turn to it again on another day.

Change up your task list and scheduling approach if it’s not working for you.

There are an incredible number of strategies and tools for to-do lists, task lists, scheduling, bullet journaling, the list goes on. I have used very detailed to very “big picture” approaches including Miro board, written lists, iPad lists, lists in personal journals, lists on single fluorescent pieces of paper, notes on a Phone app, Evernote, my Outlook calendar … you get the idea. The takeaway is not that one is better than the rest but that different tools might serve you better at different times. Every few months I find that I end up changing my approach to scheduling, to-do lists, and goal setting. Regardless of the approach, what I have found the most helpful is doing a big-picture brain dump of everything I’d like to do during a set time, from one-week to one-semester, and grouping those tasks by category (e.g., research, teaching, professional development, service, personal, exercise). I start by planning my high energy tasks to be distributed across the time period and then do more detailed scheduling from there.

Align your to-do list with your values.

Sometimes certain tasks bring up a lot of resistance for a variety of reasons. It could be because it’s something you “have to do” for someone else, something that you associate with failure, something you simply find tedious and unenjoyable. Aligning your tasks with your values is a good approach for helping with this. How can you approach your to-do list in a way that reframes tasks so they’re FOR you? Not in a way that will result in you beating yourself up if you don’t complete everything or in a way that seems like it’s for other people? (<< This language comes from Chelsea Tanner!). An aside, I highly suggest taking some time to write your values down and treat this process as constantly evolving. Many others have written about this including several of the sources I cite above.

Practice a “soft” focus.

I used to approach work with the perspective that focus needed to be intense. We always hear about individuals having laser focus to accomplish great things. I found, however, that approaching a task that was especially mentally taxing gave me incredible anxiety. I often felt like I need to “gear up” to start the task and that ultimately resulted in procrastination. I need to make this cup of coffee before I start. I need to clean out my inbox so I can focus. I need to do smaller, shallower tasks to “work up to it”. The Headspace meditation app has a course on Focus where I originally heard the idea of approaching focus with a gentle or soft attitude. The premise of the course is that focus is a calm and serene state, not a tense state where your fight-or-flight nervous system is on high alert – the latter is not sustainable. This approach is especially helpful to me during heavy writing phases.

Taken together, the common theme across these ideas is to approach your work with a balance of self-discipline and self-compassion. The mindset approaches I’ve included here help to uncover whether work resistance is because of a very real physiological or mental cause (e.g., illness or depression) – always listen to these things! – or due to something less serious that you can approach with curiosity. Remember, Stress + rest = growth; stress + stress does not = growth. There is the axiom that “mood follows action” and sometimes with work resistance a nudge using one of these tools can really help get out of a rut and make work progress sustainable.

Lessons Learned from my First Year as a Faculty Member

I’ve made it through my first year as a full-time faculty member, and I’m back working with RIME this summer! I spent last year as a visiting faculty member in the Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering department at Miami University. I taught Introduction to Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering and Engineering Thermodynamics, along with mentoring a capstone team, trying to get my dissertation research published, and many other pieces of being a faculty member, not to mention my personal life! I’ve spent some time reflecting on my lessons learned this year, and wanted to share them:

  1. Make a plan (for the semester, the week, and the day) but be flexible: For me, if I go into a day (or week, or semester) without a plan for what I’m going to accomplish, I’m doomed to failure. I quickly realized that if I didn’t spend a few minutes planning my days and weeks, it was easy to let everything-from grading to writing-run away from me. Everyone is different, but I like to use an online calendar for my “hard and fast” events (such as classes and other meetings), but a paper hour-by-hour calendar to plan out things that were more flexible, like when I would grade an exam, or work on paper revisions. I would spend about 20 minutes right before I left for the day planning the next day, about an hour on Friday afternoon planning the next week, and a day or so laying out the semester in broad strokes. However, I quickly realized that I could not be too committed to my semester, weekly, or even daily plans, as things I hadn’t anticipated-from snow days to unexpected meetings. However, I found that I recovered better from these disruptions with a plan in place.
  2. Keep your commitments to yourself and your work: Like many jobs, I found that as a faculty member, there was always more work to be done. I found this to be particularly true in the aspects of my job related to teaching: there is always more lecture prep, or grading, or refining that assignment to be done. Because my role was primarily teaching related, I found my personal research goals often taking second (or third) place, and I could go days, if not weeks, without touching the manuscripts I’m working on. A colleague recommended setting a 30-minute meeting every day where I worked on my own research. I included this meeting in my “hard and fast” meetings on my online calendar, and keeping those meetings with myself made a tremendous difference in what I was able to accomplish over the course of the second half of the year.
  3. Learn when (and how) to say no: As someone who is more inclined to say yes than no to new opportunities, this was a hard lesson to learn. I like to say yes to new opportunities-often, they help meet new people, gain new skills, or learn something. However, there are only so many hours in the day, so you can’t say yes to everything!  One of the tactics that has helped me say no is by taking time to think about what I’ve been asked to do. Even when I’m asked in person to take part in something, I will often say something like “thank you for thinking of me! I may be interested but need to check my calendar. Can you send me an email with the information?” Having a ready response has helped me take a moment to pause and reflect if I actually have the time, skills, and interest in participating in new opportunities.
  4. Figure out and set your boundaries: This is where I struggled the most over the last year, and an area I am actively working on. During the past year, I sought to set boundaries around the end of my work day and my work week. However, especially during the busy parts of the semester, I often longer days than I planned. While this may be occasionally unavoidable, I do better work and am able to be more present in my personal life when I take time to relax and do things for myself. For me, removing my email from my personal phone was key to these boundaries. With no notification on my phone, I was more able to separate my personal and professional lives and take that time for myself. I am continually searching for ways to balance my professional and personal life and encourage you to do so as well.

I will be starting a new job as an Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Ohio Northern University, my alma mater, in the fall, and I will be taking these lessons learned into my new role. I can’t wait to see where I go from here and what other lessons I can learn as I go forward!