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Expectancy Amid Uncertainty

My life was full of expectation. After hitting “send” on my written comprehensive exams, my focus had begun shifting to grand plans for my dissertation. And four days after that submission, my boyfriend got down on one knee and we quickly started anticipating planning a wedding and the rest of our lives together. It’s strange now to look back on how certain everything felt then, only two months ago.

As graduate students, periods of uncertainty clearly are not limited to global pandemics. We face waiting and questioning as a regular part of our lives: awaiting program acceptances and funding decisions, sweating out peer-review periods on our manuscripts, conducting time-consuming research studies with no guarantee of positive results and entering a job market that may never lead to our dream position. The current impacts of COVID-19 layer on additional financial worries, research and teaching disruptions, and potential delays of program achievements. Whatever the reason may be, we are often tasked with balancing our expectations with our uncertainties.

I am a planner at heart. I love the feeling of making a to-do list and systematically checking things off until the goal is met. But the world isn’t always so predictable. Sometimes my plans don’t pan out, and my meticulous blueprint for life unfortunately cannot prevent the unexpected. If my previous experiences with rejections, job loss and failure had not already made that abundantly clear at an individual level, our collective experience with this pandemic is certainly driving the point home today. I anticipate that these feelings are familiar to many of my achievement-oriented, hyperorganized graduate student counterparts.

When uncertainty takes the form of waiting, it can be tempting to sit still and not make progress. We can fall victim to waiting passively for things to go back to “normal,” or for someone else to make a decision. But in these times, I try to remind myself that the world hasn’t stopped. It may have changed, but it hasn’t stopped. The old advice to “do what you can, with what you have, where you are” rings so true in these moments. In the current climate, we are all impacted in disparate ways, so what you can do or what you have is probably different than me or your colleagues. Pause to take inventory of where you are and what you’re working with and decide how you can continue to move forward, at whatever pace and in whatever direction is feasible. I have found that monotasking, focusing exclusively on only one thing for a period of time, helps me feel most productive amid the chaos of the world. If you are specifically struggling with being on the job market during COVID-19, this webinar offers practical action steps to keep moving forward. It might require shifting your focus or reframing your goals, but building resilience is key to coming out of a waiting period better on the other side.

In working to stay present in the current moment, we also must grapple with the uncertainty of what’s still to come. It can seem like there is no future to look forward to when it is so unclear what that future may look like. But looking ahead has always been important for my mental and emotional well-being, even when I have to do it in an adjusted way. With the long-range outlook of restrictions on gathering and travel so up in the air, I don’t know exactly how my wedding will look months from now. What I can look forward to, though, is being married and building a life together with my husband-to-be. Likewise, some of my dissertation plans may not pan out exactly as I had envisioned them (and not necessarily for pandemic-related reasons), but my committee and I are confident I will finish and earn my degree. Many of us are certainly grieving previously held expectations, but there’s value in remaining hopeful for the celebrations ahead. Whatever the milestone may be for you, I encourage you to keep looking forward to your goal while working to accept that some of the steps along the way may be different than you had planned.

Maintaining positive expectancy while simultaneously accepting uncertainty is no small feat. In both the ordinary challenges of graduate school and the current realities of the world, I don’t know exactly what you can do, or where you are, or what you have. But I hope somehow, in the way that’s right for you, you can keep moving forward and keep looking ahead to brighter tomorrows.

In These Stressful Times, Make Sure You’re Protecting Yourself

College can be a stressful experience at the best of times. After all, the steps you take in these pivotal steps will echo throughout your life, influencing your job and career prospects in the years to come. Not to mention the pressure of living on a modest budget, balancing part time work with your studies and managing your relationships with your partner, friends and family. As we prepare to face an international pandemic, the likes of which have not been seen in living memory, however, our stress levels may rise exponentially. While a stress response is perfectly natural, it can also make us more vulnerable. And we’re not just talking about coronavirus, either. There’s a reason why so many call stress the “silent killer”.

In this post we’ll look at why stress is particularly dangerous at this time and how you can protect your health.

 

How stress can make you more vulnerable to infections

Stress can seriously compromise immune function in a number of ways. The stress hormone cortisol can lower the number of lymphocytes your body produces and thus render your immune system less effective. When we’re stressed we also produce fewer white blood cells making our bodies less able to fight off harmful antigens.

As well as increasing our risk of everything from weight gain to cancer, chronic stress can make us more vulnerable to the international pandemic. As well as self-isolating, college students should take the following measures to reduce stress…

Meditate for 5 minutes every day

All the stresses and strains of day to day life can quickly add up and make us more susceptible to the health effects of chronic stress. Especially when we’re so utterly connected to the rest of the world via our smartphones. Mindfulness meditation, however, allows us to take a step back and slow down the pace of life. Just spend 5 minutes a day focusing on nothing but your breathing. It’s a great way to relax a reeling mind and reduce your body’s stress levels and all the inflammatory responses that come with long term stress.

 

Admit when you need help

Many of us self-medicate with alcohol and illicit substances when stressed. And while this is understandable, there’s a very fine line between recreational use and addiction. Addiction can exacerbate stress not to mention alienating you from your studies, your tutors and your part-time employers. Addiction In The Workplace is a serious issue for employers and employees alike. If you are worried that addiction may be an issue for you, it’s vital to get the support that you need and deserve.

Take the time to prepare nutritious meals

Students are famous for their reliance on high calorie, low nutrient takeout foods, fast food and convenience foods. However, all that sugar, sodium and salt can actually exacerbate stress levels, increase blood pressure and further compromise your immune function. Only fresh fruits and veggies contain the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that are needed to keep your immune system firing on all cylinders and keep you in good general health.

Take care of yourself in these uncertain and potentially scary times!

From Adulting Back to Studenting

I started “adulting” at age 21. I had taken a fairly standard route: graduate high school, attend a 4-year university, earn a bachelor’s degree, get a teaching position. I settled into a life with my own apartment, a full-time job, and a monthly paycheck. I taught in the public school system for six years before returning to graduate school full-time at the ripe old age of 27.

Now, you might be laughing, but I quickly realized just how many of my fellow graduate students had transitioned to Master’s or even PhD programs directly after completing a Bachelor’s degree. Of course, this varies quite a bit by program. Education is much more likely to attract students with previous teaching experience. In fact, the NSF reports that only 12% of education doctorates are earned by students age 30 or less, compared to more than half in the hard science fields. Inside the walls of the School of Education, I’m much more likely to encounter others with at least a few years of work experience. But when I attend social and networking events across the whole university, I am often one of the oldest people there.

Regardless of your field, it’s a big decision to transition back to the world of “studenting” after being a working professional. You have to highlight different things when applying to graduate programs and consider the financial implications of leaving a career to pursue an additional degree. But once you’re here, in the weird little world we call graduate school, there are simultaneously some adjustments to be made and some unique ways that having experienced the “real world” can really give you a leg up.

The Hard Parts

Let’s get the tough news out of the way first…

  • You know what it’s like to earn a real paycheck. Considering the fact that many graduate student organizations are fighting for stipends that match minimum wage, it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re taking a pay cut to go back to school. When you’re used to earning a steady income, it can require some real lifestyle changes to survive on a graduate student stipend.
  • You’ve become accustomed to some degree of structure. You may have worked a 9-5 office job, been responsible for a classroom of students all day, or otherwise put in your 40-hour work weeks before returning to school. Suddenly, you are responsible for your own deadlines and decisions, and apart from the 10 hours per week you might be in class, you decide how to spend your time. You’ll likely need to master some new time management and organizational strategies to cope with this lack of structure.
  • You’ll probably feel old. But it’s ok. Just chalk it up to life experience.

The Helpful Parts

  • You’ve experienced things, not just read about them. Because of my teaching experience, I knew the real issues firsthand. I saw how policies impacted schools and students and dealt with the nuances and sticky situations that research all too often forgets. In any field, job experience provides this genuine window into the real world that no textbook description can compare to. Professional experience equates to “street smarts,” and you can use this to your advantage in both graduate school and the job market.
  • You have some savings to lean on (hopefully). With the median debt of graduate students climbing to over $57,000, it is impossible to deny the value of entering graduate school with a financial cushion. If you’re smart about your saving and spending habits while working, you shouldn’t need to rely as heavily on costly loans. There was no way that I could live entirely on the stipend provided by my assistantship, but when combined with the savings I built up over six years of employment, I have been able to avoid borrowing.
  • You’ve developed positive work habits and skills. Many of us learned how to be great students in undergrad, but the working world and graduate school require a different set of skills. In my teaching career, I built my collaborative ability with other professionals, developed leadership competencies, and solidified organizational systems that have translated into my academic workload. The pedagogical communication style that I honed as a teacher now allows me to share my research with colleagues outside of my area, a skill that can go unlearned for students who fail to venture out from their narrow field. Recognizing the unique strengths that you cultivated as a professional can be a foundational building block toward graduate school success.
  • You know yourself and your interests. If I’m going to spend years learning “more and more about less and less” to get a doctorate, I want to be sure that I’m invested in my area of expertise. After undergrad, I knew that I cared about teaching students with disabilities, but I hadn’t yet discovered the issues that I was passionate about, the issues that I directly experienced as a teacher and that I am now able to tackle as a graduate student. Having a focus early on helps you select your school, your mentors, your courses, and your research topics without wasting time (and money) figuring it out after you’ve enrolled.

Overall, I believe I’m a much better graduate student because of my years spent “adulting,” and I wouldn’t change my path if I could go back.

Getting More Done in Less Time

Would having more time really make a difference in our productivity? Most of us would say yes – more hours would mean we could get more work done. However, productivity blogger, Scott H. Young, argues that focus rather than time dictates our output. Just turning off the phone, laptop, internet or locking yourself away for hours isn’t enough to maintain your focus.

Would having more time really make a difference in our productivity? Most of us would say yes – more hours would mean we could get more work done. However, productivity blogger, Scott H. Young, argues that focus rather than time dictates our output. Just turning off the phone, laptop, internet or locking yourself away for hours isn’t enough to maintain your focus. The key to staying focused is energy. Focus requires willpower, which in turn requires energy. The more energy a person has, the more willpower, and the longer one can maintain focus on a difficult task.

The solution, then, is to preserve energy, not “manage time”.  Young has several suggestions to do so:

  1. View time off as sacred.  Young suggests taking evenings and one weekend day off. You may not be able to take that much time away, but make sure that you set aside at least some time every week to do activities unrelated to your work and guard that time carefully.
  2. Never sacrifice sleep! If you skimp one hour a night to study, you need two additional hours of sleep to make up for it.
  3. Constrain your working hours.  Work in smaller, intense chunks of time rather than working nonstop all day.

In addition to maintaining energy, we also need to give ourselves the best chance to stay focused by eliminating time-wasting distractions.  Switching between tasks too frequently (constantly checking Facebook, Twitter, texts, and email are the usual culprits) destroys our workflow. Productivity experts admonish us to think about only one thing at a time, but we often have trouble with that. If you find distracting thoughts intruding on your work time, take a minute to write them down to get them off your mind, and if they’re important, schedule time to think about or act on them later. There are also a number of apps that will boost your willpower and therefore help you reserve energy for more important tasks:

  • Self-Control: An open-source app for Macs to help you avoid distracting websites while you work for a set period of time.  This works well with the Pomodoro Technique.
  • Focus WriterProvides a distraction-free writing environment that is Mac, Windows, and Linux compatible.
  • Anti-SocialThis Mac app turns off social media sites and requires a reboot to return to turn it off. There is a free trial available and a registered version for $15.
  • StayFocusedThis Google Chrome extension limits the time you can spend on websites you typically find distracting.  You can choose which sites and even specific in-page content and media to limit.
  • Time OutAnother Mac app that reminds you to take breaks periodically – stretch, rest your eyes, switch tasks – and is also customizable.

How to Embrace the Frugal Life How to Embrace the Frugal Life

Frugality is an unavoidable companion throughout graduate school due to our limited incomes. For those of us who are not naturally frugal (like me), it might be quite an unpleasant companion initially, one you constantly struggle with and attempt to escape. This post details six strategies to help us change our attitude toward frugality and instead welcome and embrace it. You should use these strategies to eliminate pain and discomfort from your practice of frugality.

1) Find your bigger “why.”

Sacrifice, by definition, is not fun. The key to embracing frugality rather than tolerating it is in identifying your motivation for practicing it. What life values is your frugality helping you fulfill? What are you able to do with the money that you free up through practicing frugality?

Personally, I wanted to handle my money responsibly. Being responsible is very important to me (eldest child much?), and when I started grad school that translated into living within my means, being financially independent from my parents, and starting to save for retirement. I learned to practice frugality in each of my budget categories, and it was satisfying because I believed that in doing so I was becoming more responsible. Money that I no longer spend on my everyday living expenses could be put into savings.

A couple years into grad school, I realized that traveling to see family and friends had also become very important to me. Finding a new way to be frugal in my monthly budget meant that more money was freed up to be added to my travel savings account. Making a sacrifice like canceling cable or ceasing eating out for convenience was made easier because I knew that the money would directly be put toward travel.

2) Widen your exposure to frugal strategies.

Not every frugal strategy you come across is going to work for your life; you can’t expect to happen upon a new frugal idea once every few months and implement 100 percent of them to fantastic success in your budget. Instead, you should expose yourself to lots of suggestions, knowing that you might only pick up on and start practicing a small fraction of them. In fact, you might even reject a frugal tip the first time you hear it, but cycle back around to trying it out a few months or years later when something in your circumstances or disposition has changed.

As a starting point, check out the video series I’m running on my Facebook page, Personal Finance for PhDs, this October. Every day I’m posting a new video that explains a frugal strategy and how I used it during graduate school. If you want to skip all the videos, you can go straight to this page to sign up to download a list of more than 40 frugal tips with links to further resources on each of them.

3) Keep a lid on your large, fixed expenses.

When students start practicing frugality, they usually first turn to areas such as their food spending (a variable expense). However, the most effective and least onerous area of your budget in which to practice frugality is your large, fixed expenses. When you make a frugal choice in your large, fixed expenses, you lock in a rate that works well for your overall budget, meaning that there is less need to frugalize your remaining variable expenses, which require more willpower.

Your large, fixed expenses will almost certainly include your rent/mortgage and car payment (if you have one), but might also include your insurance premiums, certain utilities, childcare, etc. Finding and moving to an inexpensive home or shopping for and buying an inexpensive car is not easy, but it is a one-time decision that will pay off every single month in perpetuity.

4) Focus on habit creation in one area at a time.

The next best thing after reducing a fixed expense is to create a habit that reduces a variable expense. It’s very taxing to continually have to force yourself to practice frugality in a certain area, but once the practice becomes a habit, you do it effortlessly. So when you try out a new frugal tip, give it some time – a few weeks, perhaps – before deciding whether you’ll stick with it or not. The practice should become easier and easier as the habit becomes ingrained. Over time, you’ll also figure out how to best fit the frugal tip into your life; this might not be obvious the first time or two you try it, so don’t give up too quickly.

It’s not a great idea to try to frugalize every area of your spending simultaneously. It will take a lot of effort to remember all the new frugal strategies you have in play, and it will be exhausting and possibly time-consuming to take on so much at once. Instead, focus on creating one new frugal habit at a time before moving on to the next one.

5) Experiment.

I think we’re sometimes reluctant to try a new frugal strategy because we can’t imagine practicing it indefinitely. But you don’t have to make a binding commitment to every frugal tip you try out.

I like to think of trying out a new frugal tip as a 30-day experiment. If you have been tracking your spending, you know how much you spent in the relevant budget category before implementing the tip (your control). Then, commit to practicing the strategy for just 30 days, noting how much less money you spend and how onerous (or not) you found the strategy. At the end of the month, evaluate whether the cost savings were worth the effort expended to decide whether to continue with the strategy.

6) Talk openly with your peers about frugality.

I recommend that you talk with your peers about money, specifically about your frugal aspirations.

First, this reveals to your peers that you are money-conscious and not likely to be a big spender. Frankly, this will probably come as a relief to most of your peers who are on just as tight a budget as you are. It helps to set the expectation in your social circle that entertainment and socializing will be accomplished without a large price tag.

Second, your classmates are going to be your best source of frugal tips, even better than the frugal wizards you can find online. This is because they have intimate knowledge of your university, your city, and your salary range. I recently facilitated my new workshop, Hack Your Budget, for the first time, and I was pleasantly surprised at the large number of frugal tips the participants shared with one another that were specific to their university and city – down to at what time and in what building a not-overtly-advertised pop-up discounted produce market operated. There was no way that an outsider like me could have generated that volume of frugal suggestions that were perfectly suited for that audience; it had to be crowd-sourced from a group of graduate students.

The core purpose of frugality is to minimize your monetary expenditures in areas that matter less to you so that you can redirect your money toward areas that matter more. Therefore, the areas of your spending that you try to frugalize (and how you use your money instead) is unique to you. It takes time and effort to develop that frugal fingerprint, but the end result should not feel difficult or uncomfortable.

What To Do While You’re Waiting for Your Grad School

So, you’ve requested your recommendations and your transcripts, taken your entrance exams, written your essays, and sent in your application forms. What do you do now?

Don’t be caught short!

Probably the most important thing is to double-check everything. You should call all of the schools to which you applied and verify that all pieces of your application have arrived successfully and are being reviewed. While this may seem overly cautious, too often an application is delayed because one piece or another was never sent. For example, a professor may have forgotten to send along a recommendation or transcripts may have arrived at the wrong place.

Don’t let your application fall victim to such an accident. Be proactive.

Be prepared

Although interviews are not common with all graduate programs, a few may require them. If this is the case, make sure to find out what is required of you, and be prepared to impress the committee with your passion for your field, your reasons for pursuing a graduate degree, and your qualifications.

Fill out some more forms

Another productive thing you can do while waiting is to consider your finances and fill out your financial aid forms. Knowing what funds you have available and what you can afford will help you weigh the offers from various schools when they arrive.

Visit again (or for the first time)

Many people take the opportunity to visit the schools they are considering while their applications are being processed. This may provide you with the opportunity to make an impression on the faculty. If nothing else, it will provide you with the chance to consider the school again and help you prepare to make a decision when you receive the responses to your applications.

Buy a Chia pet and watch it grow

Caring for a fake pet will no doubt relax you and give you a friend to confide in while you’re stressing about the results. Just don’t desert him after you’re accepted. Chia pets need sustained love and care.

Informational interviewing: Getting your foot in the door before you need a job

As I wrote in a previous post, this past summer I was an intern at the Department of State in the Office of the Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary.  In addition to experiencing the State Department work culture I attended invaluable career development workshops.  I’ve summarized here the information I obtained on Informational Interviewing, a skill I used extensively to build my network while in DC.

We have all heard that networking is the key to getting a job, so we attend conferences, career fairs, and join relevant professional societies.  However one type of networking students may be less aware of is informational interviewing.  This is when you meet with “connected” or “knowledgeable” professionals in your career field of interest.  The purpose of these meetings is not to obtain a job offer but instead to gather information, advice, referrals, and support.  These interviews are different from a job interview in that you take the initiative in conducting the interview by asking the questions.

These meetings allow you the opportunity to gather valuable information about potential career fields, companies, schools or organizations that you may want to work for in the future.  It lets you discover and explore previously unknown areas in your field and potential job leads.  It may expose you to important issues in your field of interest and also allows you to enlarge your network of contacts, by building on referrals.

When arranging for an informational interview briefly introduce yourself and explain why you want to meet them.  Let them know what type of information you are interested in and clarify that you are not looking for a job.  If you were referred by someone else make sure to mention that person’s name.  Make sure to acknowledge the value of the other person’s time so ask for only 20-30 minutes of their time.  If you are going to initiate contact over the phone have a script ready so that you cover all these aspects without having to think about what to say.  If you prefer contact by email, you should include what you are currently doing, a brief background on yourself, your referral or connection, and what you are looking for from that person.

In preparing for the interview learn as much as you can about the organization and the individual with whom you will meet.  Make sure to prepare and write down the questions that you will ask.  Develop priorities for the interview so that you get the most important information from the contact that you can.  Some example questions are:

– How did you get into this line of work?

– What has been your career path?

– What skills do you need to be successful in the job/field/organization?

– What associations and professional membership organizations do you find most useful?

– Whom else should I talk with and may I use your name when I contact him/her?

When conducting the interview make sure to arrive on time and restate the purpose of your meeting.  Focus on getting answers to your most important questions and don’t forget to ask for advice, information and referrals.  Make sure to stick to the time frame that you asked for originally and do not offer a resume unless asked.  Thank the individual and ask if you may keep in touch, typically by connecting on LinkedIn.  Within 24 hours you should follow up with a thank you note.  You can then periodically keep in touch.

Informational interviewing can help you to make better, more informed career decisions, and be more knowledgeable about positions or organizations of interest.  It also gives you experience and self-confidence in discussing your career interests for job interviews.  This is also an invaluable way to make you visible and connected to the job market.  Additionally, potential contacts are much more likely to take time out of their busy schedule to meet and help you if you are a student.  Informational interviewing is the method by which 70% of people get their next job offer and allows you to develop your networking skills even when not looking for a job.

What to Do the Summer Before You Start Grad School

Starting graduate school this fall? Like most soon-to-be grad students you’re probably both excited and anxious for classes to begin. What should you do between now and the beginning of your first semester as a graduate student?

Relax

Although you may be tempted to read ahead and get an early start on your studies, you should make time to relax. You’ve spent years working to get through college and make it into graduate school. You’re about to spend more years in graduate school and face more challenges and higher expectations than you encountered in college. Avoid burnout before the semester even begins. Take time off to relax or you may find yourself fried by October.

Try Not to Work

This may not be possible for most students, but remember that is the last summer that you will be free from academic responsibilities. Graduate students work during the summer. They do research, work with their advisor, and perhaps teach summer classes. If you can, take the summer off from work. Or at least cut back on your hours. If you must work, make as much downtime as you can. Consider leaving your job, or if you plan to continue working during the school year, consider taking a vacation two to three weeks before the semester starts. Do whatever is necessary to begin the semester refreshed rather than burned out.

Read for Fun

Come fall, you’ll have little to no time to read for pleasure. When you have some time off, you’ll probably find that you don’t want to read as that’s how you’ll spend large chunks of your time.

If you are moving to attend grad school, consider moving earlier in the summer. Give yourself time to learn about your new home. Discover grocery stores, banks, places to eat, study, and where to grab coffee. Get comfortable in your new home before the whirlwind start of the semester. Something as simple as having all of your belongings stored away and being able to easily find them will reduce your stress and make it easier to start fresh.

Get to Know Your Classmates

Most incoming cohorts of graduate students have some means of getting in contact with each other, whether through an email list, Facebook group, LinkedIn group, or some other means. Take advantages of these opportunities, should they arise. Interactions with your classmates are an important part of your grad school experience. You’ll study together, collaborate on research, and eventually be professional contacts after graduation. These personal and professional relationships can last your entire career.

Clean up Your Social Profiles

If you haven’t done so prior to applying to graduate school, make some time to review your social media profiles. Are they set to Private? Do they present you in a positive, professional light? Ditch the college partying pics and posts with profanity. Clean up your Twitter profile and tweets as well. Anyone who works with you is likely to Google you. Don’t let them find material that makes them question your judgment.

Keep Your Mind Agile: Prep a Little

The key word is little. Read a few of your advisor’s papers—not everything. If you haven’t been matched with an advisor, read a bit about faculty members whose work interests you. Do not burn yourself out. Read a little simply to keep your mind active. Do not study. Also, keep an eye out for topics that interest you. Note a stimulating newspaper article or website. Don’t try to come up with a thesis, but simply note topics and ideas that intrigue you. Once the semester starts and you make contact with an advisor, you can sort through your ideas. Over the summer your goal should simply be to remain an active thinker.

Overall, consider the summer before graduate school as a time to recharge and rest. Emotionally and mentally prepare yourself for the amazing experience to come. There will be plenty of time to work and you’ll face many responsibilities and expectations once graduate school begins. Take as much time off as you can—and have fun.

5 Time Management Habits for Graduate Students

Have you ever wished there were a few extra hours in the day? Attending graduate school isn’t easy, and many students find themselves struggling to meet the difficult demands of their degree programs. Add personal and professional obligations to the mix, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. How can you get it all done? Develop these five time management habits, and you’ll be better prepared to make each day a productive one.

1. Use a planner to keep everything straight.

Whether you use an app on your smartphone or prefer the old-fashioned paper version, a planner is a useful tool for anyone who needs to organize their time. Using one allows you to see at a glance where you need to be each day, provides a visual reminder of important deadlines and events, and allows you to decide how you can best use your time to accomplish the various tasks on your to-do list. When logging things in your planner, include school assignments, professional obligations and personal tasks.

2. Be honest about how you use your time.

How often does a 10-minute task turn into a two-hour one? While anyone can underestimate the time required to do something once in a while, doing so regularly will leave you perpetually behind schedule. Be honest with yourself about how long it will take you to accomplish something. This will allow you to create an accurate picture of what you can truly get done in a day. Don’t forget to account for travel time, breaks and the occasional interruption when you work out your daily schedule.

3. Work smarter instead of harder.

Do you prefer to learn with a visual, auditory or kinesthetic approach? Think about what gets the best results for you and use that knowledge to work smarter. Are you a morning person or a night owl? As The Wall Street Journal reports, research suggests that recognizing the pattern established by your body clock, which affects both your energy level and your ability to focus, will help you identify the time when you can most effectively tackle challenging tasks. Think about when you are typically most productive and use your body’s natural rhythm to your advantage. If you’re eager to go in the morning but ready to nap after lunch, try to schedule the tasks that take priority in the morning. If your mind is fuzzy in the afternoon but clear as a bell in the evening, save the tough jobs for after dinner.

4. Don’t overcommit yourself.

There are only so many hours a day. With the demands of graduate school on your plate, you’ll need to use them wisely. Take time to clearly identify your priorities and be prepared to say no to anything that conflicts with them. Do you have trouble saying no when you’re asked to do something? It can be tough, but saying no is a life skill that comes in handy even when graduate school is just a fond memory. If you need to refuse a request, don’t make excuses because that often encourages people to try to persuade you. Instead, keep your reply simple, clear and polite.

5. Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

When people are busy, sleep is often the first thing they sacrifice. Eating healthy meals and exercising are other activities that get cut. Don’t fall into this trap. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle actually gives you the energy you need to get things done and helps keep your immune system strong so that it can fend off illnesses. It also improves focus so that you can work more effectively. When using your planner to set up your schedule for the week, be sure to include sufficient time to sleep, eat and exercise.

Cultivating good time management habits will make graduate school a much richer and more pleasant experience. As a bonus, those same habits will also serve you well when you’re ready to turn your energies toward your career.

How to Get a Recommendation Letter for Graduate School

The letter of recommendation is the part of the graduate school application that students stress most over. As with all elements of the application process, your first step is to be sure that you understand what you’re asking for. Learn about letters of recommendation early, well before it is time to apply to graduate school.

What Is a Recommendation Letter?

A letter of recommendation is a letter written on your behalf, typically from an undergrad faculty member, that recommends you as a good candidate for graduate study. All graduate admissions committees require that letters of recommendation accompany students’ applications. Most require three. How do you do about getting a letter of recommendation, specifically a good letter of recommendation?

Prep Work: Develop Relationships with Faculty

Begin thinking about letters of recommendation as soon as you think you’d like to apply to graduate school because developing the relationships that are the foundation of good letters takes time. In all honesty, the best students seek to get to know professors and get involved regardless of whether they are interested in graduate study simply because it’s a good learning experience. Also, graduates will always need recommendations for jobs, even if they don’t go to graduate school. Seek experiences that will help you develop relationships with faculty that will get you excellent letters and help you learn about your field.

Choose Faculty to Write on Your Behalf

Carefully choose your letter writers, keeping in mind that admissions committees seek letters from specific types of professionals. Learn about what qualities to look for in referees and don’t fret if you’re a nontraditional student or one who seeks entry to graduate school several years after graduating from college.

How to Ask

Ask for letters appropriately. Be respectful and remember what not to do. Your professor does not have to write you a letter, so do not demand one. Demonstrate respect for your letter writer’s time by providing him or her with plenty of advance notice. At least a month is preferable (more is better). Less than two weeks is unacceptable (and may be met with a “No”). Provide referees with the info they need to write a stellar letter, including info about the programs, your interests, and goals.

Waive Your Rights to See the Letter

Most recommendation forms include a box to check and sign to indicate whether you waive or retain your rights to see the letter. Always waive your rights. Many referees will not write a non-confidential letter. Also, admissions committees will give letters more weight when they are confidential under the assumption that faculty will be more candid when the student cannot read the letter.

It’s OK to Follow-Up

Professors are busy. There are many classes, many students, many meetings, and many letters. Check in a week or two before its due to see if the recommendation has been sent or if they need anything else from you. Follow-up but don’t make a pest out of yourself. Check with the grad program and contact the prof again if it hasn’t been received. Give referees lots of time but also check in. Be friendly and don’t nag.

Afterwards

Thank your referees. Writing a letter of recommendation takes careful thought and hard work. Show that you appreciate it with a thank you note. Also, report back to your referees. Tell them about the status of your application and definitely tell them when you are accepted to graduate school. They’ll want to know, trust me!