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What Holiday Treat Should You Stress Bake/Eat?

It’s the most stre-e-essful time of the year!

Let’s face it: the Hallmark movies they’ve been showing since Halloween don’t depict the real end-of-the-year hustle no matter who you are, whether you’re a high school senior trying to finish your college applications before the end of the year or a college student with finals beating down the door. Even if you have everything under control, there’s the stress of traveling, family gatherings, shopping, decorating, entertaining, and all those holiday parties you have to attend!

Luckily, December is prime treat season. Now’s the time to stress-eat or, even better, stress-bake. Stress-baking, especially to share with others, has actual psychological benefits associated with it, according to science.

So take an application/study break, pull out the baking sheets and cookie cutters, and whip up one (or all) of these stress-beating snacks!

College app stress

If you’ve got your Common App filled out and all you need to do is finish those pesky supplemental questions and essays, you’ve earned yourself a decent break—which means you have time to put into baking some delicious gingerbread cookies or sufganiyot.

Depending on how well you’ve budgeted your time, you can donate more or less time to your cookie-making break. You can use store-bought dough that’s premixed or the kind you just need to add eggs and water to; you can make your own dough but limit your decorating to the bare minimum or not at all; or you can go all out and make the dough and frosting yourself and decorate each cookie with individual detail (if you really need to procrastinate take a break). What’s great about gingerbread is that you should let the dough rest for a little bit, and watching an oven is no fun, so you can work on your apps during those times. Just don’t forget to set a timer!

Sufganiyot are time-consuming but delicious jelly doughnuts for Hannukah. What’s great is that there’s a long inactive period while making these because the dough has to rise. Set a timer for the recommended rising time (maybe add a five-minute buffer just to be sure) and work on your applications intermittently. You can be busy in the kitchen and keep busy at work too! (Here’s a recipe for baked sufganiyot in case you’d like to be slightly healthier this season.)

Exam stress

With exams, you probably just want to step away from everything for a few days, or better yet, just not take them at all. While this seems like a great idea, it’s not really that possible. You’re better off to take a short break to make a quick fudge or some candy.

A lot of fudges are pretty easy to make and aren’t that time consuming. You have to give them time to cool before eating, but let that be your incentive to study hard or finish your essay in a timely fashion and reward yourself with decadent fudgy goodness. And all you need for a lot of fudge is a microwave, a microwave-safe bowl, and a pan to put it in! You can find some simple fudge recipes here and here.

There are also a lot of candy options. Again, these tend to require setting or cooling times, but that allows you to schedule different breaks in your studying. From a holiday twist on classic muddy buddies to homemade gelt to microwave-made candy, there are plenty of easy candy recipes floating around.

If you’re super nice and your class is on the smaller side (not a 100+ person lecture of course!), you might consider bringing some to your final for your classmates. Unless there’s none left of course!

General holiday stress

This is for the Golden Students who submitted their college applications early and are cool as a cucumber about exams. This time of year can still be anxiety inducing with all the pressure surrounding the holidays, plus Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) setting in for some people. You might need a little pick-me-up, and making food can be great stress relief. That’s why it’s called stress-baking! Since you don’t have to worry about being crunched for time, bake something delicious that will force you to focus on it for a while. Try making pie or maybe some truffles.

When it comes to pie, the prep time is long, but the payoff is big. And there are so many different types of seasonal pies you can make, from an old-fashioned pecan or apple pie to something less traditional like eggnog or cookie—warning: the literal best thing you’ll ever eat!—pie. If you’re really bored (and creative), you can get fancy with the crusts.

Truffles are delicious, addictive, and typically easy to make. However, they are a time commitment. They typically take at least an hour just to chocolate-coat them. But if you’ve ever had truffles, you know they’re worth it. You can find some recipes here and here.

And remember, if you don’t like baking, store-bought works just fine. Enjoy!

Debunking the Shame in ‘You Should Be Writing!’

“You should be writing!”

This popular tongue-in-cheek rebuke has been a humorous, if not a durable universal higher educational meme, familiar among graduate student researchers, academic faculty, and other writers. It softly shames us for engaging in activities unrelated to advancing and publishing our research–namely, the laborious and intensive writing part. Oh, the indignity of us partaking in something other than our scholarly writing!

While, maybe, we should be writing, it’s easier for some of us to take the comical scolding to heart. During a writing drought and after we’ve chosen to play pick-up volleyball with friends, spend quality time with family, or read non-academic books for pleasure, we may punish ourselves in the quiet aftermath for not working on our research scholarship. Shame, an outgrowth of the imposter syndrome, which GradHackers have extensively discussed here and here, can embed in us as firmly as our visceral reactions to feeling publicly humiliated.

In reality, we pack our bags for impending guilt trips when blocks and other distractions momentarily prevent us from writing effortlessly. In an interview with Inside Higher Ed Editor Scott Jaschik, Joli Jensen, the Hazel Rogers Professor of Communication at the University of Tulsa, says the unnecessary mystification of academic writing leads “many of us to feel shame and fear when our writing doesn’t go smoothly.”

It can be even more challenging in the face of looming deadlines, when deep feelings of guilt and embarrassment triggered by writing slumps render us immobile. Before long, we’re stuck, and our scholarship has stalled. Sadly, building disengagement can give way to academic writing paralysis.

The voice in our heads scolds us.

“You should be writing!”

You can quell the inner turmoil that exists amid the need to meet timely writing targets and the call to enrich one’s emotional self with some intentional actions:

Read, read, and read some more. When you’re blocked, and you have yet to transform your own words, computations, and analyses into productive writing, you can at least expand your literature review as a prep for your continuing work. Research shows we learn to write by reading. Academic researchers who argue that only writing–and not reading–advances writing, have it halfway right. Why kick fellow academics when they’re down? Broadening one’s reading proficiency, as we’re compelled to do through lit reviews, inspires graduate researchers to make progress–and write more. This, from writer Mike Elgan: “When you are thinking about what you’ll write, you’re actually engaged in the craft of writing—you’re doing the most important part of writing.”

Write something, anything related to your scholarship. Author Steven Pressfield would call it “making a start.” His book, The War of Art, aims to help writers break through all sorts of writing blocks. Ruminating on the words and related meanings connected to your research brings you that much closer to beating the resistance to write.

Get a little help from your friends. Discuss your reading and writing plans with colleagues and friends. Sharing a dialogue with them is good; you starting the conversation is even better for you and your writing progress. GradHacker Brady Krien in a recent article suggests some innovative ways for graduate scholars to communicate their research to the public.

Stop looking for large chunks of time to write. Unless you’ve been blessed with scholarly serendipity, which could certainly be the case, and you have loads of free time, the luxury of routine lengthy writing sessions is probably unrealistic. Think of your writing episodes as extended series of short piecemeal gains, as opposed to long and unvarying periods of writing.

Recommit yourself to the purpose of your research. Do you remember why you chose your original research topic? Recall your intention to pick that particular subject, to want to dive into the literature, and to discover the truths wrought by your own experimentation in the area. Reclaim your commitment to seeing your study through to the end. And know that you’ll need to begin writing (again) to make that a reality.

10 Small Things Students Should Be Thankful For

We all know we’re supposed to be thankful for the big stuff at this time of year—friends, family, your education, your job, food, good health. That stuff is no secret, and you’ll find plenty of memes and posts across the internet to remind you to be thankful for all that.

But this Thanksgiving, don’t just think of the big things you’re grateful for. Think of the little things too; the things that make life worth living for college students.

1. The friend who pays for Spotify

Nothing is worse than having to listen to ads every other song when you’re hanging out with friends having an impromptu karaoke session. Nothing, that is, except paying $10 a month for the privilege of not having those ads. Be thankful for your friend group’s DJ this season, especially if they let you choose the music.

2. Netflix

No commercials. No waiting a week for the next episode. No brainer.

3. Late-night delivery

Is it even really a Saturday if you don’t order food at midnight? Remember to be thankful for not just the pizza but the delivery person and those who made the food for you as well. They are true heroes because they keep you from having to go out in the cold or (worse) make it yourself.

4. Chocolate

Is there anything as universally perfect as chocolate? Is it not the perfect pick-me-up snack for a down day? Remember to be thankful for chocolate, especially when it’s in pie or cake form on the Thanksgiving dessert table.

5. When the library has your textbooks

Or finding a PDF online. Or your roommate sharing their textbook with you. Or when the professor just copies the chapters you need and gives them to you as handouts. Or when you just never bought the book and still haven’t used it in class. Essentially, just be thankful for all the ways you’ve saved money on textbooks this semester.

6. The snooze button

Life hack: if you set your alarm(s) early, you can hit the snooze button guilt-free for your extra five minutes. Besides, who doesn’t love the challenge of hitting snooze one too many times and trying to see if you can still get to class on time?

7. Coffee

Aka your blood during finals (read: in two weeks), midterms, all-nighters, and sometimes just life in general. Without coffee, college students wouldn’t survive a week. (Really no one would survive a week.)

8. Having friends in your class

Having a friend in your class means you always have someone to do homework with, someone to commiserate with, someone to gossip with, and someone to pass notes to. All very important things.

9. Puppies

Seriously? What did we do to deserve dogs?

10. Long weekends

Who doesn’t love a long weekend? Extra time to do homework (read: sleep), hang out with friends, and just relax in general. The especially good ones last more than three days, like the one for Thanksgiving!

Enjoy your Turkey Day, everyone!

Don’t Spend Your Holiday Break Writing

In a few weeks, I’ll be heading to Arizona with my husband and our preschooler. We’ll be on vacation for 13 days, and I will not bring my laptop. That’s because I practice what I preach as a writing consultant and academic-productivity specialist: Don’t just finish your monographs and articles on time — finish them on time without compromising your quality of life.

I ask every client I work with — whether a graduate student writing a dissertation or an academic working on a book or article — to take semester breaks actually, unequivocally, 100-percent off. Decompress. Enjoy (or “enjoy”) their families. Or just spend a week or two walking around in the fresh air, lingering over a fun conversation in a cafe, or binge-watching NewsRadio reruns and eating Red Vines at 9:30 a.m. Whatever.

The secret to taking holidays off is to be all caught up on your work plan before they start. And the way to be caught up on your work plan before the holidays start is to have a work plan. You’d be amazed (or not) at the number of perpetually aggrieved academics I know who don’t. They just sort of launch themselves in the general direction of their research a few times a month, and then — you guessed it — sequester themselves miserably for a few weeks of life-ruining lockdown right before their deadline.

If you actually want to have a happy relationship with your work, you need a prescription for exactly what you want to do every day. Yes, it can feel overwhelming to executive-function intellectual labor. But I guarantee that spending a 10 minutes a day (plus about 30 minutes at the top of the week) organizing your writing projects will save incalculable time and effort down the line.

The key to a successful work plan is to start a project — an entire monograph, a chapter, an article — with a healthy work trajectory and a clear-cut blueprint. Only you know how you best impart new information into your big, smart noggin, so I won’t presume that the structure I’m about to suggest will work for everyone. I will, however, presume that it will work 100 percent better than the most popular competing “strategy”: fretting and doing nothing.

Step No. 1: Write first. Possibly the most unconventional suggestion I give clients for creating a first draft is: Write first, then read, then write again, read more, and write one last time.

That flies in the face of the general wisdom that faculty members impart to undergraduates, which is to read the material carefully before they write a word. And for them, that holds — but not for you, because you have already spent upward of two decades reading and writing smart things, and you’ve almost certainly read the primary source material of your project at least once.

Most of you don’t follow that advice when you start a project. Instead you spend an untold amount of time attempting (and failing) to read Everything — every book, article, paragraph that could ever be relevant to your topic. Then you proceed to get more than a little psyched out by the polished quality of the published work: Will I ever be as good as this? Oh, no, what if I’m not? I’m not! I’ll never be! Hey, my couch needs vacuuming.

Yeah, don’t do that. Instead, at the beginning of a project — even if you have only the vaguest idea what it should be about — I suggest you set aside a week and free-write. On each workday of that week, spend 25 minutes twice a day (two “pomodoros” a day) and write down all the things that you know, want to know, are interested in, are confused, or are excited about in your new venture. Don’t try for paragraphs or even full sentences. Revel in the mess.

At the end of that week, you may have 1,000 to 4,000 words of semi-gibberish — but it holds the key to your future brilliance.

Step No. 2: The baby bibliography. From that inspired semi-gibberish, you will then mine your first annotated bibliography. And the annotations are the most important part. You should never read anything without writing something down about it. Look up about 10 sources on your subject — the 10 best or, at any rate, the most famous, or most recent and “exciting,” or most in vogue, or most something. Just start somewhere. For approximately two weeks, spend every work session reading (or rereading) those sources carefully, creating a full bibliographic entry for each one. Annotate each entry with:

  • The source’s main thesis.
  • Its primary impact on the field.
  • Two or three representative quotes.
  • Your own opinion about the source — what you think is brilliant, what you think is flawed.

Step No. 3: A skeleton draft. Using your baby bibliography, begin to merge some of your insights with your free-writing to form a primordial outline. You know how.

  • Organize under subject headings all the quotes, summaries, and opinions inspired by your free-writing.
  • Copy, paste, shape, and cut stuff.
  • Always, always create another document to save everything you’ve cut.
  • Make note, at every turn, of unanswered questions. This is, in effect, the most important part: It’s the part you can’t write yet.

What you’ll have at the end of about two weeks — provided you work on this in two or three 25-minute sessions a day, five days a week — is essentially a skeleton. It will have the vague shape of an article or chapter but will ask a lot more questions than it answers and will have a fair share of bracketed “notes to self” (à la Find a thing that ties these two ideas together).

Step No. 4: Close reading. Your skeleton draft is also a road map. Instead of attempting to read Everything (which you will never do), you now know what sorts of sources you need to find and read in order to flesh out your arguments and fill in the gaps. To identify those new sources, look to household names in your field, to scholars you’ve met at conferences, to people with whom you already collaborate, to that one exciting new hotshot you keep hearing about. And, of course, consult the bibliographies of your first 10 sources. Get to mining!

With an expanded list of sources in hand, it’s time to read more intensely. Spend the next three to six weeks diving into those new sources and expanding your annotated bibliography. Again, do the reading two or three times a day, in 25-minute sessions, five or so days a week. Give yourself a deadline: Set a specific number of work sessions (such as 20 or 30), and when you’ve reached that number, cut yourself off. (Don’t worry, you’ll soon have time to read more.)

Step No. 5: A workable draft. At this point, you’re ready to dive into your now-massive annotated bibliography and do more surgery. All those unanswered questions you had scribbled down in your free-writing? It’s time to fill in the gaps. Extract quotes, summaries, and arguments (copy, don’t delete, them from the bibliography), and paste them into the appropriate places in your Skeleton Draft. Your writing here can still be rough — don’t trip yourself up worrying about transitions or squaring all the circles. This stage of writing is chaos. If it feels uncomfortable, you’re doing it right.

By the end of this step, you will have a slightly more fleshed-out draft. Your next task, then, is to spend another two to three weeks tinkering on the sentence level, working on those transitions and cleaning up unnecessary jargon. Follow the same basic work schedule: two to three 25-minute writing sessions a day. At the end of those weeks, you may still have more holes to fill (especially in the footnotes.) But, by and large, you will have, miracle of miracles, a real draft of a chapter or an article that’s 25 to 30 pages long.

From start to finish, the process will take 11 to 14 weeks — about the duration of a semester — of working on the project for no more than an hour or two a day. With a workable draft in hand, now is a great time to put it aside and let it breathe, as your backbrain spins its wheels while you’re on break in earnest.

I know, I know — a fat lot of good this advice is doing you now, as you’ve once again put off your research agenda until the three weeks of winter intersession that you’re already dreading. But take comfort: Spring break will be here soon — and by then, at least, you will have a plan.

Gratitude for experiences brings surprising benefits

On Thanksgiving, many of us take a moment to reflect on what we’re grateful for – and we get rewards for doing so. Feeling gratitude leads to benefits like increased happiness and social cohesion, better health outcomes and even improved sleep quality.

But will you get more of such benefits from that antique sofa you bought or the vacation you took? New research shows that we feel more gratitude for what we’ve done than for what we have – and that kind of gratitude results in more generous behavior toward others.

“Our previous research found that consumers derive more enduring happiness from experiences than from material goods, and our new studies show that experiences generate greater feelings of gratitude, with its resulting benefits,” said Amit Kumar, Ph.D. ’15. Kumar published the study with Thomas Gilovich, interim chair and the Irene Blecker Rosenfeld Professor of Psychology, and Jesse Walker, a graduate student in the field of psychology, in a recent issue of the journal Emotion.

“Think about how you feel when you come home from buying something new,” said Gilovich. “You might say, ‘This new couch is cool,’ but you’re less likely to say, ‘I’m so grateful for that set of shelves.’ But when you come home from a vacation, you are likely to say, ‘I feel so blessed I got to go.’ People say positive things about the stuff they bought, but they don’t usually express gratitude for it – or they don’t express it as often as they do for their experiences.”

In addition to experiments they conducted, the researchers found real-world evidence for this by looking at 1,200 online customer reviews, half for experiential purchases like restaurant meals and hotel stays and half for material purchases like furniture and clothing. Reviewers were more likely to spontaneously mention feeling grateful for experiential purchases than material ones.

“One reason for this increased gratitude,” said Walker, “may be because experiences trigger fewer social comparisons than material possessions. Consequently, experiences are more likely to foster a greater appreciation of one’s own circumstances.” And, the researchers write, “we suspect that people are likely to feel grateful for purchases that connect them to others, enhance their sense of self, and encourage them to appreciate what they’ve purchased for its intrinsic value, not for how it compares with what others have purchased. Experiential purchases do just that.”

The researchers also looked at how gratitude for experiences versus material purchases affected prosocial behavior. In a study involving an economic game, they found that thinking about a meaningful experiential purchase caused participants to behave more generously toward others than when they thought about a material purchase.

The kind of gratitude that participants in the studies felt from experiential purchases was more likely to be “untargeted,” not attributed to someone else’s actions. The researchers suggest that this kind of gratitude for an experience can result in a strong urge to somehow express that feeling in action – such as giving to others, even to anonymous others.

Kumar, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago, says this link between gratitude and altruistic behavior is intriguing, “because it suggests that the benefits of experiential consumption apply not only to the consumers of those purchases themselves, but to others in their orbit as well.”

Gilovich, who is interested in applying insights from modern social psychology to improving peoples’ lives, says this new research shows an approach that governments can take to increase the well-being of their citizens and advance societal good.

“If public policy encouraged people to consume experiences rather than spending money on things, it would increase their gratitude and happiness and make them more generous as well,” he said. Such policies might include funding for public parks, museums and performance spaces.

Organization Tips for Graduate Students

Graduate students—and faculty—often find themselves overwhelmed with tasks. Good time management skills are essential, but succeeding in graduate school requires the ability to organize more than your time.

Being unorganized—not knowing where your stuff is—is a time waster. The unorganized student spends precious time searching for papers, files, notes, wondering which pile to check first. She forgets and misses meetings or arrives late, repeatedly. He finds it hard to focus on the task at hand because his mind is swimming what the details of what must be done next or what should have been done yesterday. An unorganized office or home is a sign of a cluttered mind. Cluttered minds are inefficient for scholarly productivity. So how do you get organized?

1. Set up a Filing System

Go digital when you can, but don’t forget to organize your paper files, too. Don’t skimp on file folders or you’ll find yourself doubling up on files and lose track of your most important papers. Whenever possible, go digital (with a good backup system!). Maintain files for:

  • Research/thesis ideas.
  • Thesis references (probably divided up into additional files for each topic).
  • Exam materials. As you prepare for comps, will have copies of old exams, study materials
  • Professional credentials – vita,  sample cover letter,  research statement etc.
  • Reprints and professional articles, organized by topic.
  • Life (bills,  taxes, etc.).
  • Teaching materials (organized by topic).

3.  Acquire and Use Office Supplies

Though supplies can be expensive, it’s easier to get organized when you’ve got the right tools. Purchase a quality stapler, paper clips, binder clips, stick on notes in several sizes, sticky flags for marking important pages in texts, etc. Go to a supply store and purchase office supplies in bulk to maximize savings and to be sure that you don’t unexpectedly run out of supplies.

4.  Organize Class Materials

Some students use binders to organize class notes, with dividers to separate your notes from assigned readings, handouts, and other materials. Other students keep all of their class materials on their laptop and use software such as OneNote or Evernote to save and index their notes.

5.  Remove Clutter at Home and Organize Your Study Space

Sure you’re desk and study area should be neat. It’s also helpful to keep track of the rest of your home too. Why? School is overwhelming enough without worrying about whether you have clean clothes, differentiating between the cat and dust bunnies, or losing unpaid bills. Set up a command center near the entrance to your home. Have a bowl or spot for you to put your keys and empty your pockets of important materials. Have another spot for your bills. Each day as you open your mail sort it into stuff to throw out and bills and other materials that require action.

Additionally, make sure you have a dedicated space to work in your home. It should be free of distractions, well lit, and have all supplies and files nearby. Even if your living space is small or shared, be sure to designate a portion to your graduate studies.

6.  Create a Schedule for Household Tasks

Set up a schedule for accomplishing household tasks like laundry and cleaning. Break cleaning up into smaller tasks, by room. So you might clean the bathroom on Tuesday and Saturday, clean the bedroom on Wednesday and Sunday, and the living room on Thursday and Monday. Clean the kitchen weekly then spend a few minutes each day on it. Use the timer trick to keep on task while you’re cleaning and show you how much you can do in just a little time. For example, I’m amazed that I can clear out the dishwasher and wipe down the countertops in 4 minutes!

7.  Don’t Forget the To-Do List

Your to-do list is your friend.

These simple tips can make a difference in your life. From my own experience as an academic, I can attest that these simple habits, though challenging to set, make it much easier to make it through the semester and maintain efficiency and productivity.

What I Learned About Surviving Graduate School

One Saturday night a year ago, as I found myself sitting in my apartment writing a draft IRB proposal, I began to reflect on the lifestyle I had chosen. I immediately recalled an episode of The Simpsons in which Bart mocks the plight of young scholars by saying, “Look at me, I’m a grad student! I’m 30 years old and I made $600 last year!” To which Marge replies: “Bart, don’t make fun of grad students. They just made a terrible life choice.”

That episode hit a bit too close to home. It reminded me of many awkward moments—like when an old friend came to town recruiting for his Fortune 500 company and we met up. He just threw down the corporate card and started buying drinks for everyone. And there I was annoyed about the $5 cover. He was eating expensive meals in New York, while I was eating TV dinners.

In spite of all that, I am writing now—in my first position as an assistant professor—to offer a few words of advice on how you can have a successful doctoral experience in the sciences, if you accept a few realities of the graduate-student lifestyle. I was a full-time, fully financed (which is of critical importance unless you are independently wealthy) graduate student. I had a paid position as a teaching assistant, which means, of course, that you do a lot of work without any credit. Here is what I learned.

Remind yourself regularly that there is an end. It is easy to become quickly overwhelmed at the beginning of your graduate career, as everything about it is so different from the undergraduate years. I often felt stressed out. It seemed as if every class session turned into more tasks I had to do, more processes I had to learn, and more mistakes I had made. I had to constantly remind myself that I would get through it all.

Find a way to relax. Flipping out over everything you have to do will not help get any of it done. Organize your thoughts, and roll with the punches. It is no surprise that many graduate students work until late in the night. Make sure to take breaks from the computer, give yourself some “nights off,” and just chill in front of the television. Cook a nice dinner one night, take a long bath, read for fun, paint, listen to music, go skiing, go to a free concert, work out in the campus pool, whatever. The point is to purposely add alone downtime to maintain your mental health. As a wise man once told me, “The sun will rise again in the morning.”

You are not alone, however much it may seem like it. Our work is often solitary. We write our own papers, work on our own research, and some of us even live alone. I know a doctoral student in organic chemistry who actually brought a sleeping bag to his lab and lived there for three days while conducting an experiment. (And it wasn’t even for his own work; it was for his adviser’s.)

But in graduate school, that is by design. We can’t co-write papers for our Ph.D. programs. It has to be our own work. But there is no reason that you can’t share your thoughts and ideas with others in your department.

Research is hard. There is a reason it takes four to six years of full-time graduate work to earn a Ph.D. in the sciences. Learning how to conduct valid research is an arduous process. It took me four months just to think of a dissertation topic for my research. When I polled many professors, they all claimed that was about normal. Learning all of the research methodology is a seemingly endless endeavor. But graduate school is the time to screw up and make mistakes. Simply put: Let yourself be a student.

Play dumb. I mean that in the sense of making the most of the resources around you. Most of your professors are extremely knowledgeable and willing to help. But they will not come to you, so you must go to them. Attend office hours, be an active participant in your courses, and generally just ask for guidance. That does not mean nag. Professors are busy people. But you can tactfully use them, just as they will use you.

Establish a good rapport with your adviser. That may sound obvious, but some students don’t. Your adviser is called an adviser for a reason. You will have questions about your courses, research projects, technical problems, program requirements, research requirements, and faculty lifestyle issues. Ask those questions.

Your adviser will know many of the answers, or at least know whom you can contact for further assistance. A good adviser can help you set milestones throughout your program and make sure you stay on track. Remember: The better you do, the better your adviser looks at the end. He or she wants you to do good work. If you make a name for yourself, you are also making a name for your adviser, and vice versa.

I recommend setting up at least a weekly meeting with your adviser. In addition, attend some nonacademic events together. Go out to lunch, get tickets to a speaker, catch a collegiate sporting event, or even go to happy hour (keeping in mind, if you have a few beers, that your adviser is the one who will ultimately sign off on your degree).

Be passionate about your work. As you refine your topic of research interest, it is important that you select something you are passionate about. Again, that may sound like obvious advice, but I know plenty of graduate students who didn’t, and who floundered as a result.

It is not about what your adviser wants you to do (although the two of you can, and will, often have similar interests). It is what you want to do because you are the one who will be doing all of the work. Selecting a research topic because it’s “popular,” or because you think it will be “easy” or “quick” often ends badly. Dissertations are neither easy nor are they ever completed as quickly as you think.

Find a comfortable place to live. It may not be plush. In fact, it probably won’t be because you’re a graduate student. But it should be a place where you can feel at ease.

I lived in some dumps early on in graduate school, and I reached a point where I didn’t want to live in a dump anymore. I didn’t enjoy feeling bad about coming home every day, and it started to affect my graduate work. I needed a change and found a nice place in graduate housing, where I was surrounded by fellow students. It felt like a community.

With the little money graduate students make, it is important to budget a good amount of it for the best place you can afford to live and write. Finding roommates can often significantly reduce your expenses; just be sure to find someone who understands that you are a full-time graduate student. Our lifestyles can be much different from those working a 9-to-5 job.

Money comes and goes; life experiences stay forever. It can be frustrating to work so hard and have so little to show for it financially. But as the U.S. Marines say, adapt and overcome. Identify your income and remember that no one forced you to become a full-time graduate student. So maybe you can’t afford nice clothes or a good steak. But there are plenty of inexpensive things you can afford. There is nothing wrong with buying moderately priced meals and taking advantage of student discounts.

Focus on the experiences you are having, not on the ones you aren’t able to afford yet. Apply for grant money, seek travel awards for conferences, or even work a part-time job if you want. And if you’re still unsatisfied, it may be time to rethink your academic aspirations.

Graduate School Information Sessions

Think you have what it takes to go to graduate school?

Representatives from the College of Graduate Studies will be hosting three workshops that will cover graduate programs, costs, and the application process. Information presented will help you understand graduate programs across the country.

Student workshops will be held in the RUC Tech Pride Room on Wednesday, October 23 from 3-3:45pm and Thursday, October 24 from 3-3:45pm.

It’s never too early or too late to start thinking about graduate school and this is your opportunity to get all of your questions answered!  If you’re just beginning to think about grad school or you’re just waiting for your acceptance letters to come in, you will be glad you came!

Also, there will be a Tech Employee workshop in the RUC Tech Pride Room on Thursday, October 24 from 11-11:45am.

The Employee session will focus on TTU’s educational benefits for employees and graduate programs with online/flexible schedules.  Lunch will be provided.

Things to Be Aware of

  1. Graduate Assistantships: The sooner you apply, the better your chances are.
  2. Permissible Loads: Full-time and part-time loads are different than they were in your undergraduate program.
  3. Grades: Know what grades are required to avoid dismissal or probation.
  4. Degree Completion Time Limits: Six consecutive years to complete a master’s or specialist in education; eight consecutive years to complete a doctorate.

Other Useful Links:

Application Due Dates and Apply for Graduate School

Graduate Student Handbook

Graduate Student Calendar

Graduate Studies Faculty Contact Info

Tennessee Tech News

Other Student Resources

How to Balance Grad School and Kids

Starting a family during grad school can be tough.

There are lots of reasons not to go to grad school while raising a family—lack of time, money, and job security, for starters. But having a baby in grad school comes with a surprising number of benefits, too. Here are eight ways you can adeptly balance grad school with kids.

1. Take advantage of your flexible schedule

In grad school, it can feel as though everyone is always working. While there are very few places you have to be at particular times, you’ll always have a lot to do. After all, funding for graduate school is often time-limited, and you’ll have significant academic requirements and teaching commitments during your graduate school years. Lots of universities have amazing libraries—many of which are open 24/7—and you may worry that any absence from your library carrel on a Tuesday night at 11 p.m. will negatively affect your productivity.

We are here to tell you that you do not need to stay up into the wee hours of the night to have a successful, productive graduate school career. You can, without apology, take advantage of the flexibility that grad school affords, and plan a schedule that works for you—and for your (growing!) family. As a graduate student, you likely have inked-in commitments for just a few hours a week: classes and talks to attend, teaching time, and office hours. The rest of your time is yours to allocate as you see fit. Perhaps with the exception of any future sabbaticals, you’ll rarely (if ever) have this much flexibility in your career again.

2. Build your time-management skills by using every minute efficiently

Even if you were able to work around the clock, you wouldn’t necessarily produce more. After a certain number of hours, you’d get diminishing returns. As a parent, you couldn’t invest unlimited time even if you wanted to, but take heart—parents quickly learn to be efficient workers.

There are many ways you can allocate your time. Some grad students keep their academic life to a 9-to-5 work day, ensuring that those hours are as productive as possible. Others plan their days around their family needs—for instance, taking time out in the middle of the day for a parent-and-child music hour, and then staying up post-bedtime to finish working. You should do what works best for you, and have faith that you’ll learn to make the most of every working (and every family) moment. In short, you might not be a better student in spite of parenthood—you might learn how to be a top-notch scholar because of it.

3. Make the most of the resources your university offers

Some universities offer child care assistance subsidies. Cornell, for instance, offers student child care grants. A number of schools have onsite child care centers, as well. You can make the most of having nearby, high-quality child care—this is not available everywhere! On-campus centers may even allow you to stop by in the middle of the day to see your child (particularly if you are a nursing mother).

4. Attend academic events when necessary

While graduate school offers more flexibility than any full-time job we’re aware of, it does come with obligations. You’ll need to make arrangements to attend major academic conferences, office hours, and the occasional workshop-led-by-a-famous-scholar-in-your-field. Not only will your attendance at these events serve their intended purpose—i.e., you’ll learn new things and network—but it will also help you feel just as much a part of scholarly enterprise as you ever were.

5. Apply newly acquired decisiveness to your craft

Being a scholar entails doing nuanced interpretive work. (The more you learn, the more you realize you have yet to understand.) That said, some graduate students find themselves in the unenviable position of getting bogged down by details—to the extent that they sometimes can’t see a broader argument. In large ways and small, parenthood is all about seeing the big picture through lots (and lots) of details. (For instance, irritability, a runny nose, and a poor night’s sleep may anticipate illness—and many parents can identify that from even one of those symptoms, all while packing lunches and changing diapers and completing the day-to-day tasks that keep a household running.)

Parenthood also entails making decisions—both large and small—all the time. (Maybe you would opt to keep your child home from school before the fever hits because you know it’s coming. More significantly, you could choose a child care facility after distilling a large number of data points—over the course of an hour-long visit.) In many cases, you’re making choices that may affect your child and family significantly—and you may be doing so with incomplete information and on very little sleep. Parents have to be decisive all the time, and that same decisiveness will benefit the articles, book reviews, syllabi, and ultimate dissertation you will write.

6. Channel your parental confidence

As a parent, you become more competent each day. Whereas at first it might seem overwhelming to take your child to the supermarket—wrangling a diaper bag, change of clothes, and bottles along with an infant and all of your groceries—that formerly mundane activity becomes routine once again. You learn new skills, become more competent, and strengthen your confidence. You may at some point contend with an ER visit, a stressful overseas flight, or any number of challenges associated with having a baby. In learning how to manage these stresses, you’ll demonstrate to yourself how much you are capable of. Your growing competence should be a source of confidence. Channel that in your work! Completing a dissertation is an immensely difficult endeavor. But, as with parenthood, others have done it before you, others will do it after you—and you can do it too.

7. Look forward to your kids being older and more self-sufficient as you build your career

If one of the drawbacks of starting a family during graduate school is that you endure the challenges of early childhood while balancing so much else—well, that’s also one of the benefits. Taking care of a baby is really hard work … no matter when you do it. If you put off starting a family, you may find it increasingly difficult to do so until you become more established in your career. After all, it’s difficult to be on the job market, with all its pressures and uncertainties, while taking care of a baby (and worrying about where you’ll end up living and whether you’ll have continuous health insurance coverage). Once you land a job as a junior-level faculty member, you’ll be very busy finishing your first book, teaching a full course load (likely for the first time), and building your CV for tenure consideration. Only once you have tenure might your schedule ease up.

This is not to say that you can’t or shouldn’t start a family at any time. On the contrary, you should do what feels right to you, whenever it feels right to you—and know that you can always make it work. That said, if you decide to start a family during graduate school, then it’s possible that by the time you go on the job market and launch your career, your child(ren) will be old enough, and self-sufficient enough, to allow you to sleep through the night and get work done in their presence. Graduate school may just be the perfect time for you to start a family.

8. Talk about your work with your kids

Since your kids are definitely going to see you working, tell them about it! They’ll pick up on how hard you work toward your goals and file that away as a model for themselves. Your kids will end up learning a lot about a really interesting topic, and they may acquire your love of learning in the process. Being in a campus environment also affords many opportunities to attend exhibition openings and other interesting events. Your kids will be surrounded by stimulating information and resources—lucky them!

7 Ways for Students to Overcome Writer’s Block

While writer’s block can affect all of us at various times, it is no longer some insurmountable menace that we can’t overcome. Whether you’re worried about what you’re writing, trying too hard to be perfect, or just lose inspiration, rest assured that you’re normal. There are also plenty of ways in which you can overcome your block quickly without getting too stressed. There’s no longer any reason to panic or miss you deadline, as you can just try out the following 7 ways to get over your writer’s block and get back to your craft.

1.     Move Around

Sometimes you get writers block because you just can’t see further. Changing your environment by heading to a coffee shop, a library, or even just another room in your house can provide a fresh perspective.

2.     Find another Outlet

Sometimes you just need to put down the pen and take a break from writing. However, you’ll recover from your block quicker by indulging in another creative outlet.

3.     Make the Most of Online Tools and Resources for Writing and Editing

Online tools for writing and editing can make a huge difference in overcoming your writer’s block. They can spark your inspiration, or at the very least help you sift through what you already have and find something great to work with. The following tools are some of the most useful:

  • Now Novel – this is a great tool for anyone looking to write fiction. This tool keeps your work private but it’s an amazing way for your work to stay organised, and help you develop a writing process.
  • Write my essays – the forums at paper fellows are full of professional and amateurs alike who are able to provide awesome support and advice when you need it.
  • Zen Pen – this tool is awesome if you’re easily distracted. You are provided with a completely plain interface, that’s just a blank page, so you can’t see any external links or procrastinate.
  • Trello – this tool is great for anyone who is more of a visual learner, and would benefit from being able to see their progress so far in order to figure out how to proceed.
  • Dissertation Writing Services – this writing tool is a cool way to find some inspiration and generate some ideas. You’ll be over your writer’s block in no time.
  • Resume Writing Service – when you’re short of ideas, you can head to this site for inspiration and generate some great new threads of writing for ideas.
  • Essay Roo – sometimes you just have to power through your writer’s block, and monitoring your daily word count, by setting and hitting targets is one way of doing that.
  • UK Writings – when you’re writing for academia or for school, you’ll have to spend a lot of time referencing, and this can interrupt your writing flow or process. Using this tool can stop you from suffering from writer’s block if your work is disturbed.

4.     Move Your Body

If you want your brain to be full of energy, you need to work on your body too, and getting some fresh air, moving around, whether it’s yoga, dance, boxing, or hiking, can really clear your head, and help you gain a fresh perspective and point of view.

5.     Start Early

You may need to edit this writing heavily, but starting super early can leave you in a dream-like state where thoughts just spill over from your brain.

6.     Turn Off You Phone

You’ll need to get rid of all distractions, but the easiest one to eliminate is your cell phone.

7.     Always Have a Notepad

Inspiration could hit you anywhere, so make sure you can write them down and get to work when you get home.

Writer’s block can prove to be a massive struggle for anyone trying to hammer out a career, or get through a degree, but following the above tips can help you break through it quickly and effectively.