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How to Keep Learning When You Have Low Motivation

We’ve all been there. You need to study, but the motivation just isn’t there. Most people would say you need to cheer up and find the reasons to study. You have to think about long term goals, and envision them. You have to understand how hard work today converts to your happiness tomorrow.

But if you tried to do this, you know it barely works. You may get the motivation you need for a couple of weeks, but once studying becomes routine again, the motivation is gone.

That’s not the only way you can go about learning, however. Here’s how you can learn with low motivation.

Sleep well

Often, students ignore sleep to study more. If you ever tried to get an A, the odds are you were cramming the whole night before an exam at least once. But that is not the best way to learn.

In fact, sleeping well increases your memory. But that’s not the main thing you should be looking for in sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, lack of sleep decreases your focus. Creativity and ability to form new neurological links suffers as well.

Since you study best when you are able to associate new information with the information you already know, having a good night’s sleep is crucial.

Diet

No, this doesn’t mean you have to try intermitted fasting again. Besides, it doesn’t even work. What this means is there are specific foods you can eat to boost your ability to study.

Omega-3 fatty acids are not the superfood many journalists want them to be. Despite this, they’re really good for you. Take foods rich with omega-3, and you will fight anxiety and improve your eye health. Salmon or sardines are a great choice for such foods.

Another food you want to eat is chocolate. There’s evidence that dark chocolate is good for cognition. Have a piece of chocolate, and you will focus more.

Have a coffee

It’s no secret that drinking coffee makes you more alert. There’s plenty of scientific evidence for it as well.

This beverage is what drives the world forward, so you should join the club if you want to study better. Make sure you don’t indulge in caffeine for too long, or you may be getting the negative side effects instead of positive ones.

Squat

You probably have seen a weirdo who leaves his chair to exercise at least once. Bad news, you have to become that weirdo.

It’s becoming a standard practice for businesses, and even HR software nowadays may include exercise breaks for employees.

The Guardian says, the benefits of exercising include better memory, and better alertness. So, if you’re not feeling like studying, all you need is just a dozen squats.

Focus on the process

The problem with long-term motivation is that you will reap what you saw in four years. You have to do the boring groundwork now. This runs contrary to the way our brains work.

There are two options for how to break this vicious cycle. You can either boost your willpower to deal with the problem or fall in love with the boring groundwork.

Learn to enjoy the process of studying, and you’ll have fewer problems with concentration.

Join a community

The easiest way to love what you study is to talk about it with someone except your teacher. Find a community of people who study the same thing, and you are half way to success.

Talk about what fascinates you about the things you learn and how you can apply them. Once the discussion starts, you’ll be very much interested in continuing the study.

If your motivation is to have fun studying, you don’t need to try and follow your long-term goals.

You don’t need long-term motivation

Long-term motivation is a rational thing. We, humans, don’t always act in a rational way. If you want to get to your long-term goals, find irrational ways to reach rational ends. These 6 are a great start.

Exploring Creativity in Graduate School

Research is a creative endeavor; oftentimes graduate students are looking at something that has never been looked at before, or approaching something from a completely different perspective.  The products of our degrees—theses, dissertations and publications—are entirely new works. But how do you create something from nothing?

Several graduate students have already written about how their hobbies and creative pursuits have helped their research, whether it’s singingbaking, or doing something else.

For any grad students who want to learn more about the science of creativity and how we can train ourselves to become more creative (and if you’re looking to take a break this summer with a good book), I would highly recommend Nancy Andreasen’s The Creating Brain.

Andreasen approaches creativity from both a scientific and an artistic perspective. The author is the perfect person to do this, since she is both a scientist and an artist. Graduate students will be interested to find out that she started her career with a PhD in English literature, then decided to go to medical school five years later. She writes that she does not regret her first PhD, but embraces it as another layer to her being and another aspect to her life. To her, it was much more than a hobby; it was a passion that she hasn’t given up and will never give up.

As a neurologist, Andreasen discusses the science of brain development, which begins in the womb and continues through early adulthood. As a child grows, the brain creates synapses or connections between neurons, basically wiring itself. The brain actually makes more synapses and connections than are needed during childhood and early adolescence. Then, during late adolescence and early adulthood, the extra connections are “pruned” back to the ones that are used the most and are the most important to daily life.

But it doesn’t just stop there. The brain is “plastic” in that it has a flexible response to the environment. In other words, your brain changes continuously throughout life, and the parts of the brain you use the most can increase in size. Andreasen cites a study about the hippocampus, which is thought to be the part of the brain that deals with spatial memory and is important to navigation. The study found that the hippocampus was larger in taxi drivers than in people with other professions, and the proportion of size increase was directly related to how many years the drivers had spent driving a taxi.

Just as driving a taxi can lead to changes in hippocampus size, it is possible for people to train themselves to be more creative, finding new solutions to problems and leading the way to new discoveries. The author claims that we all have the capacity for creativity, and that we can teach ourselves to be more creative by taking the following steps:

– Seek out mental challenges
– Explore other fields and interests, and study them in depth
– Meditate every day, and give yourself free time to think
– Observe the world around you and describe it
– “Practice imagination”––instead of trying to control or quiet your thoughts, let them wander and open yourself to the places they lead.

The book is a more than worthwhile read for anyone who wants to learn more about brain development, creativity, and how they can take steps to foster creativity in themselves and others. The author is intellectual and well-read, drawing upon her knowledge of neuroscience as well as her interest in the lives of great figures such as Mozart and Michelangelo, and discussing them in a way that is easily understood and expresses her passion and appreciation of both.

The last few pages of the book are a call to action to continue learning, and to treat the arts and sciences as connected subjects rather than separate and isolated things. Discoveries are often made as a result of different fields coming together, and we all have much to gain from it.

8 Networking Tips For College Students

Networking is the process of building relationships, so it’s not just collecting business cards or connecting on LinkedIn. It is a process of meeting new people, letting them know who you are, and what future opportunities you seek. According to LinkedIn, 85% of American jobs are filled through networking.

There are all kinds of networking opportunities at universities or colleges, including networking nights or recruiters visiting your campus. Use these opportunities well, and you may land your dream job.

Here are 8 important networking tips that college students need to know.

1. How do I network?

Networking is all about communication. It is an opportunity to engage in conversations, ranging from your interests to professional goals, with recruiters, professionals, and faculty. While networking, you do not want to be aggressive or artificial. It is best to be genuine and relaxed. Building a genuine relationship with a recruiter, faculty, or professional can lead to their connecting you to a job/internship opportunity or with a contact who can lead you to a job/internship opportunity.

2. When should I network?

It is never too early to begin networking. You can follow your college’s career center, subscribe to department emails, or join clubs related to your career interests. As a freshman, you can use networking to help guide your future career path. Networking early in your college career allows you to connect with professionals who may be helpful later when you’re looking for internships or jobs. During your sophomore or junior year, networking can help you land a summer internship. It is better to network early in the fall semester and line up an internship before spring semester. During your senior year, networking is crucial to land a full-time job.

3. What should I wear to a networking event?

Different networking events have different dress codes. Be sure to look at the flier or posting about the networking event. If the event is business casual, men should wear dress pants and a button-down shirt with dress shoes. While ties are not required for business casual, it may help you look more put together. For women, business casual can be a pair of chino pants or dress pants paired with a button-up shirt or blouse. Flats or heels may be worn, but aim for comfort so you are not distracted during the event. Be sure to look put together and well-groomed before you enter a networking environment.

4. What do I do before a networking event?

Before a networking event, be sure to master your elevator pitch and do your research. An elevator pitch is a 30-second speech that summarizes who you are, what you do, and why you would be a perfect candidate. This is a speech that will help recruiters and professionals see how you can present yourself positively in a brief period of time. Many networking events and opportunities are scheduled events, so you have time to do your research. Find out which professionals will be in attendance, which companies are represented, and research the roles of the companies.

5. What should I do at a networking event?

You should talk to professionals, recruiters, and faculty. Seek to engage in quality conversations. You should aim to talk to more than one professional during an entire networking event. The purpose of networking events is to expand your network, so be sure to talk to a handful of people and really try to put yourself out there.

Always introduce yourself and try to make a positive impression. If you’ve done your research, you can discuss recent company news with company representatives. Did a company just engage in a large merger or gain a new client? Be sure to bring up key points about recent company news and ask questions about the company at networking events to demonstrate your knowledge and interest in the company.

Also, listen to the people you meet. Active listening can go a long way at a networking event. You want to remember some key points that you can bring up after the networking event, so the professional or recruiter can remember who you are. At the end of a conversation with a professional or recruiter, ask for their business card so you can thank them for their time. You can also ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn where your resume can be made available.

6. What shouldn’t I do at a networking event?

You want to make a good impression at networking events, so you should stay away from certain actions. The most important is, don’t be rude. While you are at a networking event to find an internship or a job, you shouldn’t shove your resume into a recruiter’s hand. Instead, make a connection first, so the recruiter is more likely to pass on your resume to the next stage. Also, you should not stick to the people you know already. The whole point of networking is to meet new people, so be sure to leave your comfort zone and engage with people you don’t know.

7. How do I make a good impression?

Networking can be intimidating for college students, as they often view networking as a leap into the professional world. In reality, networking is preparing students for the professional world. To make a good impression while networking, be sure to look neat and well-groomed, demonstrate professionalism, have a great attitude, and express a genuine interest in the conversation.

8. What do I do after a networking event?

After a networking event, be sure to email the people you connected with to thank them for their time. In your email, include details of your discussion to help the recruiters remember you. If possible, connect through LinkedIn, which is the social network for young professionals to join as soon as they enter college as they can expand their professional network much quicker and easier. Be sure to stay in contact with your recruiter, but never harass a recruiter for a position.

GRAD 101: How to Attain an “I Ain’t Never Scared” Attitude

Are you an OG (original gangster) in the grad school game or are you a newbie—just beginning to cut your teeth? Regardless of what stage you are in your doc program, you gotta be fierce. You must attain an “I Ain’t Never Scared” attitude in order to survive and thrive the graduate school hustle.

I am grateful to God that I completed my doctorate in May 2016. The process was a beast, to say the least. I prayed, developed defense strategies to stay on-track, and battled—I battled boredom, burnout, depression, fatigue, and perfectionism—and I have the scars to prove it. I waged what seemed like a never-ending war and I won.

I did not win because I had inside intelligence, superior weaponry, or a special forces team. I won because I discovered that my “greatest enemy was my inner me.” That’s right…only I could sabotage myself and my success. On top of that, I discovered that I was operating out of fear. I was afraid (like some of my GradHacker colleagues have expressed) that I did not belong in my program…that I was not good enough…simply an imposter. I was afraid of criticism and did not recognize that “constructive” criticism was essential to my growth and formation as a scholar. Airing an unpopular opinion sent shivers down my spine, and I squelched at the prospect of being labeled a statistic (another first-generation college/graduate student who somehow missed being swept down the gutter) or a charity case.

It was only after I was nearing the finish line that I had an epiphany: I was scared.

It’s almost Halloween, but, no, I am not talking about having nightmares from watching too many horror flicks, ghosts and goblins, or dodging black cats out of superstition. I was afraid of upsetting high-profile people, voicing unconventional views, and of failure. I was so afraid of failing that I kept it hush-hush that I was even pursuing a Ph.D. I only told my immediate family, because I thought that somehow…someway…I might not finish. It might sound foolish, but the fear was real and the stakes were very high—especially for a first-generation Black girl from the rural South where everybody and their mama knows all your business.

 

I finally faced my fears. Have you? Do you have what it takes to stay sane, keep it 100, slay your diss., and Nae Nae across the stage (if you really want to) when you get your Ph.D.? I bet you do but may not even know it. In order to do any of the above, you simply can’t be scared…ever. So, how can you face your fears and effectively deal with them? I’m so glad you asked…I did so by developing an “I Ain’t Never Scared” attitude.

Top 10 Way to Attain an “I Ain’t Never Scared” Attitude

1.     Ask for the four letter word: H-E-L-P. The moment you don’t understand something, make it your business to find the answer(s) by any (legal and ethical) means necessary. Just because you are in a doctoral program does not mean that you (or your peers) do or are expected to know everything. Remember: You know what you know, and you don’t know what you don’t know.

2.     Apply for teaching, research, or any other type of position even if you do not think you meet ALL of the qualifications. I am not saying that you should blindly apply for anything and everything (although funding feels and looks good). However, I am saying that you will never know if you could have (or should have) gotten that position unless you apply for it. Let the hiring manager tell you “no.” Don’t disqualify yourself. One more thing…who knows…maybe the folks hiring are willing to work with and train you so that you can gain new skills.

3.     Dare to disagree respectfully with whomever (e.g. friend, peer, colleague, supervisor, and, yes, even your advisor), but do your homework. Know the facts, back up what you say with statistics, scholarship, personal experience, etc. In sum, know what you are talking about, why, and then say something even if it will ruffle a few feathers—which probably need plucking anyway.

4.     Be honest. I struggle with this one daily, because the truth may hurt. Many times I have tried to butter up, sweeten, or soften my approach just to appease and please. I would have avoided plenty of headaches and heartaches by simply speaking the truth in love. It may hurt but people will come to know and respect your candid yet thoughtful commentary.

5.     Vanquish fear. Remember: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” –Marianne Williamson

6.     Develop solid standards and abide by them. Know what you will and will not do, then stick to it.

7.     You are behind the wheel, so drive! Yes, you have a committee and dissertation chair/advisor. However, ultimately, you determine how quickly or slowly you progress through your program. So drive your degree like your very life depends on it…because it does.

8.     Do you. Do not try to mimic or be like anyone else because that is impossible. I get so sick and tired of hearing people say they want to be the next _____ [insert name of academic superstar of your choice.] You are not and will never be(come) them so do you!

9.     Always believe in yourself, your talents, your abilities, and your dreams. Encourage yourself.

10.  “Go BIG or go home.” Throughout my life, people have always cautioned me to have a Plan B. Since I was young, naïve, and did not like being broke or unemployed, I listened. Seriously, having a Plan B sounds pretty good especially if Plan A does not work out. At least it looks like you landed on your feet. (Appearances are deceiving.) Moreover, when you have a backup plan, you appear SMART. I get it. However, I have also discovered (and I read this somewhere too but I cannot remember where) having a backup plan can backfire. Develop a Plan B but don’t plan on using it because Plan A just…might…workJ

To all my peeps in grad programs, when you have applied all of the above criteria, you will have attained an “I ain’t never scared” attitude. From this moment onward your life will never be the same…

What if I Told You … You Can Be Organized Too

Before starting my doctoral program, I never anticipated how much time I would spend developing learning skills like organization. Graduate school requires organization in many forms. Students must organize calendars, literature (paper or digital), deadlines, multiple e-mail accounts, research and writing projects, computer folders, to-do lists, and personal and professional responsibilities. Luckily, other GradHacker authors have written about some of these areas, including how to organize your computer, email, research, and notes.

A common question I ask other graduate students, as well as professors, is: “How do you organize your work?” Responses to this question have taught me that even professors struggle with organization and their workflow in general. Some folks respond that they are not good examples of how to be organized. Others are willing to share detailed accounts of how they do things, and from these I’ve learned that there is no perfect way to organize. Throughout the years, I’ve aimed to learn about organization and workflow from as many people as possible. In this post, I share details about part of my current system. A special thank you to all the folks who have shared their methods with me and helped me put my system together!

1. Semester plan

I learned about the semester plan from a dissertation bootcamp I did that was led by Dr. Kerry Ann Rockquemore, President and CEO of the National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity. You can learn more about the semester plan here. When I begin getting organized for a semester, I brainstorm everything that I want to do during the semester without thinking about dates and my calendar. I typically complete this process in an Excel spreadsheet with each major item as a column heading. You want to break each major task down as much as possible. For example, instead of having my entire dissertation as something I need to work on, I specify a major task such as a single chapter I need to work on. Then, I think about tasks that are smaller or more specific that go into that chapter, like the purpose section, the research questions, or the theoretical framework. Each of these smaller tasks form the basis of what I will do each week in my semester plan.

When you’re brainstorming your major tasks and the specific items within them, think about what specifically you have to do.  Which chapters or sections? What manuscripts are you working on and which sections need attention? When are conference proposals due? How do the proposals break down into smaller chunks?

2. Calendar Integration

Once you have identified the major tasks and broken them down into smaller items, start mapping out when you are going to complete the work. I do this in Excel by labeling each row of the spreadsheet as a week of the semester. When you do this step, account for holidays, conferences, or anything else that will take up time. You don’t want to allocate three tasks for a week when you are going to be away at a conference and won’t have time to work on them.

Once I have my spreadsheet set up, I flip over to my calendar application, Fantastical, and start adding all the tasks with deadlines. Fantastical is great because it integrates very well with OmniFocus, but any calendar application will work; you just need to be able to add weekly deadlines for each of the smaller/specific tasks you identified in your semester plan. In my calendar I make all my tasks due on Sunday which is what I consider the end of the week.

Now, it’s Week 1 of the semester, you have your semester plan done, and all your deadlines in your calendar. The next step is figuring out your weekly schedule for when you are going to work on these tasks. The first time I did a semester plan I broke down the term so that I had three things I wanted to get done, and each week I tackled each of these tasks in some way. The tasks were: 1) the analysis for my dissertation; 2) a book chapter; 3) a report for my job. I followed an approach I eventually called the 3 x 3, where each day I had three tasks I wanted to work on and I spent three hours on each. I put these work blocks right on my calendar so that I knew what I should be working on each day. Dr. Raul Pacheco-Vega shares two different approaches to working in a post called “Move Every Paper Forward Every Day (MEPFED) vs Work on One Project Every Day.”

This 3 (tasks) x 3 (hours) was my ideal situation. Some days I did less, or nothing at all, but I found three tasks gave me enough variety for for my day and made me feel like I made progress on several things each week. You can play around with this approach but the point here is you want to schedule specific work time for the tasks.

3. OmniFocus

A while back, Dr. Inger Mewburn (The Thesis Whisperer) shared details of her workflow in a Google Document titled “Academic Housekeeping – a check list and explanation.” She first shares how she organizes her files and email accounts, and then breaks down how she integrates OmniFocus, a task manager and productivity software. I’m not going to go into all the details of OmniFocus, but I strongly recommend you check out the Academic Housekeeping post to see additional details about how you can use it.

I like OmniFocus for two reasons. First, it keeps me on track. Once my semester plan is complete with my tasks for the semester and each week, I go into OmniFocus and add each major item as a Project, and then also add each of the specific tasks with the deadlines I previously established. The software shows you what tasks you should be working on based on the deadlines you allocated, and tells you what deadlines are coming up. Fantastical integrates really well with OmniFocus, so I can see my calendar, all my projects, specific tasks, and deadlines right in Omni.

Second, when you complete a task, you get to put a big checkmark next to it. And, when you haven’t completed something on time, it lets you know. Seeing this little number two on the icon on my dock means I have two items that are past due (Oops!). This is very motivating to me because I’m always striving to not have this indicator and it is very satisfying when I don’t.

It’s easy to use and doesn’t take a lot of time to set up. I know what you’re thinking: This seems like it takes so much time to set up, and it costs money. Do I really need more apps? But the software took less than an hour to learn after I saw how someone else was using it. At the beginning of each semester, it takes me about an hour to make my semester plan and another 30 minutes or so to put everything into Omni. After just an hour and a half I have a plan for the semester and a program that will notify me when I’m behind.

4. Reflect

At the end of the semester, it’s important to reflect on how the term went. Did you get the tasks done? Why might you have failed to complete everything? How could you modify your semester plan or your weekly workflow to accomplish more? Reflection is important because you must look at where you can improve and make changes accordingly. When working on your organizational system, a variety of things can be customized to your needs, but you need to put in the time to find what works for you. You may want to, for example, incorporate an overall graduate program completion or dissertation plan, or an Everything Notebook.

Though my system has additional components like email and digital file organization and literature spreadsheets, I hope this post has sparked your interest in reflecting on the system that you use. And I invite you to share regarding your system below.

What planning do you do for your year, semester, month, week, day? What tools do you use to make it all work?

The Professional Student

Just about anyone pursuing graduate school has had to answer that awkward “what do you do?” question about your studies. This can be difficult to answer, as grad school is a sort of transitory zone between being a student (undergrad) and being a professional (work). Are you a student, professional, or some sort of professional student?

There are two camps when it comes to graduate school: those who see it as an extension of undergraduate studies and student life, and those who see it as pre-professional position. During my PhD I struggled to find what constituted “professional” behavior for a graduate student and what exactly I needed to do for “professional development.”

Working conditions for graduate students don’t help with this dilemma, as many of us don’t work a traditional 9-5 shift. Instead, many grad students cobble together erratic schedules that consist of teaching, research, and writing that often bleed over into our personal lives, further confusing the definition of our work. Sometimes it can be really hard to feel like a professional and not a student when you’re coming into the lab at 10 p.m. on a Friday night in your sweatpants to harvest cells, knowing that you’ll be back Saturday morning at 10 a.m. to look at the very same cells in the very same sweatpants.

However, despite the individual confusion we can feel about our professional status, as a whole, graduate students are very much in professional roles. A recent court ruling decided that, in cases where grad students teach or conduct research for the university, they are indeed university employees and entitled to the same protections as employees, even if they do wear sweats into the lab on Saturdays.

Treating graduate school as the professional experience it is requires development of your sense of professionalism. Professionalism matters for graduate students because it gives us a way to prioritize and organize our working lives and take pride in the work that we do. This will help you get the most out of your graduate experience so that you’re ready for whatever comes after graduate school, where you most definitely will be in a professional role. Having recently completed my PhD, I can clearly see in retrospect how cultivating professionalism was a key part of graduate school and was a major asset in transitioning into a non-academic position after graduation.

Three Key Areas to Master for Professional Grad Students

Time Management and Prioritization: You may not be getting paid much, but your time is incredibly valuable as a grad student and even more so an employee. As grad students we can get used to long hours watching cat videos on YouTube while the centrifuge completes a run, or taking frequent coffee breaks to get away from the lab during our 50+ hour workweeks. There’s nothing really wrong with this, as the flexibility of many students’ schedules allows for it, but it can make for a very difficult transition into work if you’re not used to hard deadlines and limited hours of operation. While in grad school, if I didn’t manage my time well and an experiment went too long or if I wasn’t done with writing I could stay as late as I needed to complete the work or come in on the weekend to catch up with plating cells. This is not the case as an employee, as now I have to contend with standard hours of operation, fixed deadlines, and collaborative projects that require me to finish my part on time or the whole project stalls. Thankfully, as a grad student I was ruthless about maintaining strict deadlines for myself and limiting my hours to 8-5 so the transition was not too difficult. Start building the habit of treating your time as precious and not something to waste and you’ll be well prepared for the professional transition.

Setting Your Standards for Independent Work: One of the great transitions graduate students undergo is becoming an independent professional and not a passive consumer of information. Part of that will be learning how you generate original work and how to set standards for yourself along the way. It can be a difficult adjustment after years of studying for the test in undergrad or just writing enough to get an “A” on an assignment. Suddenly being faced with the open-ended concept of what is “good enough” can be unnerving and lead to perfectionism or sloppy work if you’re not used to setting independent standards for yourself. Ask yourself  “What does good work in my field look like?” and work toward that. Set high but realistic standards for yourself so that when you do become more independent (either as an employee or postdoc) you know how to complete professional work with little to no input from those around you. Intellectual independence is the whole point of graduate school, so embrace the transition early on and learn to take control of and pride in the quality of work that you produce.

Embracing Professional Criticism: Learning to stand up for your research or scholarship can be difficult when first starting out. Mastering the art of presenting and defending your ideas in a rational, reasoned matter is a useful skill wherever you go, so make the most of your committee members for this reason. They are excellent trainers for learning to take an independent stance on your work and learning how to deal with conflicting opinions in a professional setting. On the interpersonal side of things, remember that while professional criticism of your work is to be expected, you are entitled to all of the professional respect due to anyone working in a more traditional 9-to-5 setting. Report abuse and harassment, whether from peers, students, co-workers, or professors. If it shouldn’t happen in an office setting it should not be happening in your lab, classroom, or field site. Don’t fall the trap of thinking “I’m just a student, so this behavior is acceptable.”

This student attitude is, in fact, my greatest regret of graduate school; I wish that I had learned to stand up for and demand the professional respect that myself and others deserved earlier. I eventually learned how to do this after having to deal with some seriously disrespectful behavior, but it is clear that I would have benefited from getting over the “but I’m a student” mindset the minute I set foot on campus as a graduate student.

Closing Thoughts

Professional development is not just the sum of the skills that you have or your number of published papers. It includes how you approach your work, structure your time, and interact with your colleagues. Make the most of your graduate education by learning to approach your studies not just as an extension of school where you are a passive student, but as a professional student actively participating in your profession.

What professional skills do you think benefit graduate students the most as students and in the workplace? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

8 Networking Tips For College Students

There are all kinds of networking opportunities at universities or colleges, including networking nights or recruiters visiting your campus. Use these opportunities well, and you may land your dream job.

Here are 8 important networking tips that college students need to know.

1. How do I network?

Networking is all about communication. It is an opportunity to engage in conversations, ranging from your interests to professional goals, with recruiters, professionals, and faculty. While networking, you do not want to be aggressive or artificial. It is best to be genuine and relaxed. Building a genuine relationship with a recruiter, faculty, or professional can lead to their connecting you to a job/internship opportunity or with a contact who can lead you to a job/internship opportunity.

2. When should I network?

It is never too early to begin networking. You can follow your college’s career center, subscribe to department emails, or join clubs related to your career interests. As a freshman, you can use networking to help guide your future career path. Networking early in your college career allows you to connect with professionals who may be helpful later when you’re looking for internships or jobs. During your sophomore or junior year, networking can help you land a summer internship. It is better to network early in the fall semester and line up an internship before spring semester. During your senior year, networking is crucial to land a full-time job.

3. What should I wear to a networking event?

Different networking events have different dress codes. Be sure to look at the flier or posting about the networking event. If the event is business casual, men should wear dress pants and a button-down shirt with dress shoes. While ties are not required for business casual, it may help you look more put together. For women, business casual can be a pair of chino pants or dress pants paired with a button-up shirt or blouse. Flats or heels may be worn, but aim for comfort so you are not distracted during the event. Be sure to look put together and well-groomed before you enter a networking environment.

4. What do I do before a networking event?

Before a networking event, be sure to master your elevator pitch and do your research. An elevator pitch is a 30-second speech that summarizes who you are, what you do, and why you would be a perfect candidate. This is a speech that will help recruiters and professionals see how you can present yourself positively in a brief period of time. Many networking events and opportunities are scheduled events, so you have time to do your research. Find out which professionals will be in attendance, which companies are represented, and research the roles of the companies.

5. What should I do at a networking event?

You should talk to professionals, recruiters, and faculty. Seek to engage in quality conversations. You should aim to talk to more than one professional during an entire networking event. The purpose of networking events is to expand your network, so be sure to talk to a handful of people and really try to put yourself out there.

Always introduce yourself and try to make a positive impression. If you’ve done your research, you can discuss recent company news with company representatives. Did a company just engage in a large merger or gain a new client? Be sure to bring up key points about recent company news and ask questions about the company at networking events to demonstrate your knowledge and interest in the company.

Also, listen to the people you meet. Active listening can go a long way at a networking event. You want to remember some key points that you can bring up after the networking event, so the professional or recruiter can remember who you are. At the end of a conversation with a professional or recruiter, ask for their business card so you can thank them for their time. You can also ask if you can connect with them on LinkedIn where your resume can be made available.

6. What shouldn’t I do at a networking event?

You want to make a good impression at networking events, so you should stay away from certain actions. The most important is, don’t be rude. While you are at a networking event to find an internship or a job, you shouldn’t shove your resume into a recruiter’s hand. Instead, make a connection first, so the recruiter is more likely to pass on your resume to the next stage. Also, you should not stick to the people you know already. The whole point of networking is to meet new people, so be sure to leave your comfort zone and engage with people you don’t know.

7. How do I make a good impression?

Networking can be intimidating for college students, as they often view networking as a leap into the professional world. In reality, networking is preparing students for the professional world. To make a good impression while networking, be sure to look neat and well-groomed, demonstrate professionalism, have a great attitude, and express a genuine interest in the conversation.

8. What do I do after a networking event?

After a networking event, be sure to email the people you connected with to thank them for their time. In your email, include details of your discussion to help the recruiters remember you. If possible, connect through LinkedIn, which is the social network for young professionals to join as soon as they enter college as they can expand their professional network much quicker and easier. Be sure to stay in contact with your recruiter, but never harass a recruiter for a position.

Networking may seem daunting for college students, but it is essential. So, take advantage of all networking opportunities at your college and make it a point to enlarge your network.

How to Develop a Strategic Writing Plan

Female hand holding a pen and writing a plan in a planner

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” — Ernest Hemingway

 

I recently read an article where writers’ daily routines were romanticized albeit with useful information. Japanese writer Haruki Murakami spoke to the importance of a routine: “I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.” I tie this idea of repetition in a routine with a recent graduate student workshop I attended on how to develop a strategic writing plan. Here is a list of the current and developing practices that make up my writing routine.

 

Write every day. The author Anaïs Nin simply stated, “I write every day.” There has been much research conducted on the positive effects of writing every day in academia, including that of psychologist Robert Boice. As a pre-candidate, I aim to develop a strategic writing plan that includes solidly writing every day by the time I start my dissertation. That is why in my first year, I am dedicated to writing every day. I learned to start with 15 minutes and have worked up to 30 minutes every day with an ultimate goal of reaching an hour by the end of the academic year. I like to think broadly of writing to include brainstorming, reading, outlining, and synthesizing, but I have restructured my plan to write every day to focus on word count, so that means I am truly writing. There are many apps (Focus KeeperBlock & Flow30/30) that can help with this timed writing session. I also have been exploring more sophisticated options for time and project management such as Rescue Time and Liquid Planner (which is free to .edu emails). Some days I am writing for papers and projects, other days it’s a manuscript I am working on, and often I write for me in what I call my “Spark Files,” where I track ideas and inspiration in my academic career. I am currently writing 300-500 words a day in 30 minutes. By the end of the year, I aim to be writing for a solid hour for twice that amount.

 

Warm up with writing prompts. I start each writing session with a writing prompt for three minutes where I write continuously for the whole duration. I alternate between writing by hand and typing in a saved file of writing prompts. As the writer Natalie Goldberg instructed, keep your hand moving. If there is a moment where I have a blank thought and a pause, I came up with the phrase “Keep writing!” where I write that over and over again until my inspiration comes back. I encourage you to come up with your own filler phrase. I write for the full three minutes. I find my prompts online, through this great book of things to write about, and from an app on my phone, Brainsparker, that includes thought provoking prompts like “What is your soul calling you to do?” and even pictures that are incredibly moving to write about.

 

Broaden your perspective on ways to write. When I get what I call “typing fatigue” and I am not very productive in my writing process, I switch things up. I handwrite sections. I use colorful Post-It notes to organize frameworks and outlines. One new alternative that I have explored and loved this year is dictation. I currently use the Google Docs voice typing tool to transcribe my thoughts. If this method works out, I want to look into investing in options such as Dragon Dictation. Similarly, I pull out my phone and create a voice memo transitioning between meetings and classes when I have a thought that can shape my writing. I also invested in a powerful writing software that allows for more fluidity when I am working on big projects such as a final paper, manuscript, or thesis. There is more than one way to write, so make sure you explore all options and alternate between those that work best for you.

 

Write fast now, edit slow later. In meeting my word count goals, I am also focused on writing fast now, and editing slow later, a concept developed by Sonja K. Foss and William Waters. Writing is capturing ideas on paper. Editing is sculpting to express ideas effectively by scrutinizing, moving, removing, and transforming materials. You maximize your writing time when you separate the writing and editing as two processes. If you don’t believe me, try this quick exercise. Pull out your phone to time yourself as you say the alphabet out loud. Now, time yourself again as you alternate between a letter and a consecutive number (A 1 B 2 C 3). It will take you twice if not three times as long to get to “Z 26.” Separating writing and editing was a tough concept for someone like me to learn who loves to edit as I write (it satisfies the perfectionist in me!). Now, I turn off my spell and grammar checker and am focused only on getting the next word out. When I first started this concept, I taped a blank piece of paper over my screen to focus on writing. This was an excruciating experience, but I learned to write fast. I schedule in time to edit separately. My writing time is much more effective.

 

Protect your writing time. A previous GradHacker post outlined strategies to keep focused while writing your dissertation including identifying your most productive time during the day for writing using heat mapping. A good practice to get into is to schedule your writing time when you are the most productive and protect that time. Do not schedule anything during your writing time. Treat it as an important appointment you cannot miss or reschedule. I am the most productive in the morning. Since I am still taking courses, I enroll for classes in the afternoon or evenings and I schedule meetings during that time as well to protect my mornings. In this practice, an important concept to keep in mind is flexibility. There may be a class that is only offered in the morning, so I have to be prepared that semester to make adjustments. I protect my writing time on the weekends as well. For example, I will wake up earlier to write if I have a Sunday brunch scheduled. Protecting my writing time is a daily practice.

 

And so, I leave you with this quote from Oscar Wilde: “This morning I took out a comma and this afternoon I put it back again.” I have certainly been there. I know how arduous the writing process can be. However, with a steady and consistent routine, I can indeed work myself into a mesmerized state of productivity because I have reached a deeper state of mind through a strategic writing plan.

 

What is your current writing routine? What would you like to incorporate into a strategic writing plan?

How To Make a Good First Impression While Networking

You marked your calendar for the career fair coming up next week. You polished your resumé, you did your homework on the companies that are going to be there, practiced your elevator pitch, and you know your strengths just in case any questions come up.

Great start. Finally, you need to shift your attention to the first impression. The way you come across in that first meeting can set the standard of how someone views all of your work, for better or worse. Make sure your first impression will leave feelings of professionalism and preparedness with any future connection.

Dress to impress

55% of first impressions are based on physical appearance, so if you have all the above ready, it’s time to make sure your look is up to the same level of preparation. A good tip for dressing is to go one “step” above the typical dress code of the industry you’re interested in. For example, if the dress code for most companies is casual, opt for a more business casual look. This shows that you’re in touch with the industry culture and familiar with what your future could look like. Check out specific companies’ social media pages and websites, or even Glassdoor to get a better idea of what you should wear.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that even if the dress code is casual, it’s always smart to dress professionally while networking. This means wearing conservative, neutral-colored clothing that fits comfortably.

Deal with insecurities

So, your clothes are ironed, and the outfit prepared, but now you need to deal with any cosmetic issues that might distract you. Maybe you struggle with male pattern baldness or yellowing teeth, or maybe you have some deeper issues with self-image. Whatever your insecurities are, if they cause you to lose confidence, it’s important to address them ahead of the event. But, don’t stress; there are often many different ways to treat cosmetic issues. For example, a doctor can prescribe a medication to help you combat receding hairlines and balding or suggest a whitening toothpaste to make sure your pearly whites are shining.

Alternatively, try out some lifestyle changes to manage your issues. Make sure you don’t skip out on styling your hair. If you walk in with bedhead, potential employers may take you as being lazy or not serious. And, avoid drinking beverages that stain your teeth the day before, like red wine, or coffee, the morning of to keep your teeth as clean as possible. Or, if you think your issues are more personal, consider speaking with a counselor about what could be causing your insecurities, and create a plan to develop more self-esteem. Projecting your self-confidence is critical in impressing at events, so it’s important you feel ready to enter every networking opportunity with your head held high.

Be prepared

When networking, it’s always important to be ready to share your information and experience. Your preparedness and organization in these early meetings can go a long way in impressing potential employers. Keep multiple (fresh) copies of your resumé or samples of your work on-hand. A good way to keep your resumés clean is to use a resumé folder. This handy folder is a great spot to have pre-written notes on companies you’re interested in while staying organized and professional-looking.

A folder is also a good spot to store a few personal business cards that you can give to people as a tangible way to remember you. Make sure you also have a pen on-hand in case there’s any notes to take during your conversations.

Utilize the final handshake

After you have your conversation, make sure you sign-off with a firm handshake and eye contact, and say their name: “Thanks for talking to me, Sarah, I loved learning about your company and hope we can be in touch.” This shows you paid attention from the start and adds a personal touch. Remember, these people are likely meeting dozens, if not hundreds of other interested jobseekers, so be as personal as you can to make the best first impression.

You might also want to think of sending out a hand-written note to the people you met just thanking them in more detail. A hand-written note like this makes you stand out even more and can go a long way in developing their lasting impression of you.

Congratulations! You’re all prepped for your big career fair, now go out there and impress!

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