Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Staying Productive in the Summer Months

Although we still have three weeks remaining in the W13 semester, many of us are thinking ahead to what the summer months will hold for our academic pursuits. Whether this is the first summer semester of your graduate studies, or your final semester to (at last!) complete your degree, staying focused and motivated can be difficult with the distraction of summer outside your window. However that is not to say that it cannot be done! Partaking in both work and play is possible and can likely aid in avoiding burnout and the loss of creativity. We’ve got some suggestions to help you make the most of your summer months, while also making the most of your schoolwork along the way.
  • Set goals. Before you begin your work, it is important to recognize your goals for the summer semester. Try to make a list of the big projects you want to accomplish during this time period and then break them up into smaller, manageable tasks. You can also let others know of what you hope to accomplish as a source of healthy pressure to push you toward your end goals.
  • Be efficient and effective. If you currently (or previously) struggle with reading and/or taking notes, try to be aware of that now as you plan for the types of courses you’ll take. Also, try to see much time you might need to spend on particular courses/course assignments in your summer classes.  Noting what you are good at or stronger at will also be useful in making these decisions.
  • Every day matters. Keep a regular work schedule and aim to put in the same hours each week. Try spending 10 to 15 minutes of solid writing each day – this writing habit is crucial for keeping you feeling fresh and on top of your work. Before going to bed each night, it also helps to write out what you plan to accomplish the next day; it is always easier to plan what you will work on before you sit down to do it.
  • Organize your work periods in small blocks of time. These blocks could be as little as 15 minutes. This can help alleviate feeling overwhelmed and at least get the ball rolling on writing your project. In breaking your project into smaller sections, you are more likely to start (and eventually finish) what you set out to do.
  • Create visual cues. These can take many forms. Whether in the form of notes or mind maps you post for yourself around your home, a large and visible wall calendar, graphs and charts to track your progress, or even changing up the writing format on your computer (i.e. using bulleted points rather than paragraphs) – all these forms of visual stimulation can act as a balm to sooth the overloaded mind.
  • Reward yourself. It is important to reward yourself along the road toward your final project. These “prizes” should be daily, immediate and positive things that you associate with the writing process. After accomplishing a small block of writing, reward yourself with something that makes you happy, such as taking a walk, eating a snack, or calling a friend. These small prizes along the way can ease your stress and give you something to look forward to.
  • Switch up your work environment. A change of scenery can help you see the project in a new light. Try going to a library or cafĂ©; places where others are engaged in similar forms of writing may act as motivation for you to do the same. You can also try getting some work done outdoors – it is summertime, after all! If are unable to complete your work outside, try to take breaks that allow you to enjoy some sunshine; this can make a difference to improve your mood and keep you motivated.
  • Bring summer inside. If you can’t get outside as much as you’d like to enjoy the sunshine, bring the outdoors to you! Try picking some flowers and keeping them at your workstation, change your computer background to an image of the beach, or open your windows to enjoy the warm summer breeze.
  • Forgive yourself. If you miss a day or two of work or don’t meet the deadlines you set for yourself, try not to get too down on yourself! Don’t decide to do extra work – this negative message can lead to more procrastination. Instead, just start where you left off and aim to regain your motivation.
  • Make time for fun. Schedule time for fun and fully enjoy it! Feeling guilty about taking time for yourself will not help to write a better final project. Create a schedule for work and play – it is important to have a balance between your work life and your social life. Take time to enjoy the summer months, as this can help you to feel rejuvenated and refreshed when coming back to your work.

Remember, there are always services available at the University of Guelph for students struggling to maintain focus and motivation throughout the somewhat distracting summer months. Check out some of the services offered for graduate students here:

This post was adapted from ‘Don’t Waste Your Summer!’ by Gina J. Hiatt (http://www.abdsurvivalguide.com/News/051905.htm), South University’s ‘Attending School in the Summer: How to Stay Motivated’ (http://online.southuniversity.edu/blog/post/Attending-School-in-the-Summer-How-to-Stay-Motivated.aspx), youthink’s ‘Tips to Stay Motivated in Summer School’ by Juliet Su (http://www.youthink.ca/yt/careers/advice/tips-stay-motivated-summer-school), The Academic Ladder’s ‘Three Psychological Tricks for Staying Motivated’ (http://www.academicladder.com/2008/Three-psychological-tricks-for-staying-motivated-sept-10-2008.htm), and Coach & Grow R.I.C.H.’s ‘How to Stay Motivated During the Summer Months’ by Deanna Maio (http://www.coachandgrowrich.com/coaching-blog/stay-motivated-during-the-summer-months/).

Monday, March 11, 2013

Maintaining Motivation

Graduate school may represent the ultimate “delay of gratification”. Students spend many years waiting for the final prize of a degree and an eventual job, and while there are many gratifying aspects of grad school, it can become easy to lose motivation and engagement along the way. This is a normal aspect of the grad school experience; even the most energetic and passionate students may lose steam at some point during their studies. Therefore throughout your time in grad school, it is important to not only learn how to become an effective academic in your field, but also how to manage frustrations, and at times, the feeling that you lack the necessary motivation to move forward. Understanding the challenges and learning strategies to overcome them can help you succeed. Here are ten strategies we think can help you to maintain motivation and keep you going, even when the path ahead may look bumpy.
  • Engage in goal setting. Spend some time and consider both your short-term and long-term goals. Achieving short-term goals can act as motivation to eventually reach your long-term ones. Take time to look reflect on your long-term goals in terms of your academics, your career, and your life. Having clearly defined aspirations in mind can help you to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Be as organized as possible. Have a solid game plan for getting through your program. Know what the requirements are for each stage, and how and when to accomplish them. You can also renew motivation in the short-term with clear to-do lists. This can serve to not only clearly outline your upcoming tasks, but what you have already accomplished thus far.
  • Find a topic that you are passionate about. If you don’t enjoy your work, you’ll most likely struggle to be interested in completing your project. Choose a topic that really excites you or a substantive area you feel can have an impact on a community, issue, or problem you feel is important.
  • Set deadlines for yourself. Even if there are no ‘true’ deadlines for you to complete, let your family, friends and peers know of the deadlines you have set for yourself to encourage you to stick to them.
  • Keep a visual reminder of what you are working on. Try keeping a bulletin board of the things you have to do, things you are currently doing, and the things you have completed. This can serve as a reminder of the progress you have made thus far, and help you to avoid feeling overwhelmed or bogged down with the magnitude of your project.
  • Trust the process. Part of what makes the graduate process so difficult is that it doesn’t come with instructions. In addition to trusting yourself, grad school requires that you trust in the expertise and guidance of your advisor. Try to remember that many students have been through your program before, and professors have also once been in your shoes. If they can do it, so can you!
  • Let the guilt go. While you should set goals, priorities, and deadlines, try to remember that you may not always be able to meet them. Acknowledge that you may not be perfect at everything you do and you might not strike that perfect balance, but at least you are trying! It is that persistence that will be rewarded.
  • Find some balance. Take time to have a life outside of your schoolwork. Pursue your hobbies, workout, hang out with friends and family – do whatever it is that makes you happy. Make sure to take a break and make time for activities outside of school; it will help you to come back to your project feeling recharged and ready to work!
  • Don’t doubt yourself. You can complete graduate school because you are qualified to be here! You are working in your substantive area because it is a topic that excites you and you can finish your thesis/dissertation because you are now an expert in this topic area. Don’t waste time doubting that you are good enough to be here – just know that you are!
  • Everyone goes through it. When all else fails, it is helpful to know that lacking motivation is entirely normal and a common component of student life. Don’t beat yourself up for not being the ultimate student all the time – motivation can come in ebbs and flows and it is just important to take advantage of it when it strikes.
To learn more about these tips and other approaches to maintaining motivation, please check out the information at that the University of Guelph has to offer at the following link: http://www.uoguelph.ca/tss/resources/onlineres/student_motivation.htm

This post was adapted from University of Washington’s ‘Staying Motivated in Graduate School’ by Alexes Harris (http://www.grad.washington.edu/mentoring/memos/staying-motivated.shtml), Stat Tr@k’s ‘Staying Motivated and Achieving Success in Graduate School: A Few Common and New Suggestions’ (http://stattrak.amstat.org/2012/04/01/staying-motivated/), Inside Higher Ed’s ‘Staying Motivated’ by Alexes Harris (http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/mentor/harris), 1DegreeBio’s ‘1DB’s Best of 2012: How to Stay (Relatively) Motivated Through Grad School’ (http://blog.1degreebio.org/?bid=582), and Michigan State University’s ‘Motivation and Engagement’ by Lisa Raphael (http://grad.msu.edu/wellness/intellectual/motivation.aspx).

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Striking a Balance between Life and Work in Grad School

There is no question graduate school can be extremely time and energy consuming. It is a time of balancing increased responsibilities, such as assignments, reading (lots of reading), writing, research, deadlines, grading, working, networking…and the list goes on! The struggles and stress tend to mount when determining which tasks take precedence and which must wait, and as many grad students know, it is often the social activities that take a backseat to academic obligations. While this is understandable, it is not necessarily recommended. Yes, academics are why you are in grad school, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun along the way! Striking a balance between life and work will not only keep you sane, it can also make the entire experience much more enjoyable. Here are some suggestions of things you might want to try to help increase your sense of balance in your life during grad studies.
  • Be realistic. While there may be high expectations and heavy workloads, you need to decide how much of your life you are willing to devote to this endeavour. Try not to overextend yourself; you wouldn’t want to burn out before your degree is complete! Try not to compare yourself to other students – this is your degree after all, so set your own pace and stick to it.
  • Manage your time effectively. Break your day into manageable segments and be realistic about the timing of tasks. Distractions and interruptions may arise, but try your best to avoid them. It is also important to know when it’s time to stop so rather than overworking yourself, take time to break, recharge, and come back to your task with a fresh set of eyes.
  • Organize. It is crucial to maintain organization, both in terms of short-term and long-term tasks, commitments, and goals, as well as in terms of the physical space in which you work and live. Stay on top of what you need to accomplish (i.e. with the help of to-do lists and calendars) by making time for what is important and cutting out what is not.
  • Set priorities. It is beneficial to get involved in extracurricular activities during your time as a grad student, however it is equally beneficial to be selective in terms of which activities you partake in (i.e. clubs, committees, part-time work, volunteering, etc.). Will it fit with your goals and priorities? Will you benefit from your participation? Take time to decide and never agree to anything out of guilt.
  • Set boundaries. It can be very helpful to maintain a clear line between school and your personal life. Try implementing small changes, such as not answering e-mails after a certain time every evening, not completing school work in bed, or not multitasking when eating. Although these may be small changes to make, they can make a world of difference in maintaining boundaries between ‘school’ time and ‘you’ time.
  • Sleep. This may seem like a common sense idea, but it is essential for success in grad school. Yes, there may be times when sleep doesn’t seem like an option, but remember you can get more work done in forty well-rested hours than in sixty bleary-eyed ones. Adequate sleep will not only help you to feel more refreshed, it will help you fight off potential sicknesses more easily too.
  • Develop social networks. Because grad school can often feel like an isolating endeavour, it is important to ensure you maintain some level of socialization. Whether this is with family, friends outside of academia, or your fellow students, it helps to know that their support exists and will be there if you need it.
  • Make time for yourself. ‘Free time’ won’t magically appear – you have to make it for yourself! This can be anything from reading for pleasure to exercising to having dinner with friends; make sure you take time to break from your studies to do something that makes you happy.

Information on work-life balance resources for graduate students at the University of Guelph can be found at the following link:

This post was adapted from College Cures’ ‘How to Maintain a Work, Life, Grad School Balance’ by Erica Moss (http://www.collegecures.com/2012/how-to-maintain-a-work-life-grad-school-balance/), Balance in Me’s ‘Achieving Life/Work Balance While Attending Graduate School’ by Kate McKenzie (http://balanceinme.com/worklife-balance/achieving-lifework-balance-while-attending-graduate-school/), Grad Share’s ‘Wellness: Coping with Studies, Work, and Family Life’ by Bonnie Ann Cain (http://www.gradshare.com/advice.html?id=634), University of Minnesota’s ‘Graduate Student Work-Life Balance’ (http://www.cs.umd.edu/~oleary/gradstudy/node5.html), and CRA-W’s ‘Balancing Graduate School and Personal Life’ by Andrea Danyluk and Tiffani L. Williams (http://www.cra-w.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=94jZ65lgTDU%3D&tabid=74).