Post Academic

Grad School and Academia Time Management Tips Galore

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on March 7, 2010
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time management in graduate schoolOne of Arnold’s columns asks how to tame the time-management problems that come with academia. Regarding grad school work, I look at it the same way Betty Friedan looked at housework in “The Feminine Mystique”: Housework expands to fill the time available. Not to equate grad school with housework, but they absorb your time in the same insidious fashion. The more you get done, the more you think you have to do. The work in academia just doesn’t seem to stop …

… unless you take charge of it yourself. The following tips show you how to construct reasonable barriers between yourself and your work.

Read Getting Things Done: David Allen is a productivity guru who is often credited with helping people change their approach to work. You don’t really need to read the whole book, but looking up either “David Allen” or “GTD” online will bring back a wealth of time-management tips. Whether you use GTD or not, you have to have a system for prioritizing and completing your tasks, or you won’t feel like you’ve finished anything. The mere sensation of crossing a task off a list can boost your mental health considerably.

Set Aside a Few Minutes a Day to Maintain Your System: Starting an organizational system in graduate school will help you either in your first academic job or in your first hamster-world job. Being able to find files on your computer or in a cabinet can impress people, even though it seems easy. You just have to be smart enough to set aside organizational time. Create a task list, and create folders to go with the tasks. Break tasks down in small chunks, cross them off, and see what’s left. Then keep everything associated with those tasks organized. Say, your task is “grade papers.” Well, do you mean grade papers for one class or for two classes? And where did you put those papers? In a folder in an organized drawer or in a stack on that chair you don’t use? You see what I mean. Taking the time to remember what you’re supposed to be doing and when you’re supposed to do it can make you feel like you have more control over your life.

Try Evernote: In case you haven’t guessed, I’m a bit of a geek. Evernote is a terrific program that you can download and use for free (there is a premium service that has more storage space, but I haven’t needed it yet). You can clip notes online or type them into the program. They are stored online, and you can access the notes everywhere, even from a cell phone. The best aspect of Evernote is that you can tag your documents (“work,” “dissertation,” “resume,” and so forth), and the full document is searchable.

Visit does exactly what you think: It offers tips for hacking your life and for creating shortcuts. For those of you unfamiliar with, don’t be scared when you see it at first. Many of the tips are for programmers and Web designers, but it also offers advice for non-techies on how to get organized.

These are just a few ideas for squelching the sensation that you are constantly overwhelmed. In academia, there aren’t many people around to help you set priorities. You have to do it yourself. But, with these tips, you’ll realize that you can make time work for you after all.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Surviving Grad School: Grad School Made Me Puke

Posted in First Person,Surviving Grad School by Caroline Roberts on March 6, 2010
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Got your attention, didn’t I? Here’s the kicker: Grad school did indeed make me puke. I was never sicker than when I was in grad school, and it seemed like nearly everyone I encountered had some form of cold, fever, cough, or stomach virus. We may as well have attended the University of Cough Drop, Irvine.

Why is this? I actually liked grad school. I liked reading. I liked teaching. But I went to urgent care twice and the emergency room once. Perhaps this was due to an ill-advised trip to a wannabe Benihana in Huntington Beach, but still.

I thought about my trip through Southern California’s finest healthcare facilities and came to the conclusion that people don’t take care of themselves in graduate school, especially in the humanities. It is a badge of honor to be stressed out, so devoted to your work that you can’t see straight.

Factor in the part-time jobs you have just to get by, and you won’t sleep enough to recover when you do get sick. Why was I so sick? I didn’t give myself enough of a chance to heal after catching a stomach virus. Instead, I had classes to teach, classes to take, and part-time work to conquer. I could have slacked off and given the students some group work or skipped reading a book or two, but I didn’t because I thought I was supposed to do it all.

One day, a student named “Beef” (that’s what he wanted to be called), told me to cut class short before I got them sick. And that is the only time in my life I took advice from a man named “Beef.”

Here’s the lesson: If you are in grad school, take care of yourself.

The hamster world can take over your life, too, but in shorter bursts. Projects in the hamster world don’t take quite as long as a full semester. But you have to take a break. If you are sick, stay in bed. If you are really sick, do what I did. Take a year off, assess the situation, and then decide if you can balance grad school and your health.

Waiting for the weekend…and waiting…and waiting…

Posted in Absurdities,First Person by Arnold Pan on March 5, 2010
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To commemorate our first week of existence (thanks to you, readers!), I was thinking about the weekend and whether/what to blog over the next few days.  And how, until recently, I was never fully able to appreciate the weekend without thinking about either grading or prepping for teaching or catching up on writing and research that I couldn’t do while grading and prepping for teaching.  (Except during football season, especially when the Steelers are on TV.)

One of blessings and curses of being an academic is the flexible clock.  On the plus side, you don’t work a strict, at-your-desk, 9-to-5, 40-hour work week — if anyone actually does, any more — and can maximize/minimize your actual days on campus to less than 5.  Of course, you (mostly) get summers off, spring break, winter vacation, a number of three-day weekends.  On the minus side, you feel compelled to take your work home with you and are consumed by it at very odd hours, whether very early or very late or both depending on your schedule and caffeine intake.  Then the things (you think) you want to work on, namely your own research, either takes up your free time or nags at you during your free time so that you don’t fully enjoy your weekend and breaks.

Maybe others are better at compartmentalizing and prioritizing, but I basically had a problem not feeling like I had some kind of (non- or poorly compensated) work, whether drudgery or more meaningful projects, hanging over me going as far back as college. OK, that totally sounds nerdy and it’s not like I don’t live a life that’s more fun than not.  But between obsessing over my undergrad thesis, grad school seminar papers, my dissertation, and theoretical (in both senses of the word) publications, there was always something to fill the time for about 15 of the last 18 years.

So assuming that you don’t have anything better to do over the weekend than to read Post Academic and maybe even comment on it, what are you doing this weekend?  Am I right about slipperiness of academic time, or am I just really bad at time management?  If you are really good at time management, how do you do it?  And, non-academics, do academics romanticize the idea that you can leave your work at the office and have a real weekend?