Florianne Jimenez's blog

Don’t Be Bummed Out While School’s Out

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Florianne Jimenez is a PhD student in rhetoric and composition at UMass Amherst. She tweets via @bopeepery.

Remember when you actually used to look forward to summer vacation as a kid? The last day of school always felt like the sweetest day of the year: the sun always shone a little bit brighter, and the snacks always tasted a little bit better. For graduate students, our last days of school are more bittersweet. For many of us, summer means no funding and relying on on part-time jobs, loans, or significant cutbacks to our lifestyles to survive. It also means losing the structured environment and community that we’ve had for nine months: all of a sudden, all the things that we work towards, all the commitments that structure our time, are gone. What’s a grad student to do?

I’ve been there: when I was still in coursework, I had no idea what to do over the summer. I felt a constant pressure to work, but no one ever told me what I was supposed to be working on during those early stages. At the comps and prospectus stage, having a project to work on has made things easier, but it can still feel way too loose and unstructured. I’ve always felt like I could have made a better use of my time.

As a veteran of some rough, lonely, unfunded summers, I’ve resolved to make the summer of 2018 a productive and healthy four months. While I’m wrapping up the loose ends of this spring semester, I’m also putting some plans in place to make my summer less of a bummer. Here’s a peek at my growing list of summer life hacks, which I hope will also get you through those long summer months.

Accept that you have free time and stop feeling guilty about it.
One of the downsides of graduate school is that you could always be working. While you’re spending 20 hours a week on your research (and that’s plenty!) on top of your other commitments, in the back of your head, you’re always wondering if you could churn out that article quicker, or write that chapter faster, if you did 30, 40, or 50 hours instead. For the summer break, you have to quit this mentality: don’t push yourself to be 100% productive 100% of the time. You just can’t do that. Give yourself reasonable daily, weekly, and monthly goals instead of imposing that the summer is ALL about work. That’s a surefire way to feel bad about yourself all summer.

Write out your work goals and stick to them.
Summer is a great time to really focus on your own research, especially when you’re out of coursework and working on milestones like your comps, prospectus, dissertation, and job market materials. Whatever work you have for the summer, take some time to actually set down specific goals and timelines and hold yourself to them. For the summer, I’ve found that it’s really helpful to quantify goals, give them arbitrary deadlines (e.g., read 10 articles/book chapters by mid-June), and break them down into specific steps rather than to have a big task (e.g., FINISH COMPS!!!) hanging over my head.

For those of us still in coursework, your tasks will be smaller and shorter than for someone with major milestones ahead. However, there are still things relevant to your research that you could work on. Summer is a great time to look back on the year you’ve had and update your CV, and to practice tailoring that document to different kinds of jobs. Summer is also an opportunity to ask for guidance: you could ask a professor or advanced graduate student to coffee, and pick their brains about their research and ask questions about yours. You could also read up on the state of graduate school in general: pick up a book like The Professor is In or Air & Light & Time & Space to get a broader view of academic work. Better yet, enlist a friend to read along with you and discuss it over snacks!

Do everything that you say you haven’t had time for.
We all have that list of hobbies and good habits that we say we would do if only we had the time. For me, that’s reading more young adult novels, foam rolling consistently, and baking treats worthy of The Great British Bake-Off. This summer, commit all of those things to a list and do them at least once, because guess what? Summer is nothing but time. If you’re bored or unsure what to do one day, don’t overthink it: check your list and start one of those activities.

Expand your (non-ac) horizons.
There’s been increasing talk about the declining academic job market and the need for graduate students to have a non-academic career plan. The summer is the perfect time to see what’s out there and to reflect on what you could do with your skills outside of academia. Use the summer to do research on non-academic jobs, pursue internships, volunteer positions, or part-time work in your area for your non-academic resume, and acquire skills (e.g., coding through Udemy) that could supplement your CV. For me, I’m going to use the summer to learn about graphic design, which could help in my work as a writing teacher, but also help me pursue my side interests in corporate communications and advertising.  

Build in routines.
The hardest part of summer is that a lot of our soothing rituals and routines – the coffee you grab on the way to your office, the podcast you listen to on your way to work – suddenly disappear. Fight the urge to roll out of bed whenever you feel like it by having a small routine. What’s something small that can start your summer days off on a happy note? Maybe it’s making coffee while listening to a comedy podcast, lacing up your sneakers and going for a run, or watching the morning news while you make eggs. Whatever it is, make it easy to do everyday in the summer, and you’ll feel a little more grounded.

Be social, and do it for free.
Summer can be a time to form writing groups or job market groups, and those are definitely helpful for your professional life. But remember that connections in graduate school don’t have to be all about work! Find out who’s staying in town and come up with some fun things you can do together on a budget: hikes, gym days, movie nights, and board game nights are some great ideas. You could also rotate planning and scheduling duty among members of your group so that socializing doesn’t become a chore. Isolation tends to creep up unexpectedly, so be proactive about staying connected to people!

What’s on your anti-summer bummer list? Let us know in the comments!

[Image from Flickr user Alan Levine and used under Creative Commons Licensing.]

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“Everyone’s Leaving Me Behind!”: Dealing With Others’ Transitions

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Florianne Jimenez is a PhD student in rhetoric and composition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She tweets via @bopeepery.



In the world of graduate school, spring is a time of transition. It’s when we start hearing about incoming cohorts, but it’s also when people start firming up their post-graduation plans. On a sadder note, the end of the spring semester is also when people might transfer to other programs or quit graduate school altogether. Sadly, the attrition rate for PhD students is extremely high. About half of all students who begin a PhD program leave without completing their degrees. While the research on why graduate students leave and exactly how many is spotty, it still stands: part of being in graduate school is watching your friends leave.

Given the long slog that graduate school is, it can be alienating to watch everyone “move on.” More simply, it’s also incredibly sad to see people who have become friends and colleagues, who celebrated and struggled alongside you, move on. If you’re struggling with the existential crisis brought on by hearing about others’ transitions out of grad school, here are a few pointers.

Remember that grad school isn’t a race.
Graduate school lends itself to competition by comparisons. When it comes to milestones, it can feel especially punishing to see people finishing “faster,” “slower,” or “on time,” and wonder where you are on that timeline. I put all of those terms in quotation marks because what constitutes time in grad school is so arbitrary. There’s the time to degree that a program recommends, and then there’s the actual time it takes for students to finish. Within institutional and personal limits, consider approaching finishing graduate school through what works best for your individual project and personal circumstances. Just because someone finishes by a certain time doesn’t mean you have to finish by then too.   

Plan a reunion.
When people graduate and move away, it doesn’t mean that you’ll never see them again. When you hear that a friend is leaving, consider planning out when and how you’ll see each other again: at the next conference, on a research trip, or at a friend’s wedding. Identifying opportunities to meet up can make the sting of a friend’s departure hurt a little less, and planning ahead can save you money and time in the long run.

Think about how you’ll stay in touch.
Thanks to social media and technology, it’s easier than ever for friends who are several states or even countries away to stay in touch. Facebook Timelines are a reliable standby, but you might want to try another outlet that’s more personal—a weekly phone or Skype call, a monthly postcard or letter-writing agreement, or even small care packages every once in a while. Building up some fanfare around friendship can make staying in touch more fun, so it feels less like an obligation and more like a physical date with a friend.

Put energy into your goodbyes.
When your friends are leaving, sometimes it can be tempting to avoid seeing them or even to pick fights, so that their departures don’t hurt as much. Don’t do that! While goodbyes are always sad, you’ll regret not having a nice, solid farewell once your friend is gone. Like rituals for keeping in contact, it’s cathartic to have a little structure around a friend’s departure, either through a party, a last coffee date, a hike in the woods, or even by helping them pack up and move. Even though the feelings of abandonment can be scary, make an effort to properly show up for your friend and colleague who’s leaving. They might be worried about leaving too, and your presence will definitely be appreciated.

How have you dealt with others’ springtime transitions out of grad school? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter via @GradHacker!

[Image from Flickr User Umedha Hettigoda, used under the Creative Commons license]

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Writing and its Hurdles: Encountering Writing as a Multilingual Graduate Student

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Florianne Jimenez is a PhD student in composition and rhetoric at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She also works at the UMass Writing Center as a Consultant on Multilingual Writing. You can find her on Twitter: @bopeepery.

In my first year of graduate school, a wise professor talked to us about the crippling sense of anxiety and fear that can come with writing seminar papers. When faced with a blank page and a vague assignment, she explained, we have the option to wring our hands over our professors’ expectations, what the genre calls for, and what the point of writing is. Or, she said, we could just GET IT DONE: “Write a paper, turn it in!

That six-word command has rung in my head for the past five years. Is all writing just sheer will, and when it comes down to it, putting pen to paper? Is all of grad school just about turning something in and figuring the rest out later?

For international and/or multilingual grad students, we play the guessing game of genres, expectations, and purposes pretty often. It’s not necessarily a language barrier (although that can be a factor too), but it’s because so much shorthand around writing and research in the US, and in our respective academic disciplines, is never explained. It doesn’t help either that good mentorship and advising on writing is hard to come by.

As an international graduate student and a multilingual writer, I’ve learned (and am still learning) that writing like I belong in my field isn’t some magical skill endowed overnight, or even in one semester. It’s about building up a storehouse of small practices that make me feel empowered and about doing some larger-picture thinking about writing itself. Here are some practices to build into your writing and reading at any stage of graduate school to make writing feel less like a guessing game, and more like a navigation through choices.  

Step back and think about your discipline.
Learning how to be in a discipline also means learning how to sound like you’re in that discipline. Academic disciplines are often marked by their writing: what it sounds like, what kinds of knowledge it produces, what kinds of arguments are seen as valuable. Introducing these assumptions is usually the job of an intro course or a methods course, but it also helps to do some of this work on your own. Learning these assumptions can help you feel more in control of your writing: instead of blindly typing up a paper and hoping that it “feels” like it belongs, you can see the field’s conventions as easily adaptable and learnable tools.

Set aside an afternoon or two to do some writing on what you understand your field to be: what kinds of questions are people trying to answer? What arguments are seen as “new," and how are they phrased? Do your scholars tend to write floridly, with a goal of engagement, or do they write in sparse, spare prose, only trying to convey the basics?

Work with the literature, and your literature’s literature.
Part of graduate training is learning how to write about other people’s ideas and write inclusion into a conversation rather than being a passive summarizer or paraphraser of texts. For me this learning curve was pretty steep, simply because I was out of practice. I came from a scholarly background that valued citation and using sources, but at the same time, we didn’t have the material resources to access a lot of scholarship. When I was writing my undergraduate thesis, I often found myself on the wrong side of a paywall because my institution didn’t have access. Reading new, recently published books was not an option: the library was too mired in bureaucracy to get books to us in a timely manner. As a result, I wrote my papers and thesis around not having sources or having very limited ones, not really paying attention to whether I was critically using sources or engaging with them skillfully.

When I started grad school in the States, and access to research became the least of my worries, I realized that I actually didn’t know a lot about working with sources. I knew that sources were important, but I didn’t know who to cite, why to cite them, or how to make citing sound elegant. I learned a lot from breaking down the citations of scholarly writing that I admired. I paid attention to when they introduced their own ideas versus someone else’s, and how they introduced another author’s ideas. How do disagreement, critique, enthusiastic endorsement, and dismissal sound in citation? What sorts of signal phrases were they using? How did they use multiple sources in one sentence and not sound clunky? While I still hate the mechanical part of citation, now I know that it’s not magic: just a consciousness of how an idea is used, and how to phrase it. A blog post that I return to again and again is Pat Thomson’s “Avoiding the laundry list literature review”, which breaks down passive and active citation practices and the revision process to get from summary to sophisticated citation.

Find your models
Writing is often portrayed as an isolating process, which is ironic because writing is about communicating to people. There’s a lot to be said about building a community of writers, but I think you can also treat texts in this way. Who are the writers in your field that you admire? Who makes you feel supported and welcome in your field? Keep a list of articles that you love – maybe the ones that inspired you to join the field, or ones that you keep returning to in your work – and continually revisit them when you’re feeling stuck. Now you have a voice or a style to work toward, rather than abstract genres or disciplines.

Find your allies
Lastly, locate the resources on your campus around you and use them. If you work through ideas best by talking, try to schedule regular appointments with a writing center tutor. Tutors can provide external accountability for your goals, be an audience for your thought process, and help you structure your writing process. At the very least, it’s an hour a week where you focus on yourself and your writing. Your university’s research librarians might be a great resource too: these are people who are trained to help with research in a specific discipline. They know a lot about the major texts in your field, citation practices, and usually keep abreast of new publications and developments. Keep their name and email handy, and use them the next time you’re befuddled by a writing task.

A caveat about this advice
A lot of the best practices around multilingual writing can apply to writers who would identify as monolingual, native English speakers as well. There’s a lot more to unpack in this idea, but I think it speaks to how by default, society always sees multilingual writers as in need of “more” assistance than a “native speaker." As a person who is multilingual, and also a person who works with pedagogical training around multilingual writing, I don’t think it’s about an amount of assistance or resources for us. One class, one book, or one article won’t fix all of the hurdles that multilingual writers face overnight. Instead, all of the institutions and individuals that make up higher education need to change how we talk about writing. Part of that is making our assumptions and expectations about writing transparent, and to negotiate with disciplinary expectations rather than taking them as law.

[Image by Flickr user Michael Pardo and used under a Creative Commons License.]

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This Semester, Be a Bartleby: “I Would Prefer Not To”

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Florianne Jimenez is a PhD student in rhetoric and composition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She tweets under @bopeepery.

As a graduate student, you’re subject to a regular bombardment of pitches, invitations, and other offers to join, apply, or otherwise participate. In a typical week, your department listserv might send out a dozen or so emails about national, regional, and graduate conferences, calls for papers for edited collections, or job opportunities ranging from house-sitting to adjuncting. There may also be requests for you to sit on committees and/or to organize events such as student socials, conferences, or seminars. These opportunities are especially abundant at the beginning of the semester, when departments are planning their events and people are excited to get things done.

The competitive academic and non-academic markets promote an ethos of inadequacy. We’re constantly being told that whatever we’re doing, it’s not enough. Our CVs need to be longer, our references need to be better, we need to publish more, we need to attend more conferences than our peers. It feels like we need to hit all the marks – administration, research, teaching, professional service – in order to even be considered for the jobs we want (and maybe even the jobs we don’t want, but need).

This pressure cooker environment is what leads graduate students to pile on commitment after commitment, and eventually to burn out. I’ve been there: I’ve had weeks in my planner piled with meeting after meeting, with only tiny slivers of time and energy left for my own work. I’ve surreptitiously eaten lunch off my lap at the fringes of a meeting or eaten a late breakfast while walking from one appointment to another.

Thus, my theme for this semester is inspired by Bartleby, the Scrivener: “I would prefer not to.” I’m going to approach commitments and scheduling with a tendency toward saying no unless the opportunity is truly valuable, rather than being the person who says yes to everything and makes it all work.  

When to Say No

I get it: in an immersive atmosphere like graduate school, it’s tempting to keep saying yes to everything because you just don’t ever want to miss out. A lot of us are also motivated by a genuine desire to build our communities and to create better environments for ourselves and our colleagues. But sometimes, it truly is okay to say no, especially when opportunities are framed like this:

You’re really good at this thing and you have experience! Can you do it?

If you’ve already done something before, do you really need to do it again? While contributing and demonstrating your expertise to a community is a good thing, you also need to think about yourself and your skills. Wouldn’t you be better off learning something new instead of sticking to your comfort zone? If an opportunity is very similar to a job or position you already have on your CV, it’s probably best to skip it.

Come on, you could meet some really awesome and important people!

This is often the case made for joining committees composed of faculty and students or for being involved in university-wide committees and initiatives. Again: yes, meeting people who could be advocates for your work is great! But do you really need to sign on to a monthly or weekly meeting and do all the spadework involved? And when it comes to conferences and networking, do you really need to spend all that time and money in order to meet a few select people? The reality of committee work is that meeting people happens along the way, and usually by happenstance. Some people leave committee meetings right away because they don’t want to put in the extra time to talk and socialize, and that’s totally fine. If you’re signing up for something because you want to get face time with the people there, perhaps you should be saying no.

If you really want to make a professional contact with someone, an academic environment already puts you in a position to do that. Professors and students post their research interests and contact information on department websites for a reason: we actually WANT people to reach out and ask about our work. The kind of connection you want to make might be doable in a short email and a 20-to-30-minute visit to someone’s office hours.

Please? No one else can/wants to do it!

Is this actually true, or have other people just not been asked or considered? Female faculty tend to do more service work than male faculty, especially when it comes to internal (departmental) service. It’s also been noted that women and people of color in academia tend to take on more emotional and intellectual labor in the form of mentoring and service work, and yet not be recognized for those efforts. If you notice a similar pattern in your graduate student community, it might be time to start a conversation about who’s always saying no and yes to community-building work. When I was starting graduate school, I felt immense pressure as an international student to make myself as visible as possible, and to make sure I represented my home and international students well. However, I’ve noticed that it was often people like me who kept doing the work of organizing conferences, getting graduate student consensus on important issues, and liaising with the department. If you feel like you are doing more and others are doing less, have someone else step up to the plate. When you decline an invitation or a nomination for service work, you can also take the opportunity to recommend or ask someone else.  

A caveat:

When I say “I would prefer not to,” I’m not advocating that you isolate yourself and refuse to share your talents at all during graduate school. Instead, I’m advocating for letting yourself say no to commitments that don’t serve your interests and your goals. By all means say yes to commitments that energize you or that make you feel like you’re contributing to a larger cause. And in these fraught political times, I especially believe in giving your time and energy to resistance. “I would prefer not to” is about using your time and energy wisely and giving yourself the permission to only take on work that matters to you. Practice all the different ways you could say no, then use them for good.

How do you pick and choose between professional opportunities? Let us know in the comments!

[Image by Flickr user Daniel Lobo and used under the Creative Commons License.]

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The Place You Hang Your Hat: Housing and Grad Student Life

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Florianne Jimenez is a Ph.D. student in rhetoric and composition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. You can find her on Twitter through @bopeepery.

I’m deep in the throes of my comprehensive exams right now, and so I’ve been spending less time on campus and more time at home. Or, I should say, I often pack up all my work and head to a coffee shop because I just can’t get any work done in my mess of a house. Home is not a great workspace for me as a graduate student right now and I’m currently trying to reframe my relationship with my living space. This article is about what I’ve learned about housing as a graduate student that cuts across all kinds of housing situations.

Wherever you live, make sure you keep it livable.

I’m currently overhauling my bedroom into a better living and working space and I wish I hadn’t put it off for so long. I am a clutter fiend, but just because I cause clutter doesn’t mean that I’m not affected by it. My approach to my room has been to interact with it as little as possible; I often stumble out of bed and head straight into getting ready for work or the gym and so my room is merely a bedroom/changing room rather than a place to relax. My office chair has become a place to hang clothes (and I know many people do this too!), and my desk is a repository of forgotten library books, handouts, and junk mail. Hence, I spend way too much time and money at coffee shops in order to escape my room, and then get home and wonder, Why is everything such a mess?!

The takeaway from my mess of a room is that you need to keep your place neat, because clutter can be exhausting background noise. The mental energy and little bits of time I’ve spent clearing a space on my desk to work, looking for my purse in the morning, or searching for that pesky charger become little frustrations in my day. They’re inconsequential in the moment, but if I add up all that time and energy, I could probably have been doing something else more fun or productive during those minutes. Take a step back, look at your room with real honesty, and ask yourself: Does just looking at all this mess make me tired? I’m trying to learn how to be a (relatively) neat person now and it’s definitely harder to learn it so late in the game.

Roommates and their ups and downs

I currently live with three roommates, and I’m lucky to have found three people who not only put in the work and the time to keep our common spaces livable, but are also just fun to cook, watch TV, or rant about my days with. It’s also a very cost-effective option: I get to save on rent by living with roommates. While I think I found this configuration through pure luck and happenstance, there are also things you can do to live with roommates and keep the drama to a minimum.

One thing I’ve learned living with roommates is to not hold things in. If your roommate does a tiny thing that annoys you (e.g. leaves a single fork in the sink, or constantly leaves the door unlocked), it’s much easier to just communicate that to them rather than to hold onto it forever. Don’t agonize too much over how to make a roommate request – just ask them. As long as you’re not being overly antagonistic or mean about it, it’s probably going to be fine.

Another thing that’s helped a lot is to figure out concrete channels of communication. Roommates can have different sleep and work schedules, and it can be hard to get everybody in one place to discuss something. For little things like bill reminders, rent checks, or asking if friends can stay over the weekend, agree to use a text or email thread. This takes a little bit of pressure off of roommate requests, and also lets your household get decisions made quickly and easily. Of course, for more serious matters, in-person communication is always best.

Think about what your home is - and what you want it to be

Every year when lease renewal rolls around, it’s helpful to think about whether your home is serving you well. This is ultimately a matter of individual preference and depends a lot on how you were raised, how extroverted or introverted you are, and what you want to achieve in a particular semester or year. Earlier in graduate school, when I was  feverishly making friends and attending social events, the clutter of my home didn’t bother me too much. It was what I wanted it to be: a roof over my head, a small kitchen, and a place to sleep. But now that I’m out of coursework and in need of a more settled workspace, I want to actually enjoy my home. Accepting these changes has helped me begin to make decisions about my housing, such as rearranging my bedroom into a half-bedroom and mini-office (inspired by this Gradhacker piece!), clearing off shelves, and tossing clothes and shoes that I don’t wear anymore to minimize clutter. My long-term goal is to eventually live alone but while I can’t afford it, my vision for my living space is helping me work with what I have.

As I clean up and work toward getting the living situation I want, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I let this slide for so long and regretting that I didn’t have a conscious habit of home maintenance in the past. Housing is always complicated and it is too intimate an aspect of our lives to allow to fall by the wayside during graduate school. While your work should be a priority during grad school, where you are when you’re not working can shape the quality of your work a lot.

How does your living space influence your life as a graduate student? Tell us in the comments!

[Image by Flickr user Alan Levine and used under Creative Commons licensing.]

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Getting Rid of “Monkey Mind”: Focusing and Getting Work Done in Graduate School

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Florianne Jimenez (@bopeepery) is getting her Ph.D. in rhetoric and composition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Before I started writing this article, I washed a glass, petted the cat, checked my phone, and texted a friend. I sat down, wrote a sentence, erased it, and then thought Hmm, I probably should send that email I’ve been putting off…

Sound familiar? If you also take forever to start a task or constantly interrupt yourself with electronics, emails, and snacking, then you might not be getting the most out of your time. When I’m constantly interrupting myself, a task like an email which should take five minutes can stretch on indefinitely. I also feel like I’ve been working on it indefinitely, and that makes it even harder to start a simple task.

I’ve heard this habit called monkey mind, and it’s a great description of what goes on in my brain and many other grad students’ brains when we struggle to get work done. When you have monkey mind, every little thing except the task at hand seems urgent, from a crookedly hung picture to the cereal bowl sitting in the sink. It cuts down on productivity and takes energy away from your work.

The earlier in graduate school you learn to recognize and quiet your monkey mind, the better. I’m in my fifth year and I’m only unlearning my monkey mind habits now, after years of late nights, unproductive days, and unfinished work. It’s a long, continuous process of unlearning and in this article I document the strategies I’ve adopted to be more productive without burning out.

Plan out your work sessions

Plenty has already been written about to-do lists and bullet journals, which are great tools for keeping all your stuff together. However, if you’re not approaching the time you set aside for work with a plan, you’re much more likely to succumb to your monkey mind. It’s not enough to set aside time to work: you also have to have a realistic plan for getting things done.

To plan out a work session, first set definite time limits on your work. I used to think that the longer I sat at my computer, the more I’d get done. Not so true: telling myself that “I’ll sit here until I finish!” made me much less likely to start a task, since I could put it off indefinitely. Instead, when I have a day or an afternoon to work, I set a start and end time and hold to those times no matter how much (or how little) I get done or whatever comes up.

Next, think about what you want to accomplish in that time frame. Given your time and energy, what can you actually do today? You may want to think about prioritizing timely and urgent tasks, or pairing heavy tasks (grading, writing, annotating a book) with light tasks (updating class records, sending emails, transferring handwritten notes to a computer).

Finish what you start

People with monkey mind tend to have a lot of little tasks to fiddle with because they leave little tasks to fiddle with. I used to have a bad habit of saying “I’ll come back to this later!” for the simplest tasks and moving on to another. The result is that at the end of a work session, I’d have multiple half-finished lesson plans, emails, and student feedback and, despite all the time I’d spent working, no finished products. Take a step beyond making your time finite, and make your tasks finite as well. If you can define what the finish line of a task is, it’s much easier to get it done and move on to another task.

Old hacks, new tricks

When I started graduate school, everybody swore that the Pomodoro method would change my life. A few years later, everyone started talking about bullet journaling, then time tracking and “deep work,” and it seemed like there was always a new productivity hack or app coming into vogue.

Productivity hacks are neither inherently bad or good: you have to test them out and be willing to set them aside when they don’t work. Despite my affinity for the Pomodoro timer, it doesn’t jive with a lot of the tasks that I have to do this semester. For example, when I’m writing comments on student papers, the 25-minutes of work / 5 minutes of play structure of a Pomodoro interrupts my groove, and makes me feel like I’m spending much longer on the papers than I should. I would rather get through an entire section all in one sitting instead of forcing myself to keep taking breaks, which means the Pomodoro isn’t right for me.

As you work on improving your focus and attention, remember that letting go of your monkey mind doesn’t happen overnight! It’s also a fickle creature, and will occasionally come back depending on your energy, the tasks you have to do, and your emotional state. Sometimes, the monkey mind might be indicating deeper anxieties about work, or a sign that you might be burning out. Try to tame it, but also listen to it – the monkey mind might have something to say.

[Image by Flickr user Michael Pardo and used under Creative Commons licensing.]

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Getting Rid of “Monkey Mind”: Focusing <br>and Getting Work Done in Graduate School
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Creating Linguistically Inclusive Classrooms

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Florianne Jimenez is a Ph.D. student in rhetoric and composition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is also the Multilingual Specialist at the UMass Amherst Writing Center. You can find her on Twitter via @bopeepery.

 

 

Have you ever stopped to think about how many different languages there are in your classroom? The answer might surprise you. The U.S. continues to take in international students in record numbers, and many college students also identify as Generation 1.5, which refers to individuals who arrived in the US as children and adolescents. Our classrooms have students and teachers with varied, complex relationships to English and other languages, all of which fall under the term ‘multilingual.’

 

While it’s certainly easy to assume that multilingual students will just ‘pick up’ college-level English as they go, the truth is, a university classroom is a linguistically complex and challenging place. A student’s language background can influence how well they’re doing in your class, as well as how included a student feels in your classroom community. As teachers, we can do a lot to make our classrooms more open to linguistic diversity. Instead of penalizing how students’ language backgrounds differ from Standard English, we need to ensure that multilingual students don’t fall behind.

 

Design welcoming discussions

A discussion-based classroom can seem like a free and open exchange of ideas, but the speed and pace at which a discussion takes place can often silence multilingual students. The cold-calling and spontaneous hand-raising that may go on in an active discussion can intimidate these students, but there are several ways that the playing field can be leveled for them, as well as for students who are shy and/or anxious about speaking up.

 

When planning the flow of class discussion, you may want to start class by asking students to refer to some writing or reading that they did in preparation for the class, or to offer a question and have students write silently for a few minutes. This way, you can ensure that all students start discussion with something concrete to refer to. You can even ask students to just read what they’ve written out loud and ask students to respond.

 

When class discussions get intense, voices can speed up and multilingual students can feel like there’s too much going on. A discussion, after all, has multiple tasks: consulting a text, composing your own responses, taking in your classmates’ and teacher’s contributions, listening for a moment to jump in. Don’t be afraid to take a beat, even in the middle of discussion. If you’re offering a key question to the class, or if a student says something relevant to everyone in the discussion, offer the idea in multiple forms (e.g. say it out loud and write it on the board). Let the prompt simmer in silence, then invite all students to take a minute and write a response to the question. This method slows the pace of discussion without stymying it and allows everyone to respond instead of rewarding students who can quickly come up with an answer.

 

Create opportunities to improve

Projects, especially term papers, can feel incredibly fraught for multilingual students. When designing a semester project, consider breaking it up into phases where students can brainstorm, draft, solicit feedback, revise, and edit. This is especially true for writing assignments where, especially as a new instructor, you might feel pushed to respond to both global and sentence-level issues in student writing. If you notice that a student needs a lot of language support, this method allows you multiple moments to intervene in the students’ process throughout the semester.

 

During assessment, stay focused on your class goals

A multilingual student’s paper might contain a variety of errors, which can range from minor ones that don’t interfere with comprehension, to seemingly complete breakdowns in meaning. When reading a student’s paper with the aim of giving feedback, focus on what you are understanding instead of what seems to be missing. Write (or say) back to them what it is you think they’re saying instead of merely commenting, “I don’t understand” or “unclear.” This offers a more constructive spin on the feedback and assessment process, and shows students that you’re actively reading their work instead of judging them.

 

A paper laden with errors might feel troubling, but this is a moment to remember to return to your class’s goals. Is the student responding to the assignment? Is the student critically analyzing the content? Offer feedback on those larger issues as well as on their errors, as multilingual students are engaging with the content of your class just as much as they’re engaging with the language.

 

Become familiar with resources for your multilingual students

When working with multilingual students, remember that there may be other resources available for them on your campus, and these can supplement the individual support you’re giving to them as a teacher. You’re not alone, and many people can help! Examples of these are English-as-a-second-language departments, writing centers, conversation partner programs, peer tutoring, and your campus’s international students office. Writing short descriptions of these resources into your syllabus can help multilingual students navigate college outside your classroom.

 

How have you created a linguistically inclusive classroom? Let us know in the comments!

 

[Image by Flickr user Elaine Smith and used under Creative Commons licensing.]

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Creating Linguistically Inclusive Classrooms

In the Loop: Staying Involved as a Late-Stage Grad Student

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Florianne is a doctoral student in rhetoric and composition at UMass Amherst. You can follow her on Twitter through her handle: @bopeepery.

 

I started my fifth year of graduate school last week, which officially puts me in the “advanced grad student” camp. Being further ahead than most folks in my program has its pros and cons. Because I’m out of coursework, I don’t have to be at school at odd hours (goodbye evening classes during bitter New England winter!) or every single day like I used to. Instead, I have a five or six-hour workday where I teach, work in the Writing Center, and hold office hours, which leaves plenty of time for me to work independently.

 

The downside of being at school less frequently means that I feel a greater sense of isolation. When you’re in your first or second year of grad school, coursework is the default social hub. By being in a two to three hour seminar with people every week, you’re immediately getting to know them as thinkers, readers, and colleagues. People also tend to make plans to grab dinner or drinks after their evening classes, or build study groups or work dates around common subjects.

 

So what’s a person out of coursework to do? When you have fewer opportunities to run into people, and when you don’t always catch wind of what’s going on, how can you avoid the sense of isolation that comes with starting independent work? Here are a few lessons that I’ve learned as I transitioned out of coursework and into my qualifying exams.

 

Be an active participant.

As a late-stage grad student, you might feel a little burnt out on meeting new people every year, and prefer to receive invitations instead of making them. When you fall into this trap, it’s easy to start feeling forgotten in your program, and resent people for not asking you to hang out. Instead of sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring and pouting, make an effort to actually ask people to do something. You don’t always have to throw a huge party with over a dozen people (unless you enjoy that!) – text a friend about doing a hike, or ask a neighbor to coffee. By taking small steps to put yourself out there, you’re creating a small social hub around yourself rather than waiting to be pulled into one.

 

Say yes as much as time allows.

The first month of school is always filled with department receptions, meetings, mixers, and reunions with old friends. The thought of putting on your happy face and making light conversation in a professional setting might sound exhausting, especially if you’ve been doing it for several years. However, it’s important to keep up a presence in your social/professional circles, even if it’s just five-minute chats with your colleagues about their summers. As an advanced graduate student, you have the benefit of being a more familiar face to professors, and you can use this familiarity to break the ice (e.g. “How was that seminar on Renaissance lit last semester?”). Instead of dragging your feet and grumbling about how many events you have to go to in September (e.g. “I could be working instead of being at this awkward cocktail party!”), budget time in your work schedule for all the events that happen in late August and September, and accept that it’s a busy season. (If you’re feeling pressed for time, it’s also okay to leave an event a little early!)

 

Strike a balance.

The advice I’ve given above doesn’t mean that you have to say yes to every single social event, or fill up your calendar with coffee dates and dinner parties all semester. Remember that your first priority is still getting your work done, and schedule accordingly. Only you can decide how much and what kinds of socialization are good for you, and it’s important to figure out where your priorities and preferences lie. If you’re not a fan of huge house parties, don’t feel compelled to go if it will wipe you out physically and emotionally and keep you from getting work done. Alternatively, if you’re at an event and you’re really not having a good time, know that you can always leave or cut it short. Take ownership over how you spend your time and who you spend it with.

 

Remember, being an old-timer in your department or program isn’t always a death sentence for your social life. As you continue to build links with colleagues and faculty, you might find that the social ties you build can open up doors for you. Continuing to make connections offers opportunities for you to find new mentors, be a mentor to other students, and find possibilities for collaboration.

 

[Image by Flickr user GydruS and used under the Creative Commons license.]

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Working It Out: Building Fitness Into Graduate School Life

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Florianne Jimenez is a PhD student in Rhetoric and Composition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. You can find her on Twitter: @bopeepery.

Graduate school is an incredibly exciting time: we’re surrounded by colleagues who are working towards the same goal, we might form friendships that last a lifetime, and we get to live and work around a university or college, where there’s always something going on. Unfortunately, it can also be an incredibly sedentary lifestyle – we tend to sit for hours and hours just reading and writing, skip meals or order takeout just to save time, or cut out exercise because we can’t fit it into our schedules. If we’re not careful, we can fall into unhealthy patterns that allow us to get our work done, but also neglect our bodies.

 

I didn’t always view working out as an essential part of graduate school. I always considered it an activity that would be nice to do if I found the time or energy. Unsurprisingly, when I put exercise in the “if I find the time/energy” category, I rarely did it, and it definitely affected me physically and emotionally. I was sluggish and sleepy all the time, and I fell into bad moods very quickly and with very little reason. When I made a few changes and built exercise into my lifestyle, my productivity increased. At present, I work out about 4-6 times a week. I do yoga, tabata, kickboxing, spin, and barre classes, and (mostly) get all my work done. This state of mind (and body) didn’t happen overnight. Getting myself to actually care about fitness was a long journey, and it’s a journey that I’m rediscovering all the time. Below are a few things I learned about actively pursuing fitness while in graduate school:

 

Start small.

When you start working out, there’s also a huge temptation to do a massive overhaul of your lifestyle. You want to start going to the gym five days a week, AND prep healthy meals in large batches, AND start drinking those disgusting-looking green shakes, AND use a standing desk, AND bike to work… the list can go on and on. You’re more likely to make a change permanent if you limit yourself to one small, manageable goal at a time, especially if it’s a goal that meets you where you are. If you’re completely new to exercise, you might want to limit your exercise goals to a week at a time: “I’ll go to the gym twice this week,” or “I’ll set up a meeting with a trainer” are examples of small, measurable, and doable goals. Once you’ve started to make exercise a habit, that’s when it’s easier to add on other lifestyle changes.

 

Do it the way you want.

The amazing thing about exercise is that there are so many ways to do it. The challenge is doing it the way you want. Some people thrive in group fitness classes, while others hate the idea of being around other people when they work out. Some people love high intensity and high adrenaline workouts like tabata, spinning, and kickboxing, while others need more meditative workouts like yoga and pilates. Whatever way you want to work out, being bored and uncomfortable during exercise is the number one way to make sure you don’t stick with it. Spend some time researching and trying out different exercise styles and settings until you figure out what you enjoy.

 

Be realistic about your budget.

Working out can get expensive very quickly. A gym membership alone can be over $100 a month, and that’s before signing up for personal training, buying workout clothes, and getting additional equipment like foam rollers and mats. Before you sign up for that gym or personal trainer, think about whether you can spend that much on exercise. There’s nothing wrong with joining a gym, but if paying for it is going to stress you out and make you resentful towards exercise, then you might want to rethink your approach. The most cost-effective option is usually the gym at your university or college. They usually offer the lowest prices on memberships and personal training in the area for students, faculty, and staff. Or, if the idea of running into your students at the gym is too much, do some research on gyms in your area and see if they offer student discounts and/or class packages that work for you. Some yoga studios or gyms might even offer an exchange deal for students. I spent one summer cleaning a yoga studio a few times a week in exchange for free classes. Look around and see what’s out there, and more importantly, ask around. Whatever gym or studio you sign up for, insist on taking a tour of the facilities and doing a trial day or two before you commit to putting money down.

 

Working out doesn’t have to cost anything either. YouTube is a godsend for anyone who wants to work out at home on their own schedule. Before I found a yoga studio in my area that I liked, I started doing yoga at home with YogaWithAdriene. She has an extensive back catalog of 30-day yoga challenges, a mix of short, long, beginner, intermediate, and advanced videos, and has a great instructor persona. When I started doing more high intensity and plyometric workouts about three years ago, I subscribed to FitnessBlender.com, which has different workout styles, intensities, and lengths to choose from. FitnessBlender even has a few options for low impact (read: no jumping!) workouts, which are great if you don’t want to wake your roommates or downstairs neighbors. I highly recommend bookmarking a few videos that you like and building a weekly schedule of which ones to do. It’ll save you time and energy on scrolling through YouTube and deciding which one to do that day.

 

Set aside time for it.

There’s no way around it: exercise will take up time, and sometimes, more time than you think. There’s the actual workout time itself, but you also need to account for the time you need to get to and from the gym, stretching and cooling down (don’t skip those!), showering and changing afterwards, and recovery activities like foam rolling and refueling. Build all of that time into your decision-making. Should you go with the gym that’s slightly out of your way but has a huge shower and locker room, or the gym that’s on your way to and from school but always has a line for the one shower? Do you mind bringing all your clothes, shoes, makeup, and toiletries to the gym, or would you rather stop at home and get dressed there? Or would you rather save on travel time and work out at home? Whatever option you go with, be realistic about how much time you can devote to exercise, and plan around that.

 

Waking up early to exercise (plus a bunch of other things) has been thrown around as a productivity tip, but I think this advice should be taken with a grain of salt. Personally, early morning workouts just don’t work with my body (in terms of drowsiness, how I metabolize food, etc.), and I’ve started working out closer to mid-morning and early in the evening. I had to figure that out through a lot of trial and error (e.g. missed alarms, workouts with light-headedness because of low blood sugar, repeatedly pressing the snooze button), but I’ve generally accepted that working out early in the morning just isn’t for me.

 

My personal favorite: The little bit that goes a long way.

In a perfect world, graduate school would let us devote two to three hours to self-care everyday. However, we all live in a far from perfect world where we have to juggle multiple commitments and rush from one appointment to another everyday. When I’m pressed for time, I opt for HIIT (high intensity interval training) routines. HIIT is a kind of training that’s done at a high rate of exertion (think 90-95% effort) for very short periods of time. It’s designed to get you working and sweating immediately, and to train your body to handle high rates of stress. Some routines can be done in just 7 minutes! I prefer to stretch my HIIT workouts to about 20-30 minutes, but it still follows the same principle: work real hard, but get it done fast. I highly recommend HIIT, but with the caveat that you should check in with a doctor and/or professional to see whether this kind of training is right for you.

 

How do you fit exercise into your grad school life? Tell us in the Comments!

 

[Image by Flickr user Kevin Dooley and used under the Creative Commons license.]

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Working It Out: Building Fitness Into Graduate School Life

Beyond Sulking

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Florianne Jimenez is a PhD student in rhetoric and composition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. You can find her on Twitter @bopeepery.

 

So you did it! You finally turned in that fellowship statement/job application/grant application/article that you’d been slaving over for weeks. You had shopped it around for feedback to mentors, colleagues, mom and dad, even your cat. You faced some writing blocks, but you pushed through, and you produced a piece of writing that you’re incredibly proud of. Maybe you went to an interview, and shook hands the perfect way, and made appropriately witty jokes and gave very articulate answers. You were feeling good about that application, and started picturing how you’d treat yourself once you got the amazing news.

 

And then the email came! “Dear Ms. GradStudent, Thank you for submitting your application. We regret to inform you…”

 

WAIT, WHAT?! This is NOT supposed to happen to people who work hard. This is NOT fair. The committee must have overlooked something. Maybe they misfiled my application! Or I must have really screwed it up. Oh, I must have REALLY screwed something up… (Cue screaming, crying, and intense ice cream consumption).

 

If this scene is familiar, it’s because rejection is awful, and everyone hates it. Nobody wants to be told they weren’t good enough, especially not a graduate student. Graduate school is made up of people who were (and are) excellent students, who were often at the top of their class in college and were always being singled out for praise. When we’re told that we didn’t quite make the grade, it confirms the harshest, meanest doubts that we already have about ourselves.

 

Given how badly we hate – and try to avoid – rejection, how can we make it better? How can we turn it around and actually make it work for us?

 

I have so many feelings! How do I deal?

This post makes me sound like Pollyanna, but trust me: I am the saddest, gloomiest person I know after a rejection, and I’ve accepted that about myself. I wasn’t always like this. I refused to be a downer, and I would chirp, “It’s okay! Better luck next time!” as a rejection rolled in and forget it even happened. However, pushing away my bad feelings about rejection didn’t help me feel better, nor did it help me grow as an academic or a person. I’ve learned that when I get a rejection and I feel bad about it, I should just go ahead and feel bad about it. Sometimes I’ll take off work for an afternoon and watch Netflix in my pajamas, or order a big ice cream sundae, or go to a spin class and burn off some frustration – I just do what my mind and body need to deal with disappointment.

 

I need to vent! Who’s around?

Feeling your feelings sometimes means talking them out with somebody, and that’s totally fine. However, remember that somebody means just one trusted person, and not “every colleague you run into that day in the hallway.” If somebody in your department received a fellowship, award, or job over you, complaining about it does not put you in a good light at all. Choose who you’re going to rant and be petty to wisely: is it someone you trust? Is it someone you won’t be putting in an awkward position? If it is, then by all means, grab a drink with this person (and ONLY this person) and rant away.

 

As for social media, I would treat this with caution as well. Tread the line between expressing disappointment and mounting aggression. There’s no need to unnecessarily cut ties, especially since you may be going through a screening process again. If that Facebook status or snarky tweet you’ve got brewing is directed at a person or persons, such as the screening committee, the person who beat you for that award/job/fellowship, your department, or a journal, DON’T HIT SEND. Rejection is exhausting enough – don’t add professional drama to the mix.

 

Feelings resolved! I’m all done here, right?

Not quite yet! Once you’re feeling a little better (read: you can talk to whoever rejected you without wanting to punch them), there are a few more things you should do.

 

Save your application for the future.

When I started graduate school, I made it a habit to try out for any job, fellowship, conference, or award that I could. I felt silly because I got my heart broken so many times (and still do), but I’m starting to think of applications, rejections, and acceptances as part of the normal rhythm of academic life. Writing so many applications has given me a steady bank of letters, CVs, resumés, and personal statements that I refer back to every year, so I never feel like I’m starting from nothing when I have to send in an application. Think of your rejected application as the start of a future successful one. Writing up application documents is great training for the academic and non-academic job markets, and practice writing in various professional genres is always a long-term benefit. So keep the applications you’ve worked on, file them where you know you can retrieve them later on, and make revisions to them as appropriate when you have another opportunity that you’re applying for.

 

Say thank you.

Even if you’ve been rejected in a form letter, it never hurts to be courteous and send a brief thank you email. Screening people takes up a lot of time and energy, and people who take on that work should always be thanked. (Yes, even if they’re breaking your heart.) It never hurts to put some good energy out there, and the process of putting kindness into writing has actually made me feel better. In smaller circles, such as within your program or department, it might help the person reading applications remember your name in the future. Your email doesn’t have to be overly effusive, long, or tailored to your recipient: two or three sentences that say “Thank you for your time, good luck” will suffice.

 

When it’s an option, get feedback.

If you think your recipient has the time, it’s productive to add a short, polite request for feedback in your thank you email, either in person or by email. Make sure you convey that you’re definitely interested in the job/fellowship/award/etc. in the future, and that you’d like to know what you can do to improve your chances later on. I’ve learned a lot of useful tips about application writing and interviewing from these conversations. For example, I (grumpily but politely) asked for some thoughts on a recently rejected summer fellowship application. I wasn’t expecting a reply, but the professor that wrote back explained that the strongest applications had gone into extensive detail about their writing and research plans under the fellowship, and I realized that I had spent most of my statement explaining what a hard worker I am and the scholarly merits of my work. I’m still disappointed in the outcome, but now I know how administrators screen applications across various departments and colleges, and I feel more prepared to write fellowship applications in the next funding cycle.

 

Success in graduate school doesn’t hinge on one fellowship, job, or award – it’s about the sum of your successes and failures over time. Feel free to sulk for a little bit, but don’t take a rejection to mean that you’re not cut out for graduate school, or for an academic life. Rejection will always sting, but it’s also an opportunity to get better. Go through your stages of grief, but also make sure to take what you can from it, and then move on to the next application.

 

How do you deal with rejection? Let us know in the comments!

 

[Image by Flickr user Chris and used under the Creative Commons license.]

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