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Elizabeth Dunn is a Ph.D. student in Information Science at the University of North Texas. She also works as the Marketing and Communications Manager for the College of Graduate Studies at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas.
November has come and we are nearing the completion of another semester. This semester is particularly significant to me as its completion marks the halfway point of my doctoral degree. To be halfway done with my doctorate (in terms of hours earned) is both exciting and frightening. Metaphorically, it’s like being on a steep and rocky trail looking back at how far I’ve come, but also considering how far I have to go. Questions surface such as, ‘Have I learned everything I should have learned so far?’ ‘Have I taken advantage of all of the opportunities that I can?’ ‘Am I on track with where I should be at this point in my program?’ ‘How will I meet the challenges and milestones left on this journey?’
The midway point is an important milestone in your graduate student path. If you identify with where I am, be sure to take a moment to congratulate yourself on how far you’ve come. Graduate school can be a marathon involving years of commitment and intellectual endurance. The long grind can even lead graduate students to quit after investing precious years and resources in pursuit of the degree. If you’re like me, you’ve paused many things in your life, both professionally and personally, to make the sacrifice of time, money, and focus that earning your graduate degree requires. Therefore, at the midway milestone, it’s important to take inventory of what you’ve done, where you are, and what needs to be done to ensure you’re on track to accomplish your goals. Here are some ideas:
Review your degree plan. Have you got a plan for your next steps? If not, there is no time like the present! From the requirements of my degree plan, I built a spreadsheet which has guided me in making strategic progress towards my goals. This also helps with scheduling and looking ahead to make plans for as far out as the next year or more. If you’re not sure where to start, schedule an appointment with your advisor ASAP to make a plan and get yourself on track. Be personally accountable for your progress.
Take a look at the handbook. Have you looked at your program handbook lately? If not, take a few moments to flip through the document. Review the handbook and other university resources to make sure that you’re meeting or on track to meet all of the additional requirements for publication and presentations as well, because you still have some time at this midway point. Save yourself much stress by not saving these requirements until the very end.
Review and organize your work. By this point, you’ve done so much writing. Where are all of those papers you’ve written? If they’re saved to the hard drive on your laptop, think about moving them to cloud storage. You might need them at some point down the road, and they are also handy references for other projects. Start thinking about them as seeds for future research. I keep folders for each class in Google Drive, where I save papers, proposals, discussion posts, syllabi, and reference articles. Reviewing all of these documents also can give you a good overview of your interests and research direction … see the next point.
Stake your research direction. If you have yet to do so, start thinking about requirements from your program to publish, present, and of course, write a thesis or dissertation. Lately, I have found myself going back to the files I’ve kept and articles I’ve downloaded and saved because these papers relate to yet another paper and idea that I’m currently working on. In my mind, this is a good indication that I’m discovering my research direction. Start looking for a common theme in the papers you’ve written or in the articles you find interesting. You’ll notice some commonalities and when you do, you’re well on your way to finding your niche.
My grad school mantra has been that I’m completing this degree one assignment, one paper, one class, one semester at a time. Looking at every checkpoint that still lies before me all at once is simply too overwhelming. I like this quote from War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy: “A man on a thousand mile walk has to forget his goal and say to himself every morning, 'Today I'm going to cover twenty-five miles and then rest up and sleep.’” November is one of my favorite months of the year. I love the holidays and the opportunities for reflection that come with the season. If you find yourself at the halfway point like me, be sure to take some time to reflect on how far you’ve come. Don’t be asleep at the wheel, however. Make sure you’re on pace at this critical time in the marathon of graduate school by being prepared for the challenges and opportunities in the miles ahead.
Do you have other tips for graduate students at the halfway point of their degree? Share them here!