You have /5 articles left.
Sign up for a free account or log in.

Alyssa is an Autistic doctoral student in neuroscience at the University of Rhode Island. Follow them @yes_thattoo or check out their personal blog.

“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham

At this point, summer is here, and with it, a lot of unstructured time. So, we can work, right? We've all got to-do lists a mile long, largely populated with everything we didn't get done during the semester. (Or over winter break. Or the semester before that.) It’s nice to think that we can finally clear out our to-do lists.

Not so fast. If you're like me, there's something on your list for this summer that was unfinished from your list last summer. There might even be two things. I still owe revisions on a piece about disability and fanfiction. I never actually finished the review on sleep monitoring technology. In my partial defense, my thesis focus has almost certainly changed and I’ve got two other papers written and out for review. Even so: I thought I was going to get more things, or different things, done than I actually did.

There are a few ways I could approach this reality. I could look for advice on how to make the best use of my unstructured time. And I do — scheduling and pomodoro-like techniques have helped me get more done during my working time. I could look at which things on my to-do list are actually a strong yes, as opposed to a "well, OK..." and saying "no" to what is neither exciting nor strictly necessary to my degree. My major professor told me it would be important to say no to things so I could focus and finish — this seems like a good way to trim my list of distractions.

After this trimming, the important bits on my academic list for this summer are:

  • Revise the three papers I owe revisions on. The two papers I got out during the academic year have joined the piece on disability in fanfiction, all of which need revisions.
  • Figure out what my dissertation research is actually going to be on. Right now, augmentative and alternative communication looks likely, but with brain computer interfaces. I’m not studying the same systems I use.
  • Finalize my committee, because I can’t take the next steps in my program until I do so.
  • Arrange (and possibly take) my comprehensive exams. Once I have a committee, I can do this, and depending on their availability, that will either happen over the summer or at the start of the fall semester.

Just as important as everything on the list above (maybe more important), I am making time for rest. Summer means some free time, if that is I can accept that I have it while staring down the list of things I could be working on.

This means:

  • Despite all pressures to the contrary, the 40-hour work week is, in fact, my maximum, not the minimum or the goal. (This is 40 hours total, not 40 hours on research, just to be clear. And if I need to use a pomodoro technique, the break periods count.)
  • Even if I haven't hit that 40 hour maximum Monday-Friday (and the past few weeks, I haven't), I'm still not working over the weekend. If I want to spend the weekend re-reading (well, starting to re-read) an absurdly long Pokemon fanfiction or playing video games, then I can do that. Being completely unproductive is precisely the point.
  • I am working evenings, since the math classes I'm teaching over the summer are evening classes, but that means I take the morning or the afternoon off on class days.
  • I'm getting enough sleep — and not just because I'll get more done rested. It’s the best thing for me to do as a human.
  • I'm trying not to feel guilty about being human and needing rest while I'm in graduate school. Yes, my disabilities mean I burn through energy faster in some environments, but if I need to cite a disability as a reason to only work a standard week, something has gone very wrong.

How are you going to take time to rest this summer?

[Comic by Jorge Cham and used in accordance with the instructions in the about page.]

Next Story

Written By

More from GradHacker