• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online

Title

When Your Battery Is Low: Get a Jumpstart

Creating a plan to get you through particularly busy and stressful times in graduate school.

September 25, 2018
 
 

Neelofer Qadir is a PhD Candidate in English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a Research Associate at the Five College Women’s Studies Research Center. You can follow her on Twitter @_neelofer or check out her website.

Since my birthday and the start of the US academic year always overlap, I have been blessed with a double dose of the new year. For as long as I can recall, this has been the source of intense excitement and positive energy. But this year I truly dreaded the new term. Starting August 1st, when there was still enough time to complete research and writing projects and even enjoy a bit of the waning summer, I couldn’t quell my apprehension nor could I reconcile these emotions with the earlier versions of myself, someone who typically feels invigorated by fresh semester.

Looking back, I can attribute part of that dread to the fact that I had barely moved the needle on my dissertation, because the summer I had envisioned for myself hadn’t come to fruition. Instead, I worked with 25 brilliant high school students, sweltering our way through June and July, in a summer bridge program. Like many graduate students, I couldn’t make do financially without a solid summer job, but I was fortunate enough to find a position that helped me expand my skill set by working with younger students. While working exclusively with students of color who have been historically underrepresented in academia was deeply rewarding, I ended the summer even more burned out than I entered it. To top it all off, I moved apartments on the very week that classes began.

Clearly, I am in need of an intervention: one that helps me put my ducks in a row to meet a December defense date and, ideally, arrive at the moment as more than just a shell of my former self. More than putting my best productivity tools to work, I need an attitude adjustment. And, I need it fast.

Since the Sisyphean assault of dissertating, teaching, side-hustling, and meetings promises not to relent any time soon, here’s my pushback plan:

Regular meetings with myself to plan my month, week, and day: While I have always been very good at blocking out time in my calendar, attaching day-to-day SMART goals has been a persistent struggle. However, I need those daily check-ins not only to monitor my progress on a task, but help me revise my expectations to avoid downward spirals.

Writing accountability groups/partners: Despite a fervent desire to find that perfect group of people who become lifelong writing community members, I have found it almost impossible to create/participate in a consistent writing group.* There are simply too many (other) demands on people’s lives. Therefore, I’m going to invite myself to be my foremost writing partner. The daily morning + evening meeting, I hope, will give me the space I need to (re)assess and set goals. And, I’m hoping the write-on-site in the research center where I am an associate will provide me with the much needed writing in community aspect that I have coveted. (*I’m sure you notice my flair for setting unreasonably high expectations.)

Exercise and Eat Well: I don’t know about y’all, but I develop a really narrow vision when I’m on deadline and the dissertation defense deadline is the biggest one I’ve ever faced. I forget to eat. I definitely forget to drink water. And, I definitely don’t get to the gym. This guilt becomes yet another burden for me to carry around at a time when my back is already unhappy with me for being so sedentary. During my weekly Sundays Are for Adulting meeting, I’ll need to incorporate meal planning and commit to three classes at the gym (in addition to several daily walks with my very good dog).

Reconnect with, or find, a hobby​: Can you believe that I’m suggesting making time for something new? Yet, it’s also not that surprising. Our whole lives cannot be about our work (whether that’s writing or teaching, or both). When a new colleague asked me what I do for fun last week, I felt truly embarrassed that I had no good answer. I refuse to allow academia to leech away that aspect of my life. While I can’t see myself making time for it daily, I promise to spend an hour (or two!) each week reconnecting with, or cultivating, a new hobby.

Downtime every day​: One of the best things I did for myself is curb myself of the tendency to read the news and check email as the first thing in the morning or the last thing of the day. I’m confident that my heart rate has stayed much lower as a result. Nowadays, I write before either of those two activities happen and to build on that, I want to actively take time to ease into/out of the day. Right now, I’m looking forward to a 10 min morning or night time yoga or foam rolling session.

Don’t let your social life fall into dormancy​: As a nearly off the scale extrovert, it’s extremely jarring for me to desire more and more time by myself. I’m chalking it up to the particularities of this season of my life. Nevertheless, I also know I can’t fully honor my whole self by retreating into my home or campus office. I’m a community driven person and, to be honest, I really need that community right now. That means I’m saving Friday nights for low-key hangouts, such as dinner with a friend, and Saturday nights for anything with a bigger crowd. That’ll allow me to work 6 mornings out of 7, saving the 7th morning for my Sundays Are for Adulting meeting and tasks.

What did I miss? How do you keep yourself happy, healthy, and whole in intense periods of your life?

[Image by Flickr user Al Ibrahim used under a Creative Commons license.]

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