But even if you didn't actually go into work, your vacation probably looked a lot like this, #amirite?
And on top of all the avoiding-work-stress, some of you may have also had to dodge all those beloved family members asking pesky things like, "How's grad school?", "What do you want to do when you're done?", "Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend yet?", or that crazy uncle who starts out with "So this whole climate change thing isn't reeaally a real thing right?"
But hey, we're back in a routine! You survived! And if you're like me, saying goodbye to fall 2015 and hello to spring 2016 means we're halfway through our PhDs!!!
Assuming we finish in 5 years that is.
Someone told me they knew someone who spent 8 years working on their PhD...
Aaanyway, those first 2.5 years of grad school went by really fast right? I mean, personally, there I was, taking my first class as a graduate student. I had no idea what I was going to do for my dissertation. I didn't even have an adviser yet. And then bam!
Suddenly, I have the final exam coming up for the last class of my PhD, which is being taught by my adviser, a poster to present in a month on data I haven't collected yet, and the looming deadline of completing my dissertation proposal defense to officially become a PhD candidate. Not to mention I haven't posted a blog in 6 months!
In the Bredesen Center, the third year of grad school is jam-packed with new experiences. Some of us take internships in D.C., or start a business based on our research, and by now, almost everyone has presented their research at a national and/or international conference. And of course, most of your time is still spent on publications, collaborations, grant applications, and seemingly countless hours in lab.
No seriously, don't count how many hours you spend in lab. And especially never calculate how that breaks down into an hourly wage based on your stipend.
With such a challenging year of new experiences under my belt, I thought I would share 10 more things I learned in grad school that helped me resist the urge to put a kibosh on the whole thing and start a brewery instead. A chemist can dream right? :)
So that I can go into a little more detail on each and make up for how much I SLACKED on the blogging this past fall, I'm going to post them one at a time over the next month or so. Follow along on Twitter too to tell me if any of the #ThingsILearnedInGradSchool, are helpful, and what things you've discovered along the way too. :)
1. Work smart, not hard.
When you start out in a graduate STEM program, you’ll start to notice there’s this unsaid competition for who can get into lab earliest and stay latest. Believe it or not, some people will actually give you praise for staying late. Nevermind if there's actually any work getting done. And don’t even get me started on how men are noticed and praised more often for things like this while women are expected to prove themselves over and over again. But I digress.
About the only benefit I’ve found from doing this is that you always get a parking spot in the morning and you don’t have to deal with rush hour on the way home. Other than that, studies have actually shown how idiotic working long hours is for both your health and your productivity. Not to mention, you're less likely to be happy, and you're not leaving quality time for anything else in your life.
And don’t tell me your adviser is forcing those hours on you. Sure, there are totally the old gray-beards who think the only way you’ll get anything done at your age is to be in lab 14 hours a day until you stumble on something novel.
(Okay, the stumbling on something novel part is mostly true. But you can totally do that on 8 hours a day with a Saturday here and there.)
You’re an adult. This is your decision. Yes, even if your adviser is paying for you.
It's easier if you're clear about your expectations up front, before you commit to working with them, but if you're already a few years in, just schedule a meeting with them to discuss a schedule you've found works best for you.
Just like advisers have expectations for their graduate students, graduate students have expectations for their advisers. And they're equally as valid. I have never heard of an adviser expecting 80 hour work weeks, but if they do, and they actually voice this to you, it still doesn't mean it's non-negotiable. You shouldn't feel afraid to ask for what you want out of your adviser and your graduate school experience.
As soon as you show them that you actually get more done with a schedule that fits you best, how can they say otherwise?
Bottom line: working less doesn’t mean getting less done.
Try starting with some small stuff:
- Don’t go into work every weekend. Do something you enjoy on those days off.
- Don’t think about work when you're not there. If it stresses you out to see emails coming in when you're away, turn off your notifications for weekends and evenings. You don’t need to make yourself available 24/7.
- Don't leave chores until the weekend. Knock out one or two each evening during the week and you have more time to actually relax on the weekend.
- Don't spend your free time watching TV. Don't get me wrong, I love a good Netflix binge just as much as the next millennial, but when you get sucked into a show, you lose track of time, and you don't actually feel like you've had any time off. Try hiking, or yoga instead. Pick up a new hobby like brewing or knitting. Read a book. Do a puzzle or color. Really, it's all the rage.
- Don't feel guilty about not getting to work at the same time each morning. Some consistency is good if people are expecting you to be on a instrument for a certain amount of time each day or something. But, if you stay at lab late one night, and you know you'll be dragging the next morning, get that extra hour of sleep. Or if there's a seminar you want to go to, shoot a quick email to your adviser letting them know when you'll be back.
And there are a bunch of other ways that people have shown they get more done by spending fewer hours at the lab or office.
Grad school is hard enough without putting undue pressure on yourself to one-up your fellow grad students by arbitrarily spending more hours in a building somewhere to appear like you're working harder. Focus on your work when you're there, and focus on anything else when you're not, and your grad school experience will be just that little bit more bearable.
In all seriousness, grad school is a unique experience, and although it can get intense at times, it is also very rewarding. I hope these 10 insights will help you better prepare for the grad school experience, overcome some of these common hurdles, and set yourself on a path to success! Oh right, and graduation. :)
Check back soon for #2!
Welcome to Think Like a Postdoc. If you're a fan of science as much as I am, and/or are curious about getting a degree in a STEM field, or pursuing an interdisciplinary graduate degree (all from the perspective of a graduate student), then you're in the right place. Think Like a Postdoc also includes posts about my current lab and field research, including analytical chemistry, Arctic biogeochemistry, and energy & environmental policy. Comments and questions are always welcomed. And please tell me what you want to hear about next!
Questions to Ask Before Choosing Grad Program
First Semester of Grad School
Field Work in Alaska
Science Conference Dos and Don'ts
Women in STEM Series
Things I've Learned in Grad School Series
Blogs I Follow
Mass Spectrometry Blog
The Grad Student Way
Anthony's Science Blog
The Thesis Whisperer
Fossils and Shit
Science Communication Breakdown
Science Communication Media
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