Summer work habits

If you’re a graduate student like us, summer isn’t just an opportunity to unwind after a long academic year – it’s a time to make progress on your “grad school” to-do list. With unfinished research papers in the cue, new data to analyze, and a part- or full-time internship, it can be tough to get your priorities straight. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your summer break.


Setting yourself up for success:

  • Determine your time constraints –  Going into the summer, you probably already have some plans laid out.  Maybe you have a job or internship, a volunteer commitment, a family vacation, a friend’s wedding – whatever your time constraints are, get them straight at the beginning of the summer.  This will help you determine what is achievable during your time off from school.
  • Set realistic goals – As a student there are likely projects that you want to work on during the summer. Whether it’s an unfinished paper to send out for publication, data to analyze, or fellowships to apply for, there are always things we need to get done above and beyond our day-to-day responsibilities. Make a list of all of those things that you want to get done, and determine which tasks are high priority.  Figure out the steps you’ll need to take to check them off your list by the end of the summer.
  • Make a schedule – We find that the more we structure our time, the more productive we are.  Make a schedule that includes how many hours each day or week will be set aside for your projects. Set deadlines for steps towards achieving each of your goals, keeping in mind the commitments you already have going into the summer.  Share your schedule with a friend and set up “work dates” with classmates at a coffee shop or local library.
  • Remember to relax too – As important as it is to schedule time for your projects, all work and no play makes for a tired grad girl when the fall semester starts! Make sure to plan time each day to relax.  Even if it’s just for thirty minutes, going for a run or reading a magazine on your porch is a great way to unwind and reset.  If you don’t already have vacations planned, arrange some day trips or weekend getaways with friends.  You’ll be glad you did come September!

Tackling that pesky to-do list:

  • So, you’re teaching in the fall – If you have a teaching assistantship in the fall,  the first thing you need to do is tackle your syllabus. Colleges and universities typically keep a record of past course  syllabi –  use these examples from other professors who have taught your class as a resources as you prepare your own. Don’t hesitate to  ask faculty members for their syllabi and other class materials to get you started as well. The key to teaching, especially the first time, is to prep as much as you can before the semester starts – it always takes longer than you think. Most schools have resources to help instructors master their craft – check your schools center for teaching excellence (here are some examples: Penn State, Boston College and UC Berkeley). Make sure to become familiar with Blackboard, Angel, Scholar,  or whatever system your school uses, and decide how you want to tackle the first day – this sets the tone for the whole semester.
  •  Second time teaching? If you’ve taught your assigned course before, the summer is a great time to evaluate how previous semesters went.  After teaching a course, you have new insight into what you want to keep or scrap for the next time. Ask yourself – What went well?  What didn’t?  Maybe you need to change the assignments you gave, or revamp the way you grade students? Also, if available to you, read students’ feedback and consider ways to incorporate their suggestions into your course.
  • So, you need to publish – We all have papers that fall off the to-do list during the year that we need to pick back up and try to publish over the summer. This is where that schedule will really come in handy! Make sure to set deadlines to hold yourself accountable; without realistic goals,  it’s easy to fall off track. If you don’t have a paper or project to work on but you need one, don’t be afraid to ask your advisor or other faculty in the department. They are usually willing to help!
  • So, you want to analyze some data – Summer is a great time to get the help you need to run your analyses. Set up meetings with your advisor to help you figure out exactly how to analyze your data. If your advisor doesn’t know, don’t hesitate to contact other professors in the department who understand the analyses that you are doing. Additionally, there are many statistical resources available online or in the library, for example hierarchical linear models, moderation and mediation, or missing data. Analyzing data can be tough and time consuming, but don’t give up and hopefully at the end you’ll have something publishable!

This is another Gradgirl reincarnated blog post, hope you enjoy!

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