Grad School: On surviving the lean years

Courtesy of Flickr user Images_of_Money

As we begin a new academic year, I am thinking of the many people who are about to make the transition (either from undergrad, employment, or full-time family life) to graduate school.  I have been reflecting on my own transition – in Summer 2009 – right before began my PhD program.  In that time leading into the Fall semester, I was obsessed not only my academic chops and proving my worth, but also with the logistics of A) living apart from my husband B) carrying two rent payments and C) entering a world of uncertain funding.

I was having night terrors thinking about the change, and started to concentrate on the things I felt I could anticipate and plan.  While I had little control over what the Fall would bring, I could start being proactive about finances and conscious about spending to prepare for this large economic shift I was making.

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Grandiose Challenges

An alternative title for this post could be, “How we make futile attempts to exercise control over the universe.”  I’ll explain…

PhD Comic: “Outside Interests”

I have had a few conversations with colleagues and friends lately that have me thinking about the sometimes irrational, obsessive  hobbying that crops up amongst graduate students.  Even if you do not have your own, you certainly know a colleague or friend that has has taken their “outside interests” to the extreme.  From the friend who was going to dress up for opening night of the Hunger Games (I’m looking at you @LizzyErwin) or the colleague racking up marathon mileage on their bicycle, I know more people who are not just taking up a hobby, but taking it to the next level.  Hobbies and interests are constant through society, but there is something about graduate students who like to kick up the intensity.

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Living in a digital world, part 6 — end-of-year review posts

The reopening of the Library in January meant digging my way through my inbox, checking in journal issues that had piled up in the intervening weeks. The colleague who delivers the mail had filled the box as full as possible and left the rest on my desk.  Normally, as I prepare the tables of contents for distribution, I browse and find at least one or two articles of personal interest to me. At least three periodicals had December or January issues with “best articles of 2011” or “most important x of 2011”, and as these articles traditionally provide good synopses of 2011 from different perspectives, I had expected these issues would provide rich and intriguing content.

They didn’t.

Instead, I found myself trotting over to Google Reader (which I still use as I am still evaluating some of the options SES suggested in “Google Reader Fail”) and scrolling. It was a mixed bag, but there were some very good and helpful year-in-review style posts that might have been otherwise overlooked in the first month of the year, when suddenly one realizes that there are hundreds of new e-mails and thousands of new posts and one really needs to invest in a better strategy to manage information overload.

Now that February is giving me a chance to breathe, I wanted to share the few end-of-year review posts that I think are not to be missed.

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Grad School for Beginners

Image Courtesy of Flickr User Jason Verwey

“A scholar who cherishes the love of comfort is not fit to be deemed a scholar.” – Lao Tzu

Graduate school is a large life decision that can both enrich your life and frustrate you.  Like our friend Lao Tzu alludes, it’s not the pursuit of comfort that you exercise by entering graduate school, but the pursuit of knowledge.  As I put the close on this semester and look back, I think about how many challenges and triumphs we had this Fall.  For one, my husband recently completed his first semester of graduate studies.  Now, I have been a student or worked in an academic environment for the last 11 years, so I took for granted the struggle of a professional coming back to school for the first time in a decade.  In this blog post, I want to give a little “Grad School for Beginners” for those who might be needing a little refresher in the basics.  Some of you may be seasoned veterans who are teaching a class for the first time,.  I hope this post serves as a good starting point for your students.  For others, you may be dipping your toe in the grad school waters, taking a class this Spring semester.  As we get ready to get back in to the swing of things, here are some of the best lessons and resources that I’ve learned to help get you through it.

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Fall Rituals: Move It!

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As a little kid, the end of the summer was marked by shopping trips for new shoes, replacement school uniforms, and new pencil crayons.  Labor Day weekend meant one last flurry of summer fun and  my mother trying (in vain) to get us kids to bed earlier. And even though I protested vociferously to the contrary, I was secretly relieved to be going back to school and to see my school friends after a long summer spent in the company of my brothers and sisters and the neighborhood kids.   As an adult, the end of the summer still means new shoes, perhaps a new fall outfit or two, and definitely some Labor Day fun.  However, as a doc candidate, fall also signals that most perennial of student experiences – moving.

Although I often joke that I wish Scotty could beam my stuff over in the transporter room, I actually enjoy moving.  Yes, there’re things about moving all of your possessions from one place to another that range from irritating to infuriating – making yet another trip to the liquor store for boxes, cleaning out the oven, and movers that turn out to be not so professional after all.  However, there’s also the novelty of a new place, the chance to gift, donate, recycle, or just plain get rid of stuff you don’t need or want, and the small, unexpected pleasure of finding things you’d thought were gone forever.

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Staying the (dissertation) course

I used to live in Portland, known for (among other things) its urban growth boundary, organic micro-brews, and locally roasted Stumptown coffee.  Home to the country’s largest independent bookstore (Powell’s), the smallest park in the world (Mills End), and the most downtown bridges (ten), Portland was also voted the second most bike-friendly city in North America.   Bike lanes, boxes, and racks abound.  The urban chic commute during the week, but the 40 mile looped Springwater Corridor attracts families and weekend bikers.

Now, nothing makes me feel like I’m ten years old again more than riding a bike.  Pedaling along with the wind in your hair (ok, your helmet), a bell to ting, and a basket to carry your peanut butter sandwich in – what could be better?  (Some would say playing cards in your spokes and streamers on your handlebars – you know who you are, people!)   But despite the knowing smiles I’d get from the riders with titanium bikes and technical clothing, my step through bike with the soft seat and upright handlebars allowed me to coast along the trail and over the hills, drink in the scenery, and stay the 40 mile course.  It was such fun, I did it often.

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