Fit As A Bird?

 

By N. H. Zelt

By N. H. Zelt

 

I never thought I’d wish that I were a bird, but by the end of this post you might also.

I exercise quite frequently, and though I’ve never been a big fitness buff (pun intended) I still make time to keep fit and healthy. Interestingly, not all species have to do that. Imagine not ever having to lift a finger, yet staying as lean as an Olympic athlete. (more…)

What do you do (other than grad school)?

Photo by sasint / Pixabay

Photo by sasint / Pixabay

As a grad student I constantly find myself strapped for time. There is a pile of experiments to be done, lab reports to mark, an apartment to be cleaned and even friends to see. Sometimes it can be hard to juggle all of these things and still keep up with my other interests. However I think that one of the important lessons I’ve learned is that you need something other than grad school to keep you balanced. Maybe it’s a sports team, or a community group, or maybe you volunteer and give back to your community. Healthy McGill is running the Self Care Challenge this week and one of their recurring themes is taking time for yourself. It couldn’t be more important. Personally, I volunteer as a Girl Guide Leader. (more…)

Study better, not harder.

By N. H. Zelt

By N. H. Zelt

Finally, a graduate student. Bet that means I don’t have to study anymore, right? Bet that means I don’t have to know huge amounts of information by specific deadlines, right?. . .Right? Damn.

Fine, but if I still have to know things then I should at least learn things the right way. I read a lot of journal articles, there must be a literature on the best ways to learn things. Luckily, people study studying! So, let’s learn a little educational psychology. (more…)

If only I was more organized…

Photo by @kipunsam.daily / @gradlifemcgill

Photo by @kipunsam.daily / @gradlifemcgill

One of my favourite (but often failed) New Year’s resolutions is to be more organized and better schedule my time. Now this is obviously not a SMART resolution, and to be honest I’m not the most un-organized person, but every year I wish I was a little more on top of things and procrastinated a little less. This is especially true this year as I’m hoping to submit my thesis and there are mountains of work to be done!

So how I am going to be more organized? Well Aleks wrote a while ago her top tips for productivity and I like a lot of them, but I thought I would add a couple of my own. (more…)

Paper or Not?

Paper or Not?

We occupy the most rapidly evolving age of human kind to date, technology has started to become obsolete or outdated faster than my wardrobe. Big-shots in the technological field predict a fast approaching singularity  of technological advancement; expect that to happen when computers start to design computers for designing better computers. During the interim though, we’ve got what we’ve got in the present, and it’s expensive, so what’s worth your hard earned money? (more…)

Self-care in Graduate Life

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @na0mirlima.

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @na0mirlima.

As I was scrolling through my LinkedIn feed last week, I came across an article titled “Leadership or Self-Care – That is the Question.” This title shocked me. I took a second to think about what the title was saying: You can have either leadership success or appropriate self-care, but not both. After reading the article, I understand that the author was trying to portray the fact that many successful business-people tend to put their careers before their personal needs – a phenomenon not limited to the corporate workplace. However, I do not agree with the sentiment that you have to choose either success in the workplace OR personal well-being. I believe they need to go hand-in-hand to optimize overall success.

As a graduate student, my workplace is the lab. There are leadership components in graduate school, juggling TA positions, meetings with supervisors and committee members, writing theses, and mentoring younger students. We, as grad students, work long hours when we have to, and go out of our way to make sure our work is comprehensive and presentable. These tasks require great co-ordination skills, time-management, and initiative. In order to execute these skills as a graduate student, it is important to take care of yourself first, to make sure you’re both mentally and physically ready to do so. Thankfully, the last line of the article was, “Rejuvenating yourself will strengthen your leadership.” I completely agree with that statement, and I’ve come up with a list of ways to rejuvenate yourself before December comes and the looming deadlines start approaching.

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Top 5 Tips to Increase Productivity

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @steezsister

Photo by @GradLifeMcGill instagrammer @steezsister

Ah, grad school. Aka the years of your life where you’re learning how much you don’t know, pushing your personal and professional boundaries, and managing an outrageously busy schedule. Grad school schedules come with deadlines. Deadlines for abstract submissions, funding applications, and course work, on top of lab meetings, data collection, and social endeavours. Here are my top 5 tips to increase productivity, to maneuver these deadlines and actually get work done:

1. Make a list

This tip is probably the most cliché of all, but couldn’t be left off of this list. The fact is: it works. I find it much easier to prioritize my tasks when they’re all laid out in front of me. I can see what needs to be done, estimate how much time each item will take, and start working from there.

Make your list before you start doing any work. Include even the smallest tasks, because it’s a great feeling to check items off, and any progress is good progress!

2. Set a timeline and stick to it

When I’m working in the lab, I tend to pick a task to work on until lunch time, and then take my lunch break. Then, I pick another task (potentially the same one, if it’s larger), and work until the end of the day. I always have a time when I know I’ll be leaving the lab, and I stick to that timeline. This helps me set aside blocks of time for each task I need to complete in a day, and knowing how long I’m going to be working on something helps me stay focused and be more productive.

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“To be or not to be?”: Time and Graduate Life

The two sides of our time...photo by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @falisha.k

The two sides of our time…photo by GradLife McGill Instagrammer @falisha.k

Full name: Graduate Student. When your name is Graduate and your surname Student, you come to realize how the word time gets more and more often into your conversations. It’s always a matter of time: the time you are supposed to spend sleeping, the time for eating and feeding yourself up (yes, it does exist!), the time you would like to invest in hobbies or working out, the time to wake up, the time to love, the time to submit a paper, to get out from the library, to study, to read, to teach, to cheer, to…what?  Although you may find as many ways to talk about your graduate time as David Foster Wallace would do (and have a look at Infinite Jest’s footnotes to have an idea), there is one time that would never disappear, that is the time that we lack, the time that we may need to do all the things that we want to do.

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The Writer’s Toolkit: 14 things that could change how you feel about writing

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Somewhere between now and forever. That sounds about right. Isn’t that the gist of your reply to family members and friends who just don’t get why you’re still a PhD student? So much has changed in the world, and you’re still at it. I mean, how long does it take to write a thesis? Just write it already!

But you know, and I know, and Cecilia knows — it’s not that simple.

Or is it?

Unbeknownst to him, my supervisor gave some stellar advice in one plain sentence, a few weeks ago. Although this advice was not directly meant for me, and was part of a general conversation about papers and publications, it’s something I took to heart and have applied ever since: “Just sit down and write it – tell yourself you are going to work for this amount of hours, and sit there and write it”. Just sit down – best advice ever, because it made me concretely realize that writing is not challenging due to a lack of inspiration, but due to a lack of focus. If you give yourself the time and the space to do nothing else but work on writing, there will be no shortage of ideas, arguments, counterarguments and – eventually – words on the page.

I have been writing my thesis full time for two weeks. Every day. The encouraging thing is that it seems to get easier and easier, as does anything after copious amounts of practice.

I think what one needs is a “writer’s toolkit” – some strategies that work for you, that you can stick to, and that can serve as a comfortingly familiar routine, to help ensure your success on this writing mission.

Here is my toolkit:

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Yes or no?

One professional philosophy that I’ve tried very hard to embrace is, “be open to the possibility of doing new things or taking on new responsibilities”: a new collaboration, a new side-project, a new outreach activity, a new workshop.  In other words, to say, “yes” whenever possible.

I’ve observed a trend towards grad students saying, “I don’t have time”. They spend most of their waking hours working on their research, their papers and their theses: in other words, being good, conscientious students.

I do get why so many grad students balk at doing something new:  “new things” almost invariably translate into “more work added to an already stupidly busy student workload”. And while I have no doubt that these students will be great successes academically, I do worry that some of them are letting important professional opportunities slip away.

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Hobbies can teach you how to have a life and can yield unexpected professional benefits

The summer is quickly winding to a close, and a shiny new fall term is just around the corner. This year promises to be extremely busy – I’m attending three conferences, have plans for two (or three!) more manuscripts, will be TAing two courses, and there’s an absolute pile of beetles still screaming for my attention. Add to that my online activities and the other time-consuming miscellany of academia, and this geek’s schedule is looking pretty darned full! (Note to advisor: yes, I will get some research done too, promise!)

I’m sure you all often find yourselves in similar situations. I’m also willing to bet that many of you have hobbies and personal interests that you wish you could spend more time pursuing, but often feel obligated to leave to the end of the “to do” list since it’s not “real work”.

I would argue that it’s not only important, but also necessary, to carve out a bit of time to do these things that make you happy. Academics (and students) have a terrible tendency to have one-track (tenure-track?) minds: it’s all research, all the time. It can turn into a viscous and chronic bout of workaholism, leading to dissatisfaction, stress, depression and ultimately burnout.

I think that the grad student years are a great time to practice the arts of time management, priority-setting, and even the very difficult skill of saying “no” to things that maybe aren’t all that interesting or important to you,  so that you can learn how to have a life in spite of your academic obligations.

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Learning to say no

One of the most important aspects of both my personal and my academic life is that I truly enjoy being there for others, being generous with my time and helping out whenever I can. I also love to live new experiences, to keep learning and moving, and to give back to a universe that has given me so much. And, according to the people who know me best, it seems like I have a self-inflicted disease of not being able to sit still and let myself get bored for a bit. According to my mom, my plate always has to be piled high with things to do and, unless I have over three-hundred boxes to check on a to-do list, I just wouldn’t be me.

Well, this blog post title seems to contradict this intrinsic characteristic, doesn’t it? But the truth is, this is my esophagus talking. For the last 2-3 weeks, I have had my head full of so many things (more than ever, more than the busiest, craziest, most jam-packed periods of my life) both academic and not, both insanely complex (my research projects) and truly mundane (house stuff). Balancing everything, and making sure to make time for others, has been a precarious juggling act. I thought I had been doing a pretty good job at juggling, actually, until I slowly came to terms with the fact that I might be dropping a ball here and there, and getting hit in the head with one or two of them, because I’ve just got my hands TOO full. Admittedly, I’ve been feeling a moderate amount of anxiety. Not that I am hyperventilating (yet?), but my esophagus has been unhappily cramping on its own, without being provoked by anything, which has made it extremely difficult to sit, sleep, eat, drink, yawn, sneeze and even talk. It hurts like crazy. Even when I sit still and quietly, it has taken every opportunity to inform me that it is unhappy with the stress I am inflicting upon my body.

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Insanity

In grad school, you are supposed to Specialize.  When I went into this whole thing, I thought I wanted to specialize in Mozart and Strauss.  These composers’ musics are perfectly suited to my voice – so that is what I pursued.  However, in hindsight, I think my specialization was INSANITY.

From day 1, in typical Rebecca Woodmass fashion, I took on far too many projects.  However, because of my organizational skills finely honed over time, I managed to convince myself and everyone around me that I, in fact, did not take on too many projects.  I did them well – but imagine how amazing my performances would have been if I hadn’t taken on too much?

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