How to Rule the Semester: Graduate Student Addition


Hang in there—it’s almost over. It’s been a long sixteen weeks, I know. The papers. The research projects. The grading. Program requirement deadlines. Associate instructor (AI) duties. Meetings with students. Explaining grade rationale to students. Explaining study guides to students. Explaining where to locate study guides to students. Revisions for publications. Dissertation planning, research, or writing. Peer reviewing for journals. Survey analysis. Course evals. Advisory board meetings. For anthropologists: IRB forms. How to survive it all? Here are some simple suggestions. The following are not universal solutions, but include some basic, pragmatic practices that have worked for me.

1. Formulate a precise work structure (and stick to it). Grading seventy exams and need to have them finished in a week? I like to divide them up equally per day. In this case, I’d do ten exams per day for seven days. Once your plan is set, don’t deviate from it. In the middle of a grading week, it may seem logical to just take it easy for one night, and grade, say, only five, eight, or nine exams instead of the full ten. Don’t do it. Stick to the regimen. Ten exams—grade them. You’ll thank yourself on day seven, but only if you’ve stuck to the plan. If one has a total of three books to read for a week of one’s own courses, check the number of chapters in each and devise a reading plan that will allot an equal number of chapters (or pages) per day. Break every research project into smaller, more manageable parts and follow suit. 

2. Develop an elaborate reward system for tasks accomplished. Rewards are pretty cool. They’re doubly pleasurable in that (a) they serve as a reminder of an accomplished task (or entire day’s work), and (b) should in and of themselves bring one pleasure through the act of participating in said reward. Rewards should be scaled per task. List them out in terms of pricing and relevance, correlating each with a specific item in need of completion. In other words, bribe yourself. My simple pleasures tend to fall under the rubric of either (a) fine food and/or drinks, or (b) entertainment and media. Consider this list of possible scenarios (task // reward):

i) 13 exams graded // a quick trip to the park to watch the clouds and listen to the wind blow in the trees. (If you have kids, they’ll thank you for this one. But your trip to the park will turn into a half hour of pushing the young’uns on the swings or catching them at the bottom of slides.)

ii) 1 page of a research project written // skim the social networks for 5-10 minutes.

iii) At least one chapter per book (for the week) read, annotated, and notes recorded // watch an one episode of Mad Men, Game of Thrones, or your pop culture poison of choice.

iv) complete one complete day of tasks (usually including a combination of each of the above categories along with others not mentioned) // watch a movie.

v) complete a full week of meetings, planned daily tasks, and research goals // enjoy a fancy bottle of wine. 

Nota bene: Awards need not always be pleasures. Break up your time in front of the computer doing menial, quotidian tasks. Sometimes simply breaking up one’s work schedule can improve one’s stamina and productivity. Finish a page of writing? Clean the kitchen. Do the dishes. While loading the dishwasher or scrubbing remnants of breakfast off the table, conceptualize the writing outline for the next page of the article you’re plugging away at. Take frequent short breaks of this sort.

3. Exercise religiously and monitor your health and diet. It’s a little different for everyone, I know, but I spend a good portion of the day sitting hunched over a desk. Instead of driving to campus, walk or utilize the public transit system, which generally results in more walking to and from bus stops and academic halls. Use food and drink as a reward system, but don’t let it get the best of you. My chocolate intake, for instance, tends to go up as the semester progresses, and I tend to eat the unhealthiest during stressful weeks—I find it ironic how that works. But try to resist. Time is even more valuable during busy weeks, I know, but stick to a precise exercise regimen and up your minutes on the treadmill or elliptical as you see fit, in order to account for less than satisfactory diet choices and increased stress toward the end of the semester. 




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