Graduate degree success depends on a strong dose of personal order and organization and a stronger dose of realism. Reality: Graduate school is fast-pace, challenging, and unpredictable. As a personal example of this: the week I first intended to publish this blogpost, my apartment building caught fire! The successful graduate student must learn to organize their time long-term and short-term. In this blogpost, I will discuss what I have learned about successful long-term time management skills. My following blogpost will discuss successful short-term time management skills.
The nature of graduate school is overwhelming. Time demands and intellectual demands lend themselves inevitably to emotional stress. Some of you reading this will have, in addition to the educational demands of your degree, family demands, which considerably contribute to the sense of being overwhelmed by the experience. Below is a strategy I have learned for maintaining your focus amidst the overwhelming demands of graduate school.
Dictionary.com defines “overwhelm” as the following:
- to overcome completely in mind or feeling
- to overpower or overcome, especially with superior forces; destroy; crush
- to cover or bury beneath a mass of something, as floodwaters, debris, or an avalanche; submerge
- to load, heap, treat, or address with an overpowering or excessive amount of anything:
- to overthrow.
Progression through a degree program admits having work and deadlines heaped on, loaded on, burying you…(you get the point), is maintaining focus on where you are going and what you need to do to get there. The demands of graduate school are too great to not be picky with your time. Your future career goals ought to inform your decisions of where to exert the greatest effort.
Always have at least two CVs, adjusted semi-regularly. The first CV is your actual CV. The second CV will be the one you intend to graduate with and take on the job market. I said at least two because I have had ambitious colleagues who maintained a future CV for every year leading up to their expected graduation. If you would like to be a super graduate student like this, more power to you!
If you are like me with multiple future careers you are considering, this means double (or triple or quadruple) the amount of research and skill-tracking necessary. I am considering a possible future both in academia, an NGO, or a government agency. This means that I must build up a CV that is impressive in terms of research, conference presentations, and academic publications while also maintaining a resume that reflects practical skills. There is overlap between these as well as gaps. My task is to capitalize on the areas of overlap and compensate where there are gaps.
Have a calendar that runs the length of your degree plan, with important dates penciled in. I do this in two ways. First, I have a word document with a 5 x 6 grid representing each month for the next two years with important dates marked down. Each month I discard the top paper of the document. Second, I have a spreadsheet representing my degree, which is maintained both electronically and printed for easy viewing. As a graduate student in the Philosophy Ph.D. program and the Communication M.A. program, I maintain spreadsheets for both degrees. Be as meticulous as you find necessary to maintain track of what you have accomplished and what you still need to accomplish to get where you ultimately want to go.
Jennifer is pursing an M.A. in Communication and a Ph.D. in Philosophy.