Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Urgently Requesting Help From The Blogosphere!

One of the things I'm finding is that grad-school is very much what you make of it. Meaning, that basically, there aren't constant problem sets. You're not continuously being quizzed on reading. You read, you don't, no one cares. It's also very unstructured, routine wise. Sometimes there is class at 9:00 am, and sometimes there's no class until 11:00 am. And sometimes there is no class at all.

So my question for those of you who have already finished grad school, or for those of you who are currently in grad school is: how do you create routine or organize your time? Are you really structured, or do you go with the flow? My new plan, which I admit is more of a theory, is that I should be working eight hours a day at school, like it's a job. So eight hours of work can include time spent researching, essay writing, reading, in lecture or seminar, in office hours, etc, as long as it is productive work. But I'm not sure how realistic this is. If eight hours a day is really enough ... and how much time I also need to allow for non-school stuff, or for school societies and things. On weekends, do I also need to work eight hours a day? How do you create work-life balance?

And, how do you create school-sustainability balance? Today, I bought a doughnut encased in plastic. And yes, I was sad about the plastic, but I was STARVING, and mmmm ... doughnut! I'm having a really hard time figuring out how to manage my eating when I'm on campus all day without access to a kettle or microwave. Anyone have any suggestions? I have difficulty waking up in the morning in time to make myself a sandwich for lunch, so when I worked, I would say, make a lasagna on Sunday, and then eat it for lunch all week, but without a microwave available at school it's tough. Also, if you have a way of avoiding the vending machine at midnight when all I want is chocolate, and the vending machine is RIGHT THERE a few feet from my dorm room, I would appreciate that as well. My waist line (and waste line) will thank you.


Leila said...

Schedule! A friend used an Excel spreadsheet. You could use an on-line or a paper day calendar.

Schedule self care stuff like exercise, shopping for healthy food, cooking, SLEEP. Schedule downtime with friends!

Yes it's great to say 8 hours today on grad school, but I found I had to set it up: it's 10 a.m. and I need to read for two hours, taking notes. THen lunch. Then write for an hour. Exercise at 1:30. Then two hours of researching - etc.

In my grad school I could sign up for swim class etc. and that forced me to schedule the exercise. Had to go to class!

No ideas at the moment on sustainability. Seems to me that getting your work/self care schedule in place is priority; see what can be incorporated into the routine at the beginning; confirm taht you're really in the groove and getting work done; then add in more sustainable stuff.

Fix said...

I treated undergrad like grad school and my system was to create a schedule with other stuff. In my case, it was dance class, but it could really be anything that you are committed to doing on a regular schedule and that is not school-related. Exercise is always good because it gets the blood flowing to the brain and your mind-body solving other problems for a while. This helped me break up the time and create little deadlines, "I have to finish this article by 12.45 so I can dance," etc.

I worked at least 10 or 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, and this system helped keep me sane. The food thing I still haven't figured out. Toasted almonds are awesome for a quick protein snack.

Good luck!

JAM said...

Where are you eating dinner and breakfast? Are you making it in your room or getting it at a dining hall? If you are getting it, can you scan the offerings for some things that you could get at dinner and save for the next day, that don't need refrigeration and don't need to be hot? Maybe some fruit, a bagel, granola or that kind of thing? My daughter has to take lunches to HS that don't need fridge or microwave, so she usually brings dinner leftovers that will be fine for a few hours - rice, veggies and peanut sauce tastes good room temp, beans, rice and salsa are good, that kind of thing. If you have a little dorm fridge then you could keep things there overnight and they'd only be out in room temp for a few hours. Even a PB&J sandwich on whole wheat if you can make that at breakfast would be a great lunch with some fruit. Alternatively, are there dining halls that are on campus where you could get food? I don't know how British stuff is set up, I'm just thinking about where you can get food at colleges here....

hypoglycemiagirl said...

Eight hours a day of effective work should in principle be enough. Myself and for most other of my grad colleagues would spend much more time just because we would be extremely ineffective spending quite a few mornings in a hungover state.

I wish I had read David Allen's Getting things done and all the blogs that discuss GDT and how they apply it to their own lives when I started grad school a decade ago. There's a lot of time management tips on the webs.

The good thing about grad school - and academia in general - for me is that I can do my work whenever I want, i.e. when my biological clock says it's a good time for work. My best time is from about 4 pm to 11 pm, but that is unfortunately difficult socially and impossible when being a parent.

About the snacking; stock up on fruit and other healthy goodies. Bring youghurt and müsli (in re-usable containers of course!)?

Donna said...

When I was in grad school, I created a pretty rigid schedule for myself, but that was mostly because I was a music major and had to do 3-4 hours practicing/day during the hours that the music school was open. I have no idea how many hours/day I spent on school work -- my job was at the University and so it all sort of blended together. I remember taking an evening off to go to a movie with a friend, once... No, it wasn't quite that bad, but it seemed like it.

As for food, I had dinners included in my rent where I lived, and I had access to a small fridge so I stocked up on breakfast, lunch & snack foods. If you don't have access to a little fridge, you might want to consider getting one as it gives you a lot more choices.

Life in grad school is crazy. Try to throw yourself into it and enjoy what you're doing and you won't care how many hours/day it takes.

Green Bean said...

I really don't have any suggestion for you. I finished law school 12 years ago. That seems impossible! But true.

I do remember that the first semseter was really hard and then things just click. You find a way that works for you.

Hang in there.

Abbie said...

I've always done grad school part time. With my first MS, I was taking 2 classes at a time and teaching full time. I didn't have time to do my grad work, really, so it was always last minute... always. And I hate that. But such is life.
Now I'm taking one class working on my second MS, actually I'm cramming in some blog time before I head out tonight. And still I don't schedule. Our final is take-home over Thanksgiving weekend (I'm thankful for that!) and I have a presentation in December which I have yet to work on. But somehow I got an A+ on my first paper... so there you go.

In terms of food, I like to have things that can be eaten cold. I carry around apples, granola bars, sandwiches (make it the night before!!!), or pasta salad. A big batch of pasta salad could replace your lasagna and then you won't need to heat it. I swear my school bag has more food than work in it. Oh and carry water, too!!!

As for a vending machine at midnight, I have no advice. I can never resist temptation. Good thing I'm never up at midnight!

Kelly said...

I set up my schedule by the week. I didn't set out a specific amount of time that I had to work on school. It just happened to be whatever was required for what I needed to get done for the week so that I would keep up. Some sections required more reading and thus more time. Some classes were more difficult and required more time. The time i spent varied from week to week and semester to semester. The longer you do it, the easier it will be to figure out how long things will take you. I wouldnt say /schedule/ your fun and meals, but certainly keep your schedule flexible enough (in the time not dictated by your class schedule) to do those things. If a friend calls and says "lets catch a movie" you dont want your schedule so rigid that you can't say yes and do the reading later. I honestly couldn't say how many hours a day or week I spent reading/writting/working...I just accomplished my goals for the week and left it at that. Sometimes that meant working late Friday so I could spend the day with friends on Satuday...all about choices on what is most important to do when.
rigid scheduled up to the minute never worked for me, i think weekly goals are better.

jennconspiracy said...

I recommend a schedule, too. When it comes to grad school, there is no such thing as "work/life balance."


Seriously. No screwing around. Plan blocks of uninterrupted time for reading and gestation of ideas -- if you're anything like me or other creative/intellectuals, you sometimes have to read and read and then "plink!" something lights up over your brain when you're washing dishes.

I worked an assistantship (20 hours/week) and did some volunteer work (5 hours/week) while attending school full time. I scheduled time to stay in the carrel at the library outside of classes, and I scheduled time to study at home.

Try to make your "down" time with your class mates or people who have already gone through a class you are taking. That way you empathize and can share ideas.

Grad school is interesting because it is collaborative and competitive.

Now, go read some more and reread it.

Oh - also, I always would type up all my handwritten notes after class, and I would also take copious notes while reading (instead of writing in books).

EcoGeoFemme said...

I think if you figure out the academic work/life balance thing, you should let my corner of the blogosphere know so we can all stop blogging. Seriously, that is quite the perennial question.

I treat grad school like a full time job. I work 40-50 hours/week, no more. Sciencegirl had an interesting thought on her blog recently: will you ever finish at your current pace? will you survive at your current pace? My suggestion is to record how you're spending your time now so that you can get a good handle on how long it actually takes you to do various tasks. That way you can plan your time realistically.

As for food, I know you're kind of a major tea snob, but can you take a hot drink in a thermous? I try to pack my lunch the night before instead of having to do it in a rush in the morning. Also, I have to be honest about how much I really want to eat during the day and pack enough snacks, including something sweet, to avoid the vending machine or cafeteria. Do you think it would help to do the same thing at home? Like buy or bake some sweets instead of indulging in the vending machine. It would probably be cheaper and healthier, you'd know where the ingredients came from (local? fair trade?), and there would be less packaging. That might be more effective that stopping vending machine chocolate cold turkey.

kimberly said...

damn ruchi - 8 hours a day, eh? you're making me feel like a lazy ass... i've been studying today for 4 hours and this is more than i usually do :P anyways, i can't suggest anything in that regard, since i'm only in my undergrad...

with the food thing, what i like is bringing snacks with me. things that don't require heating or cooling are good. try bringing a small container with veggie sticks to munch on, a couple granola bars, fruit (banana, pear, apple), some nuts (almonds, pistachios, etc), or a muffin. these are things you can easily get from the store or prepare at home and carry to school with you. also, see if you can find somewhere nearby where you can heat things up. for instance, i found that the women's centre on campus has a tea kettle and tea (for free!) for anyone who comes in. i just bring my own tea and re-useable mug and use their kettle.

Meg said...

Google Calendar and a stash of nuts in your backpack.

Stephanie said...

What Kimberly said.

I feel really lazy after reading this. Oh well! I'm not a grad student yet either. (though at this point of my laziness I'm wondering if I should stop considering it.)

Anyway, I know what helps me is making lists of things to get done. Then get things done as I have time to do them. If you have 20 minutes before class, do something that only takes 20 minutes, etc.

I should probably make a list for tomorrow. I love checking things off; it's probably the only way things get done, really...

Kaitlin said...

Well, I'm in my fifth year of grad school and I feel like I'm still trying to put it all together. I do try to stick to the schedule idea--meaning that I am on campus from about 10-6 (at least) M-F, whether there is something that I "need" to do or not. However, a lot of "my" time is also eaten up by preparing the class I teach and the part-time job I have on top of my assistantship. I end up working several hours on Saturday and Sunday as well and... well, it still feels like I am not "making progress."

Are you sure there aren't microwaves somewhere on your campus for grad students (or any students) to use? I do exactly what you said about the lasagne thing. In fact, I had some for dinner in the grad office tonight. It probably saves me hundreds (in $ and lbs).

liz said...

I am horrid with schedules, but I have two comments: 1) make time for life, because you need some balance in grad school. It will make the whole thing a more pleasant experience. 2) If you like PB&J, or any sort of non-refrigerated spreadable stuff (honey, Vegemite, nutella -- maybe not all at once), and have room to store stuff, then bring a loaf of bread, your lunch spreads of choice, and maybe some fruit / snacks to school. You have lunch for the week, and it's cheap and healthy.

Anonymous said...

When I was doing my masters, I found that sometimes having a schedule worked brilliantly, and sometimes just having a list of goals for the day/week that I could do in whatever order felt right worked better. It tended to depend on the time of year, my energy level and my focus level.

Sleep is important, as is sticking your head up for fresh air every once in a while.

I lived off campus and would generally pack a lunch (and often dinner) and then also pack snacks (nuts, baking, fruit, raisins) that could be eaten if I was at school longer than expected. I was lucky in that I had access to a microwave. Do you have a locker or an office where you could keep an electric kettle? I kept a kettle in my locker during my undergrad, and it was a life saver. Could you keep a tin of non-perishable emergency rations somewhere?

Best of luck with everything.


jennconspiracy said...

Honestly, it depends on what area you are studying, too...

If you are studying in an area where most/many of your classes are based on reading and group discussion - you can never read too much.

Get very friendly with the library. I could find books just based on topic (ok, so I shelved books in the library, too) but I had a really good mental map of where things were.

For social sciences, you can never read too much - or memorize too much. We had tests in history classes where we had to do annotated bibliographic essays in class -- we'd be given like 10 topics, and then the only way to study was to figure out books that could work for 2-4 different topics, and then memorize the author, title, year, place of publication and synopsis of 200 books so that we could write out 2 or 3 essays (out of 10 possible topics).

Just buckle down and remember your life will be there when you are done with grad school.

curiousalexa said...

I learned to not heat leftovers. Mostly because I could never get them to heat evenly!

I'll make lasagna, package leftovers into single-servings, toss in bag in morning, and eat cold for lunch. Cold pizza, cold meatloaf, the already-mentioned pasta salad.

Peanuts and golden raisins are a staple snack food for me - sweet and salty, chewy and crunchy.

As far as scheduling - I used excel to make colored blocks (cells) of how many hours i expected to use on each topic, then shuffled them around to something reasonably consistent. I would plan to be on campus at 9am daily, whether I had a morning or afternoon class.

Now that I'm working off-campus, I'm having to change it around and focus on spending x hours on y topic each day/other day. e.g. two hours on math weds and thursdays. Go for walk everyday at 2pm. Limit blog reading to 1 hour in the morning [ha!].

Anonymous said...

Pack a lunch the night before. Then pack a snack and another snack. And a bottle of water. Then plan to spend your day. 8 hours at least working and studying and learning. Even if that learning means talking with classmates over tea. You moved across a country and then an ocean for this education. Give it your all. And yes you should fit in some mid day exercise to get the blood pumping. Maybe a few headstands after the bathroom but before the snack.

sunflowerchilde said...

When I was in grad school, I would stay at school all day, rather than returning to my apartment, and there was really nothing to do at school except study. So that's how I kept myself on track. I also signed up for exercise classes through the school, and joined a master's swim team (also through the university), which was scheduled and therefore forced me to go work out.

For meals, I did have access to a microwave in the student store. It was there for people who bought those pre-packaged microwaveable soups. Have you checked out any places like that for a microwave? Most days, though, I just brought a salad from home, which is probably easier to make ahead of time than a sandwich.

ruchi aka arduous said...

Thank you all for your words of wisdom! I really, really appreciate all the suggestions, and I'm feeling a little better about things. I think I need to take a little time out for basic organization: such as grocery shopping, packing snacks, etc, and I should be okay.;)
Still haven't figured out what to do about the chocolate in the vending machine though....

Azulao said...

Ruchi, not knowing your field of study it's hard to give specific advice, but --! Here are two, no three, timeless pieces of wisdom I learned from different people along the way:

1. There will ALWAYS be someone better, smarter, more ingenious than you. Shrug it off and do your best.
2. Get a chess clock. You can get a PhD in astrophysics on 4 hours of *actual work* per day. Let the clock keep time.
3. Re: chocolate in the vending machine -- Don't keep any change in your room.

4. Enjoy the relaxed pace and lack of responsibility in grad school. If you get onto the tenure track after this, you'll understand what I mean.

Good luck -- I'm a total fan of yours. You're terrific, and you're going to kick *ass* in Cambridge or wherever you are.

JAM said...

I think we were hoping that if you ate healthy all day you wouldn't need to cave in to the vending machine! But even if you want chocolate, buy some good organic fair trade dark stuff and keep it - sometimes just knowing you have it you don't have to eat it, and if you need it, you've got it and don't have to buy the vending machine junk that won't satisfy you as much anyway.

Kelly said...

I never kept cash on me when i went to school...then I couldn't buy things from the vending machines. Bring your snacks, leave the money at home. Can you get a locker at school?? Might help to keep a few things in there...

Melinda said...

Quite honestly in all the years I went to school (which is ... um... too many - I have 3 degrees and went to 4 schools), I would have to say that work and school for me were intertwined. There wasn't a balance, there was rarely a time when I wasn't engaged in something educational. And I think that enhanced my education considerably.

One of the most important things I learned was that you can mix work and school. I would go to lectures and events that were related to my education, with friends of mine. I would have coffee with non-school friends on campus, so I didn't have to travel far. I would read my textbooks on the bus when I traveled anywhere. When I flew home for the holidays, I spent my flight writing papers so I got them out of the way.

But I also became a vegetarian, learned a lot about environmental issues and acted on my beliefs (in my personal lifestyle and in campus organizations), wrote for the school newspaper, and had a few different jobs (including one that doubled for exercise: I was a soccer referee & coach).

I hate to say it, but the food thing? Discipline, baby. Just don't do it - it's not good for you or the environment. Attach all those horrible feelings of guilt to that machine, and walk right past. Ignore it.

And sleep well. When you don't sleep well, you tend to want to eat more and have less willpower to keep yourself from eating all the bad things. You crave chocolate in part because of the sugar and caffeine high. So make sure you sleep 8 hrs a day.

And plan for your food. Find the time to make your sandwich before you're too tired to make it the night before. If you know you're not going to have time to eat between classes, bring a granola bar (actually, I used to have a stash of them in my bag at all times).

Hope that helps!

Melinda said...

Oh, one more thing: I scheduled classes so that I had a break in between them whenever I could. So I'd have a 4-hour class in the morning, a 3-hour break, and then another 4-hour class (or something like that). That meant I had to stay on campus all day, and I spent at least 2 hours studying, plus I had time to eat.

Anonymous said...

It took me 5 years into my PhD program to figure out that you really need a schedule. I work 7:30-4:30 and try my very hardes to only focus on work during those times. If I check the internet, I try to do so only during quick scheduled breaks...1 hour of writing earns 15 minutes on the NY Times. Treat it like a job but don't forget that you're not in office. Every Sunday night, I schedule out my week - what do I need to focus on each day. I also try to be realistic about what I can accomplish each day. Finally, I try to build in time to appreciate life outside of corporate america. So, if there are 4 tasks scheduled on Monday and I finish all of them by 3:30 - I take the rest of the day off. Of course sometimes I end up working 7 days a week but for the most part, I try to give myself breaks because writing a thesis or a paper or even a blog just doesn't happen when you're burned out.

As unexciting as it sounds, I try to apply the same order & discipline to my meals. I make sandwiches the night before and pack a little bag w/ a lot of snacks. Apples are a good snack full of fiber & almonds always keep me going. Energy bars aren't the best w/ the wrappers but if you have access to an oven, you can make a homemade version & freeze them - they're always defrosted by 2:00!

Finally - hang in there & give yourself a break! Grad school is hard, moving is hard, moving to a new country is hard, changing f/ the private sector to academia is hard. I'm sure I speak for many when I say that you're entire journey over the past year has been a huge inspiration. You have a lot of support out here & we're all sending good vibes for much success your way! We know you can do it!

Thank you arduous - good luck!

Tanya said...

when I was in grad school I felt like I was always studying and working on papers. It was the married people (not me) who were the most disciplined about getting to school everyday at the same time, working before, in between, and after classes.

As for food, I simply had no time to get across town to the market I liked to prepare my own food so I took my big plastic container to the salad bar and had them make me up something healthful and hearty. It was enough to be my dinner and midnight snack, and I could keep it in a fridge in the academic building. I used a similar container at another
vendor for lunch. I was a vegetarian in a place getting used to such creatures (Philadelphia) but they got used to me. :-)

Going Crunchy said...

I worked throughout both Masters Degrees, so I didn't have as much time. Most of my time was spent trying to figure out how to work a job and go to school at the same time. It more involved late night studying and no sleep.

Grad school is more unstructured and it can take you a while to adjust. I've found sometimes that it can be most helpful to make a schedule of what you want to acomplish during a day.

Right now I make students in my class do a time management assignment. They track one day on a day they think they will be busy. It is interesting to look back on your day and see how it flowed, and how your time was utilized.

Melia said...

For food, I strongly recommend Bento style lunches. I use them and a collection of food andd drink thermoses for lunch packing for my husband and kids. The boxes are used for cold and room temp. foods and the soup thermos gets used for anything I want served hot - rice and chicken masala, mac and cheese, soup, leftover casserole ect... You can even pop some leftover lasagne in there if you are not concerned with it looking pretty when you eat it.
The drink thermos is great for hot or cold drinks.
I got into the bento lunches as a way of reducing waste for packing lunches for the family. The boxes were cheap, and the thermoses I watched for some decent sales on.And I use silicon muffin cups for dividers for the food.
I gave one of my extras to a friend still in college and she loves it, because it is such a compact way to carry her lunch around campus.

Jennie said...

I haven't read all the other comments yet, so this could be repeat. I just wanted to suggest you do some reconnaissance and look for a kettle/microwave in your department. As a grad student my lab had all these things. I'm sure there is some kind of lunch room for the staff, at least, you could use.

Going Green Mama said...

Well, if you can figure out how to avoid chocolate, let me know.

I hear you. I did grad school while working full-time. Setting little deadlines was best for me. Also, keep a copy (printed both sides) of your work-in-progress papers and edit when you get free moments before and after class, etc. (The trees for me were already killed at work, this was long before recycling efforts!)

Best of luck to you!