For graduate students summer can be hectic and not the relaxing time from earlier years. Doctoral students may be teaching or TA-ing semester-length courses in five or six weeks, studying needed foreign languages or systems, participating in fieldwork, or designing and conducting lab-based research. Professional students may be interning with a company or not-for-profit to get a taste of their potential future work world.
Whether these warmer months find you doing “more of the same,” or doing something different and new to you, it’s important that you do a few other things:
Take a break from the here-and-now to focus on the future,
Do something fun and not related to schoolwork or career, and
Do something for someone else.
Following those steps will help you to feel both prepared and renewed when summer comes to an end and the semester starts up again.
Do something for your future
Build and maintain your network
Reach out to previous employers, professors and others to let them know what you’re doing this summer
Identify people who do work that interests you and conduct some information interviews
Attend a networking event (or an event where you can meet new people) through your alma mater, employer, professional association or one organized for people in your urban area
Keep track of all interactions and thank/acknowledge everyone who talks with you and/or provides advice or information
Think about your plans for next year
What else will you do in addition to coursework?
Serve on a student group committee
Help organize your graduate group’s symposium series
Plan to attend Career Services programs and workshops and connect with a career advisor
If it’s your final year, when will you start your job search?
Do something that’s fun
Get away, even for just a weekend.
Do something physical. Perhaps you go to the gym everyday but try an outdoor activity. Being active outside – better still, being in nature –can rejuvenate you. Take a bike ride. Go hiking. Try canoeing or kayaking. There are bike trails and state parks closer than you think.
Do something for someone else
There are lots of opportunities to serve as a volunteer. If you’re not sure where to start, find out if there’s a volunteer activities coordinator at your institution. Just spending a morning helping to clean up an abandoned block, playing with a hospitalized child or reading to an infirm elderly adult can help you forget about the stresses in your life and bring some joy to someone else
Doing these things will renew you; renewing yourself will help you start the new school year off well.
“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” ― William Shakespeare
So here we are, back from Thanksgiving break. Your food coma may not have even broken yet, but you’re already dangerously close to staring finals in the face. You’ve got just over a week until exams begin, and you may be wondering how you’re going to accomplish everything that needs to get done – especially when all you’re looking for is the light at the end of the semester. It’s time to start breaking down how you’re going to meet all these deadlines. What a good time to develop this skill! You’ll use it in your daily life in your career as well – unlike all those algebra/history/Greek mythology classes in high school that you swore you’d never use in the real world.* Here are some tips and tricks that have always helped me deal with my own deadlines.
List out everything that has to be done and categorize by priority. I like to make an “active” to-do list and a “backlog” to-do list. Limit the active list to 3 very important items. Once an “active” item is complete, move the next most important task from “backlog” to “active.”
Give yourself several smaller deadlines. Here’s where the lists come in handy. Assign a deadline to each item on the list. And be reasonable! Sure, you’d like to have all 300 pages of assigned reading done by tomorrow, but that’s probably not realistic. And then you’ll just feel more stressed out that you missed your deadline. Figure out how much time each task reasonably takes.
Make sure you’re clear on the requirements of the assignment. Nothing is worse than wrapping up a project and re-reading the syllabus only to find out that you have twice as much due than you’ve already done.
Avoid the roadblock of being overwhelmed. I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I feel like a looming deadline is insurmountable, I shut down. It’s really hard to get moving again after you’ve had the “it’ll never get done, why even try” freak-out. So don’t let yourself get to that point. Practice stress-relief exercises – yoga, snack break with friends, you get the idea. Just don’t let your brief respites turn into procrastination (I’m looking at you, drawings of pterodactyls).
It’s such a good idea to develop effective project management skills now. You’re always going to have deadlines, you’re always going to have to collaborate on assignments (sometimes with people you don’t like very much), and you’re always going to need to figure out how to balance all these things without going completely crazy. It’s possible that your future boss will appreciate your dinosaur pictures, but just in case she doesn’t, learn now how to juggle deadlines like a professional.
*You totally use them in the real world. Greek mythology included.
Regular readers of my columns will know that one of my favorite topics to discuss here is work/life balance or “doing what you love vs. loving what you do.” As someone who has an entirely separate “night time” career outside of Penn, I’m always interested to see what people have to say on the subject.
If I could add one thing to Ferguson’s otherwise fine message – it’s that you never know what your nights and weekends might lead to. I spent my nights and weekends writing – and now I’ve been published multiple times by a respected imprint. Albert Einstein worked in a patent office and look where his nights and weekends led him! If you are truly passionate about something and take the time to pursue it at any opportunity, then that passion will show in your work – and maybe one day, it will become your full time job and those nights and weekends will be free again…
…of course that gets boring fast. Maybe you’ll find a second passion.
Today, February 29, is Leap Day. It’s an extra day added every fourth year to allow for the earth spinning on its axis to catch up with the calendar hanging on our wall.
I’m sure most of you have seen the movie Leap Year. It’s a modern day comedy based on the old myth that said on Leap Day a woman can propose marriage to the man of her dreams, and the man must accept it. Some of you may have friends or relatives born on the 29th of February, who joke about celebrating their birthday only once every 4th year…..a disaster in a child’s life (Mom, no birthday party this year?!?) but a great thing once you arrive at the age when you would be just as happy to stop counting birthdays.
Since you’re reading this on the Career Services blog, I’m sure you’re not surprised that I suggest we consider Leap Day from the Career Services perspective. It’s mid semester –papers, mid-term exams, job searches and recruiting are in full swing. Seniors and grad students soon to finish your schooling are chugging away on your thesis or final papers. You’re also sending out resumes or CV’s, looking for a post-graduation job. Some of you are waiting to hear if you are accepted to graduate or professional schools. Underclassmen, you may be looking for a summer job or internship that will enhance your resume.
How does this relate to Leap Day you wonder? Well, why don’t you think about this day set aside for the world to catch up as an extra day in your life, as well – a 29th day which you didn’t have last February and you won’t have the next few winters. Aren’t we always saying “There’s never enough time in a week…..” or “Where did the day go?” Consider today to be found time. Take advantage of this extra 24 hours and do something special with it. Go back to that to-do list and do something on it. Spend time researching industries and organizations that might be a good match for your skills and interests. Schedule some informational interviews with Penn alumni who might give you some good advice related to your search. Make an appointment with a Career Counselor to review your progress or schedule a mock interview to improve your interviewing skills. Seize the moment, pick up that phone and do something special related to getting ahead!
Whatever you end up doing, feel good that you accomplished something extra today and get a jump (or a leap) on the rest of your life.
The first thing I wrote for the Career Services blog was “’Makes ‘Em Laugh:’ A Comic a Day Gets the Dissertation Written.”
In that little piece my goal was to help current doctoral students take a break from their research and writing to laugh at Piled Higher and Deeper, a comic strip that documents the humorous, and not-so-humorous, aspects of grad school.
Now, more than two years later, Jorge Cham, the author who started writing the strip while working on his PhD at Stanford, has to his credit four published books, a movie (which was shown at Penn this past fall) entitled “The Power of Procrastination” and an online store full of T-shirts and mugs with such PhD-pithy sayings as “Grad School: It seemed better than getting a real job” and “The Origin of the Theses”.
Undergrads who are considering graduate education: Piled Higher and Deeper can help you get an interesting read on your possible future. For first-time readers, there’s a page to check where you can learn about the characters and link to the most popular strips.
As I said last time, not only are the comics themselves great to read but so is the fan mail:
“Oh God, it hurts! It’s all so true, and so evil! I can’t tell whether I should be laughing or crying in sympathy” -Chemistry grad from Caltech
“Your comic strip rocks! I’ve decided not to go to grad school.” -Electrical Engineering undergrad from Yale U.
“Everybody in my lab loves your work. The songs help soothe the hurt when my experiments fail and I think about the next 6 yrs here” -Microbiology grad from NYU
You can join a mailing list to be notified of new strips. So once again, I advise, “Give yourself the gift of laughter and spend a little time with PHD!”