Summer break is here and while I know most grad students WANT to be
buried under the covers lying on the beach, the never ending cycle of reading/writing/research will ultimately call you back. I haven’t met a single grad student who “took the whole summer off” from anything and those that did had the pleasure of adding an extra year to their PHD programs. Yes, you can tell me that YOU didn’t have to work over the summer and I’ll congratulate you, but most of the grad students I’ve ever met, including myself, took some well deserved time off and were back into the books on a schedule or by Aug. 1 to maintain the pace needed to finish with sanity.
I mentor several students, informally and mostly in my spare time. It makes me feel good to work with graduate students and listen, mentor, nurture, and help them navigate grad school without getting too many (more) gray hairs. I will admit: I HAVE MY FIRST GRAY HAIRS. I pulled the first few, clearly living in denial, but I embraced a really long one I found today and let it stay in my head. Perhaps I’ll stop looking like a student soon with the addition of some gray’s in my mane of black, wavy hair…..perhaps I’ll just look silly 😀 I have received the SAME question from EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM this spring: what should I do about writing over the summer? what do you suggest?
Funny you should ask.
I met w/ each of them one-on-one to ‘celebrate’ surviving what I like to call “The Academic Hunger Games” fully knowing that the odds are never in our favor and Elizabeth Banks won’t be showing up to wish us good luck.
Below is a note that I’ve sent to several grad students I work with who have asked about summer writing/research schedule. It is hard to ‘fit it in’ when it’s not a habit and summer is often busy with other work, as well as taking some time off. In terms of writing and reading, here are my thoughts:
While there is no magic formula and everyone is different, it’s important to:
- go w/ your circadian clock, write/read when you’re at your best time of day
- set aside time in your schedule, block it off as if you were going to be in a mtg & try not to deviate. whether in a 1 hr. block or a whole morning, try to be diligent.
- don’t make excuses. if you find yourself waning on actual writing & it’s not going well, switch to articles or updating your citation manager. make it productive time related to writing/research, even if it’s not necessarily putting 1,000 words down.
- it’s ok if every writing session isn’t your best. some days really are better than others.
- stay organized, whether you rely on web tools or binders, or whatever, try to keep things organized. as you progress, you’ll need to recall things you might have done in your first semester.
- work in chunks. the brain can only concentrate well for about 45 min. the same for writing. you don’t have to start w/ the introduction, break it into manageable chunks for you. you may write the conclusion first if it’s the last piece of data you analyzed & it’s fresh in your mind.
- talk it out. lots of academics get ‘stuck’ w/ the ‘blank page syndrome’ & just stare…try talking (& recording if you think it will help) to a colleague or friend about what you’re struggling, listening to your own conversation later may help get some things down and organized on the paper.
- great writers are far and few between. multiple iterations are common so don’t be discouraged.most articles you read in journals have flaws and when the author gets accepted, he/she may do 2-3 more rounds of edits & still not meet every request of the reviewers.
- it will be good enough. get it on paper b/c you’ve got to start somewhere.
- yes, go on vacation. take some time off. you’ll need it come mid-august.
I also received some requests for my personal favorite tech tools for staying organized w/ research and writing. I would suggest a citation manager such as Zotero or EndNote. EndNote is free here at my university and Zotero is free to everyone.
Evernote can be a really helpful app that integrates with all platforms and all devices to help you out. Whether it’s for academic use or to remember you need to get a bunch of groceries so you don’t have to keep eating ramen, Evernote can help you out if you let it. It’s free. What’s the worst that can happen?
Finally, there are a couple of pieces that I enjoyed and wanted to share. Gradhacker discussed summer writing or as I like to also call, “dissertating.” PhD Talk blog ran a nice piece on getting into good writing habits and PhD student discussed getting on a writing schedule.
I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. It’s the last week of the semester and I want to stab my eyeballs out….Instead, I’ll leave it at that and say this: get writing grad students!!!!! Figure out what works, be disciplined, and get moving!
What advice would you give to grad students on summer writing/research?