Friday, September 4, 2009

InsideHigherEd: Staying Motivated for Graduate Students

I found this article recently published on InsideHigherEd, and it gives very good advice on how to stay motivated and succeed in graduate school. It is okay to be selfish to a certain degree -- take care of your own needs first and focus on the end prize. (i.e., graduating on-time, accomplishing your goals, etc.). Graduate school is a full-time effort, and it requires full-time concentration.

  1. Be as organized as possible. Have a solid game plan for getting through your program. Know what the requirements are for each stage of your program. Find out when these requirements must be accomplished.

  2. Set deadlines for yourself, even if there are no “true” deadlines for you to complete. Let others around you — your peers, family, friends, mentors and advisers — know the deadlines you have set for yourself.

  3. Keep a visual reminder of what you are working on in your office. On a bulletin board keep a section for things you “need to do,” projects you are currently “doing,” and items that are “done.” This visual aid will remind you that you have made progress, finished important projects, and are progressing through current tasks. This will help you avoid feeling bogged down and overwhelmed with the hurdles of graduate school.

  4. Find a topic that you are passionate about -- If you don’t enjoy your work, then you are not going to stay motivated when writing draft after draft after draft. Find a research question that really gets you excited or a substantive area that you feel has an impact on a community, issue, or problem that you feel is important.

  5. Work with other motivated people -- Make sure you work with other motivated students in your program and outside. Find a group of people on campus or in the broader community that shares the same excitement for your topic of interest. Let their interest help motivate you to push forward.

  6. Work toward finding a balance -- Remember what is important to you outside of school, whether it be family and friends, maintaining your physical and mental health, or working on a hobby. Each week set aside a few hours or so to spend time on something other than school work. Remember to set priorities in your life and every now and then check in to see whether you need to adjust how you are allocating your time.

  7. Don’t doubt yourself -- You can complete graduate school because you are well qualified to be here. You are working in your substantive area because there is something about this field that drives your intellectual curiosity. You will finish your thesis and/or dissertation because you are now the expert in that area. Do not waste time wondering whether you are good enough to be here — just know that you are.

  8. Let the guilt go -- Feeling guilty for not finishing a project by a certain deadline, or for not working through the entire weekend, or for not devoting as much time as you feel you should to something outside of your program, will only hold you back. While you should set goals, priorities and deadlines, recognize that you will not always be able to meet them. Let yourself off the hook and let the guilt go. Acknowledge that you are not going to be perfect at everything and that you will never have that perfect balance (no one ever does!), but at least you are trying — and that your persistence will be rewarded.

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