I am a second year Ph.D. student in the Ecology program at UNC-Chapel Hill. This semester, I have been teaching, taking classes, mentoring, and also working on my first manuscript from my current research. Exciting, right? Well, not exactly. It is stressful and sometimes just hard to keep up with everything. At times, it is even difficult to see why I came to grad school in the first place. I am feeling the Grad School Blues.
But I am not alone in this feeling, I know because I have been hearing similar things from other starting graduate students. Everyone is questioning their research, their intelligence, and why they willingly signed up for this. I have been trying to come up with some small ways that I can tackle these blues, while still being productive (because who has the actual time not to?). Over the last couple months I have tried several techniques to beat my Grad School Blues and I have compiled several of the simplest ones in this post.
Now it may not work for everyone, but here is how I have been tackling my Grad School Blues:
- Get a cup of tea/coffee. I find this one particularly helpful as it gets me up and moving, while also warming me up in my cold office. It is a nice little break that usually improves my motivation and just makes me a bit happier. Added bonus from caffeine if you pick coffee!
- Listen to your productive music. I know that not everyone can be productive while listening to music but if you can, it is important to find that one genera/style of music that gets you pumped up and motivated. (For example, when I am losing my ambition and starting to crash, I need my Irish Punk. I know it is weird but that music works magic on my productivity.)
- Little victories. I like to make sure that I have some easily accomplished tasks on my to-do list at all times so when I’m absolutely stuck I know I can complete one of them. For example, I may leave grading on my to-do list for when I have absolutely no idea how to continue with my statistical analysis of my research. I know I can grade my student’s assignments fairly easily so it allows me to feel productive at a point when I want to just give up. This trick has been particularly helpful as the semester draws to an end and everything is piling up and I feel the pressure to constantly be productive.
- Find a new working location. I am the kind of person that constantly needs to move around and fidget while I work. When I am feeling defeated about my coding, my best solution is to get up and find a new place to work. Sometimes just moving to my lab is sufficient, but other times it is desperate and I need to find a coffee shop on the other side of campus. I think a change of location is great as it gets you moving again and also gives you the freedom to work in whatever environment suits you best.
- Ask for help! Finally, if nothing is making you feel like you belong in grad school or you lose faith in your research, don’t be afraid to ask someone for help. My advisor and postdoc are both great to talk to when I feel discouraged about what I am doing. They talk through why I wanted to start this research in the first place and remind me that what I am doing does matter! It is a great confidence reminder when your lab group can support you and encourage your research. However, I know not every lab has a huge support group so also don’t be afraid to talk to fellow grad students! I can go talk to any second year student (or others as well) in my cohort and they either have doubts in their abilities or have had those doubts. I think it is extremely important to express your concerns about your status in grad school and attempt to chat through them with someone who will at least listen. At the very least, they can complain with you about how difficult this time in life is!
I hope that these little tips can help you to overcome those grad school blues that you may be facing! Feel free to share any additional ideas that you may have that help you out because let’s be honest, there is never enough advice to help us get through this!