Mascot for #DevilDiss

Mascot for #DevilDiss
Mascot for #DevilDiss

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Prepping For the New Semester as Grad Students

The other day I wrote about what I do to prep for the new semester as a teacher. It occurred to me this morning that it's also important to talk about what I'm doing to prep as a graduate student. 

Although I am officially finished with coursework, and comp in February, I am taking two courses this semester. One is an Old English Seminar, because I'm using Old English as my language requirement and because the topic is Anglo-Saxon Evil which is perfect for the beginning of my dissertation. The other is 17th Century English Literature, because one of my committee members is teaching it and the topic will only help me.
One of the habits I got into at Bread Loaf was to complete all my reading before the class began. As everyone knows, I'm a fan of color coding, a medieval classes are pink, so this class is pink. The first thing I do before I start a book is to crack the spine (which not all books handle well) and Post-It flag the chapters as appropriate. I then use a highlighter and pen (pink in this case, again) to highlight and take notes. Additional (different) Post-It flags go in for sections of the book that would be helpful for my dissertation. I also take general notes (on the legal pad) about possible paper topics. In this case, I plan on using this class to expand the opening of CH 1 and 2 of my dissertation, which starts with Old English narratives of the devil.
I have a single notebook for both classes with color coded paper in it (pink and orange for early modern). The early modern/17th century class doesn't have a lot of reading (so far Jonson which I read for comps, Cavendish, Donne, and Milton) so I'm leaving that reading for after the OE. For this class, I've spoken to the professor about writing my conference proposal for submission for MTSU's Milton Conference in October and then developing that conference paper into CH 3 (or is it 4 now?) which focuses on Milton's use of the folkloric devil in Paradise Lost.
 
Yesterday @raulpacheco wrote a great post about how to self-care for ourselves as academics. Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega is a great online role model, always sharing his thoughts, and responsible for starting #ScholarSunday (which you should all participate in!) He posted a list of five things that he planned on doing this semester to make sure he was taking better care of himself. I think that now is a great time to reflect on this and set your own rules/guidelines. I think it's easier to stick to things if you decide them before the semester starts and you get buried.
I wrote over break that I was not as happy as I could be with my #DevilDiss progress over break. But I need to cut myself some slack. To that end, I took Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega's list and made my own:
  • No work related emails late evenings or weekends.
  • No committments that don't forward my career (i.e get me to a finished diss).
  • Holidays/weekends are for me and Nehi.
I have a hard time "turning off" at night, or on weekends. That email ping goes off and I feel obligated to read it, then fume about it, then answer it. It got so bad this past semester that I turned off notifications on my phone. I read on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that one professor actually deleted her mail server from her phone over break to avoid the temptation/aggravation. I do not plan on turning those notifications back on, and plan on closing the tab once I leave my home office for the day.

Inspired by the idea of setting boundaries, I wrote my three on a bright orange Post-It, right above my desk, in my eye line as a reminder. I've also updated my #DevilDiss Timeline chart and put that up near my desk so I can use it as a reminder. It charts my current conference commitments and deadlines for chapters to committee members. For me the hardest thing will be to say NO to things the next year. I need to make sure I clear the decks for finishing and revising the dissertation, then prepping job market materials in the fall, so no new commitments. No fall conferences, no chapters in edited collections, nothing.

Right now I have three chapters in edited collections out- one needs revision (which I'll do as soon as I get notes back and finish by the end of January) and two are out to editors and out of my hands. I have two articles out, so nothing to do there. I have two conference papers this semester (both chapters of my dissertation) that I'll send out once I've transitioned from conference paper to article.

Other than that though, it's all dissertation, all the time. Setting this now lets me off the hook for the next year. I don't have to feel guilty about saying no. It lets me focus on the dissertation and getting it done. I feel good about doing this because I've busted my ass the last eighteen months since starting my program. I have one published article, one published co-authored chapter in an edited collection. If the things I have out also get published in the next eighteen months I'll have three chapters and two articles in addition to my two other publications.  I've regularly presented at conferences, usually at 2-3 per year, so I feel good about that. I regularly write book reviews so that section of my CV looks good as well. My service section is light, but I hear that's not unusual for grad students. So I feel okay about turning away this semester from everything not #DevilDiss.
My go to organizational tool is my weekly schedule- it has everything scheduled (even when grocery shopping and laundry gets done). I don't have classes Monday or Friday, so both days are set aside as #DevilDiss writing days. I teach T/TH and have office hours those days, and 17th Century class Tuesday nights, so Tuesday will be busy. Wednesday I just have the Anglo-Saxon seminar at night, so that day can focus on working on teaching/Core Writing Coordinator stuff. Thursdays I'm done once I get home from class and office hours.

I don't mind lesson planning/grading on Sundays because it doesn't take much time, and ensures Monday remains a writing day, and that the rest of my week starts with work finished. I don't mind working per se, I mind the expectation from others that I HAVE to work. If a cool idea for a lesson comes up I want to flesh it out. But can't stand when higher ups or students expect me to be at their beck and call on "off" time. The trap here is to NOT answer work emails on the weekends, not engage, and just work on things for me. And maybe work in some long, fun walks with Nehi.

So that's my prep for the semester as a PhD student. This schedule will probably be rocky in January, and maybe part of February because I'm comping in February so January and February will be consumed by prepping for that and then taking the exams. 
Grad students- how do you prep for the new semester to juggle everything you have to do?

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