So You’ve Decided To Get A Hobby

My doctoral program consists of three years of coursework, one year devoted to dissertation, and then one year of internship. Because I was able to complete my dissertation while working on my coursework, I have the luxury of exploring some other interests during my fourth year, when I am not too busy stressing about my internship applications. We have officially reached the point in the process when my ranks and my site’s ranks have been submitted, and I must wait another two and a half weeks for the computer to decide whether or not I will be graced with a placement. (More on that another day. I have plans in the works to present you with another comprehensive series about what it is like to get an internship in psychology, but until I have secured my own placement, the stress of thinking about it causes me to want to completely shut down and hide under my bed until it’s all over.)

Thanks to Pinterest, I have recently re-engaged my crafty side and started making jewelry. Nothing overly fancy, just simple pendants made from what materials I can afford. Working with your hands can be a great way to relax and focus nervous energy. Unlike my roommate, I lack the patience to learn how to knit, but between the two of us we are hoping to create enough product to enter into a craft fair later this year. Again, this was a perfect way to give myself a goal to focus on unrelated to my program. Hopefully I can create something for which others would be willing to pay money.

It is easy to forget that I used to do things other than being a graduate student. It is easy to forget that I used to do things that were unrelated to my schoolwork. For me at least, having things that I enjoy doing is not enough to keep me motivated in my self-care. So my roommate and I decided to find local craft fairs and set a deadline for ourselves, and on May 24th we will debut our “art projects.” Who knows, we might even make enough cash to reimburse ourselves for the cost of our supplies.

Below are some samples of what I have made so far. If anyone is interested, I could try my hand at coming up with tutorials (or trying to remember which tutorials gave me the ideas to make them in the first place).

And now I am off to dig out my car. Best of luck to everyone in staying warm!

Shattered marbles wrapped in wire

Flattened glass marbles decorated with nail polish

Flattened glass marbles with excerpts from an old textbook fixed to the back

Examples of my finished products

So You’ve Decided To Make A New Year’s Resolution

Happy New Year, readers! Last week I wrapped up my four-part series on how I survived the dissertation process. I hope my experience can help others in the same position. If my process does not work for you, I hope it can at least help you figure out your own personal recipe for success. In honor of the new year, I thought I would be a cliche and talk about resolutions.

It has become common knowledge that most resolutions are abandoned by February, if they even make it that far. This is often the case because we tend to over-estimate what we can accomplish. One of the most common resolutions is to work out more often. How many people do you know who have not gone to the gym since last January who insist, starting 1/1/14, they will exercise five times per week? Or maybe this person is you. (Exercise has been my failed resolution more than once!) The important thing is to be realistic. Resolutions that involve setting yourself up for failure are easily abandoned.

That’s not to say you could never exercise five times a week. You just need to work up to that rather than starting there. Will power is like a muscle – the more you engage it, the stronger it gets, but it requires training. You would not attempt to bench 200 pounds if you had never touched a weight before because you would get nowhere. Start with the smaller weights and work your way up. For me – these past few months I have been shirking my exercise schedule. I have my internship applications to thank for that. So for the new year, I am starting by going to the gym in my complex once per week, and I found a brief workout that can be done at home to be done before I shower.

Next, we have to remember to forgive ourselves when we fall short of our resolutions. I can’t tell you how many times I have committed to making a change in my life only to abandon it because I was falling short. Once, when trying to make healthier dietary choices, I read a quote that I now cannot find: Deciding to stop your diet because you did poorly that day is like dropping your cell phone and saying, “It’s probably broken. I may as well run it over with my car.”

My third and final tip for keeping a resolution is to make it quantifiable. Last year I made a resolution to finish my dissertation, and so I set a schedule to keep it. If I had just resolved to work on my dissertation, it would have been much more difficult to determine whether or not I was successful. Break it down for yourself and you are more likely to follow through.

So, to recap:

1. Keep it realistic.
2. Forgive yourself.
3. Be specific.

Now that you are all set to make and keep your resolutions for 2014, I want to throw in a plug for self-care. New Year’s resolutions tend to focus around self-improvement, which is wonderful, but sometimes at the cost of well-being, so I suggest throwing in at least one that is just for you. For me, I enjoy cooking but rarely make the time for it. In 2014, I intend to try two new recipes per month. I know I would probably fail if I tried to make cooking a part of my weekly ritual, and I know that a resolution to “cook more” would ultimately lead to one or two taco nights with my roommate and end there.

Welcome to 2014! What will you do to take care of yourself this year?

So You’ve Decided To Go To Graduate School

Hello and welcome to the world of higher higher education! Maybe you are well into your doctoral program; maybe you are just starting the application process. Either way, I created this blog in the hopes of imparting some of my wisdom gleaned from my own survival of graduate school. What has worked for me may not be the best decision for you, but it is my hope that my experience might benefit others in my position. Graduate school has been an incredibly stressful, tear-filled, anger-inducing, rewarding, and painful experience, and I would not change my path for anything. My expertise is rather specific to psychology programs, but if you feel that something is relate-able to a different type of program, all the better.

For now, no matter where you are at in your graduate experience, I would like to share with you my most valuable piece of doctoral program advice: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. Your friends, adviser, professors, and family have probably all said this to you at one time or another, but psychology students seem to have an ironic knack for ignoring our own needs, and it is easy to see why. We are encouraged to talk about self-care. We are encouraged to engage in self-care. We are encouraged to keep a running list of hobbies and relaxation techniques to draw on at any time to help manage our stress. But we are never really given an opportunity to put it into practice. A very smart classmate once pointed out to me that we’re told to make our well-being the #1 priority, but for everything else – dissertation, classwork, practicum, volunteerism, jobs, research, et cetera – to tie for #2. It’s not possible to have six second priorities, so self-care ends up falling off the proverbial radar all together. In the short term, it is very productive. And since all of your classmates are working this way, it is impossible not to do without feeling like you are falling behind. After all, there’s not exactly a section on the CV for nature walks and long baths.

So we become hypocrites. We tell our clients that it is okay not to be perfect, that taking time for self-care is more important than over-extending themselves and burning out while working 16 hour days before going home to pull an all-nighter on a take-home midterm. I remember my second year – I was working in Residential Life on campus, writing my dissertation proposal, and completing my first full-year practicum. At one point my boss pulled me aside and told me that she noticed that I seemed over-worked and recommended that I focus on taking better care of myself. I asked if I could leave work early to join my friends at Happy Hour, and she said that she could not excuse me from my duties. She claimed she wanted me to take care of myself, but only in ways that did not interfere with my responsibilities to her. We graduate students are horrible at asserting ourselves and our needs because we think that it will hurt us somehow, even though nothing hurts more than the dreaded burnout.

It is something that I continue to work on. It’s tempting to cancel date night to finish that research project. But if you are going to be successful in grad school – and I mean truly successful, both academically and personally – you have to do it. Whatever your self-care is, it needs to be just as non-negotiable as going to class or practicum. Even though it was great experience, and even though it meant not paying rent or utilities, when Residential Life offered to extend my contract, I said no. It was impossible to relax or have a night off when my boss lived right upstairs and often took advantage of this fact, so I left to take better care of myself.

I hope that psychologists and graduate students alike will be able to start living the advice we give our clients: take care of yourself first. Everything else is optional. And no job, regardless of the benefits, is worth your ability to take care of yourself. It’s time we stop seeing self-care as a luxury and start seeing it as a prerequisite for everything else.