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5 tips to boost your productivity

All of us struggle with motivation at different times, and winter can be particularly challenging. That said, it can also be a good time to hunker down and get some work done. Whether you plan to stay in academia or not, you will need written products coming out of your postdoc years to demonstrate what you have accomplished. Perhaps you are also finishing up publications from your doctoral research or laying the groundwork for a new research direction. Recently, the National Center for Faculty Diversity and Development (NCFDD)’s “Monday Motivator” featured 5 tips for productivity.

  1. Create a plan. How? Dr. Rockquemore writes: “It’s a simple process: 1) list your writing and wellness goals for the remainder of this calendar year, 2) map out all the steps that are needed to complete your goals, and 3) figure out when that work will get done.” While it may not be in your skill set yet, it is truly simple once you start. During your next work week, put “Planning” in your calendar for a 1-2 hour block and work through it. This is your work. This is a great time to revisit your Individualized Development Plan (IDP).
  2. Write every day. We also know that your own writing is the task that will consistently get put aside for other demands (e.g. lab meeting, responding to your advisor, looking up one more article, sifting through Facebook, etc.). Research shows that if you dedicate just 30 minutes a day to writing (really writing), you will make consistent progress toward a writing goal and complete a product faster than if you hope for a half-day or protected Saturday that never does emerge.
  3. Join a group of daily committed writers. You are not alone. We all have to write and produce. Just like a regular exercise or spiritual practice, if you are connected with others who are also committed, it helps you sustain the practice. You can meet face-to-face for your blocks of writing time or just stay connected online and check-in, which gets to the next point:
  4. Commit to regular accountability. Tell someone your goals and plans, and schedule a check-in meeting (virtually or in-person) to see how it is going. In the short-term, this can be yourself. Apps such as Grid Diary can help you self-assess at the end of the day what 3 things you accomplished, and set personal goals for how tomorrow can be better.
  5. Find dedicated mentors. All of this takes hard work, and sifting through the noise that comes at you on a daily basis. Find mentors—you should have a full team—who genuinely are invested in your success (see blog posts on mentoring). They can help hold you accountable, prioritize what needs to happen, strategize where products need to go, and troubleshoot when things fall through the cracks (which they will).

If you are interested in signing up for a weekly email with these Monday Motivator tips from NCFDD, or checking out other writing resources on their website, you can login with the UW membership.

Advice on an advisor

I am a second-year doctoral student, and have not been able to build a positive relationship with my advisor. My emails go unanswered and our meetings are infrequent, short, and brisk. I feel that this person is unhelpful and even detrimental to my progress. I have tried communicating my discomfort with this relationship to my advisor, yet nothing has changed. I am wondering, how do I know when it’s time to find a new advisor? And, if I decide to break up with my advisor, how can I do so amicably? – Sincerely, Unsupported   

This answer has been published after consultation with the Office of the Ombud. 

Hi Unsupported,

I’m so sorry you’ve been struggling with this. Having a strong advising relationship can play an important role in your success in grad school, so I hope you can find an advising situation that meets your needs.

For anyone starting off in an advising relationship or struggling to develop a constructive relationship with their advisor, I strongly recommend the Graduate School’s resources on “Managing Up.” Managing Up, in the context of an advising relationship, refers to actively and thoughtfully defining and shaping your relationship with your advisor. It may involve reflecting on your goals for the relationship, setting clear expectations about what you are looking for in the relationship, and setting the tone and agenda for your meetings with said person.

That being said, if you’ve already tried to address some of your concerns about feeling unsupported to your advisor and haven’t had any results, it may be time to seek a third-party intervention. The Office of the Ombud is a great place for you to explain your situation in full detail, and create a plan for how to proceed. This plan may or may not involve breaking up with your advisor. The Ombud service is confidential, so approaching this service will allow you discuss your situation in full detail, and to share the information with someone who has institutional knowledge and experience helping people navigate challenging situations.

No matter what happens with your current advisor, I strongly encourage you to start cultivating additional supports now. At the Graduate School, we advocate for students to develop “mentoring teams:” a network of support that may include advisors, PIs, professors from inside or outside your department, and more. A mentoring team can help you in personal, academic and professional goals, and can compensate for some of the deficiencies in your advising relationship.

Best of luck,

The Grad School Guru

ABDs, Better Together

On the road of the doctoral journey, there is a destination that graduate students aspire to get to but hope not to stay at too long. That destination is the ABD, or “All But Dissertation” phase. This stage can be one of the most challenging and isolating for doctoral students as there are no more formal deadlines and consistent contact with students or faculty no longer exists — unless there is a deliberate effort. With this in mind, I am excited about our new GSEE Dissertation Writing Group, the ABDs, which aims to counter the isolation experienced by doctoral students by providing support, resources, structure and accountability.

This autumn quarter, the ABDs began meeting weekly in two separate groups to write together and provide feedback for one another. It is incredibly rewarding to hear the students express appreciation for this opportunity and for them to share that they feel supported and productive. Another enjoyable part of the writing group is the large group quarterly meetings.  During these gatherings, guest speakers discuss poignant and relevant information about the trials and triumphs of dissertation writing and students share updates on their research progress and goals. During the ABD stage, doctoral students must generate and rely on an enormous amount of intrinsic motivation to complete their dissertation while juggling life outside of the academic world. It is critical for students to feel supported — I always look forward to my bi-weekly check-ins with both groups to make sure things are going well, to provide new resources and tips and to assess their needs. It has been a rewarding endeavor to walk with these students during this phase of their doctoral journey. All of us at GSEE are looking forward to celebrating their amazing research and success!

—Carolyn Jackson, GSEE’s Outreach & Recruitment Officer

Digging Deep for the Final Push

Spring is the time of year where several big projects come to the fore.  Your to-do lists may include one—or more—of the following:  doing a job search, writing up your thesis or capstone summary, continuing work on that dissertation, defending your dissertation, or making arrangements to move with your family after graduation.  And by no means are these small tasks.  So it’s no wonder why, for different reasons (a task feels too big, intimidating, or the long-term benefits don’t seem readily apparent because of immediate stress or anxiety), we put off doing these projects.

First things first, you are definitely not alone in these feelings. We at Core Programs hear you and encourage you to dig deep for that final push this quarter.  Fortunately, there are strategies that can help you do just that.  Below are just a few:

Practice self-compassion.  One of the biggest reasons we might procrastinate from doing a task is because we judge ourselves internally before we even begin.  We might tell ourselves that we “need to be perfect,” or that we are “incompetent” or “undeserving” of a graduate degree, getting that job after graduation, or even success in general.  Sometimes these are feelings we internalize, rather than verbal messages.  And all of this can stop us in right our tracks.  One way to move through negative self-talk is to practice being mindful.  When negative thoughts come up, avoid over-identifying with those thoughts and say to yourself, “That’s interesting that I’m thinking that.”  If you do judge yourself for not working on one of your projects, that’s a perfect moment to be self-compassionate. You can ask yourself, “What would a caring friend say to me right now?”

Negotiate with yourself.  We all have ways we can avoid getting things done.  For some of us, it’s spending a few hours on Netflix.  For others, it might be reading a book we enjoy, rather than the required reading for a graduate seminar.  Still for others, it might be playing video games.  And let’s be real—completely denying yourself of a coping mechanism for stress is neither realistic nor the complete answer.  Might you meet yourself halfway?  For example, can you set aside time in your schedule to write for 15 min., then watch a 30 min. Netflix show—eventually working your way up to 30 min. writing increments?  The goal is not to deprive yourself or even judge yourself for avoiding, but to aim for breaking down your projects into manageable tasks.

Be resourceful.  One important skill we know you have as graduate students is being resourceful.  You have developed this skill over time, and this has helped you tap into your strengths to navigate the university system, your graduate education program, and life in general.   It is also perfectly okay to reach out for support when you need it.  Check in with a peer, loved one, or member of your thesis or dissertation committee to hold you accountable to breaking down and completing your projects in a realistic manner—and to remind you to reward yourself for each, no matter big or small.  You can also schedule an appointment with at a UW writing center, form a writing group, or meet with advisors at your campus career center.

We hope you found these strategies useful, and we know you can do it!


Core Programs Team

Additional Resources

When Things Don’t Go As Planned… Now What?

As we’ve noted in past newsletters, this is the time of year where it seems everyone around you is hitting milestones, getting summer internships or jobs, being awarded fellowships, or graduating.  What happens when you find yourself in the midst of setbacks or what feel like roadblocks to your progress?

Maybe you’ve been applying for jobs and haven’t received calls for interviews.  Maybe all those fellowship applications are going unanswered.  Perhaps your committee or advisor decided to postpone a major exam until the fall quarter, throwing off the timeline of goals you planned for.  What now?

We consulted a few sources for advice, including the UW Resilience Lab. First, it’s important to acknowledge and sit with the emotion you’re experiencing (perhaps shame, disappointment, frustration, anger, or all of the above).  Recognizing your feelings is an important step for moving forward, otherwise it can be difficult to see through the emotion and be creative about next steps.

Second, talk with trusted individuals about what you are facing.  It can feel like everyone around you is successful, but you may be surprised at just how many setbacks and failures are experienced by all of us (including advisors and mentors). Talking with others can help validate your feelings and also help you see additional perspectives on what’s happening–as well as generate more creative ideas about what you can do to adjust, adapt, and move forward.

Business consultant and author Chris Winfield offers these tips to address what to do in the face of setbacks, highlighting how setbacks can be learning and growth opportunities:

– Give yourself time. Lifehacker recommends 24 hours just to let it out.
– Avoid making any big decisions, if you feel panicked or overwhelmed.
– Make peace with your failures.
– Cut yourself some slack (but don’t let go of the rope).
– Regain your control.

For more on these tips, see Winfield’s blog post.

Whether you are sailing through the end of the quarter or not sure what’s next for you, we stand with you.

Best Regards,

Core Programs Team

Additional Resources

From an Overworked TA

The class I am a TA for requires 12 hours of student interaction and about half a day of preparing materials. Every week. This is way more than the 20 hours/week that I am paid to do. The instructor knows this and had originally requested twice as many TAs as we have, but the department, being broke, only assigned two of us for this awful job. This particular class is known to be this way, as I have learned from talking to past sufferers. I have been TA-ing for two years now and have noticed a wild disparity in the workload for different classes. My question is: how is this fair? The department pays everyone the same amount, still how is it that some TAs get away with just 4 hours of work while others have to do upwards of 20? Since this is an issue of the department, I don’t know how to proceed. The officials in the department get very defensive when asked this. I don’t want to risk not being considered for future TA positions and am therefore not going to pursue the topic with them, but isn’t this just exploitation of us students by those in power? If the department has no money, they should figure out a better way to do this than exploit two students every 
quarter (yes, this class is taught every quarter). I am at a loss here and am losing my sanity not finding time to do anything else that actually matters for my Ph.D. Please help. –Anonymous 

This week’s answer is provided after consultation from the Labor Relation’s Office

Yikes. I’m sorry this TA-ship has been such a negative experience for you. Fortunately, you have resources at your disposal to help you resolve some of these issues.

You’ve said you do not wish to pursue these issues with your department. But you should know all academic staff employees are covered under a collective bargaining agreement by UAW Local Union 4121. If you do want to file a grievance against your department, the Union will help you do that. A Union representative urges Academic Student Employees to remember that addressing workplace concerns is time-sensitive under the Union contract.

Another resource available to you is the Office of the Ombud, which provides a space for members of the UW community to voice their concerns and develop plans for addressing difficult situations. The Ombud is easily accessible, with offices on all three campuses. Students contact the Ombud to discuss a range of issues including TA appointments. They are your go-to for addressing problems with the department’s culture. They’ll advise you on your situation without starting a formal complaint or grievance, and they won’t contact your department about the matter unless you ask them to do so.

Best of luck!

Ask the Grad School Guide is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guide doesn’t know the answer, the guide will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guide is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →

Strategies to Create Learning Environments for All

The UW Office of the Provost sent an e-mail to faculty and teaching assistants outlining concrete recommendations for sustaining “vibrant classroom discussions at a time when current events have produced sharp political differences among us.”  The goal of the message was to equip all of our instructors with best practices to “establish… respectful class discussions in which students from across the spectrum may fully engage.”  As we all wrap up the Winter Quarter and prepare for Spring, there might be a few ideas from that message to consider.

While designed for instructors, the Provost’s recommendations can be shared and practiced by all UW students—as we all have the capacity to foster inclusive learning environments.  We at Core Programs have adapted and expanded upon these tips as you’ll see below.  If you are interested in learning more, check out these resources curated by the UW Seattle Center for Teaching and Learning.

Engaging Each Other.  Collaborate with your peers to come up with discussion guidelines that will help you down the road, if a discussion feels challenging or becomes heated. UW Professor Gino Aisenberg and doctoral student Ada Onyewueni provide excellent examples of guidelines for engagement from their course syllabi:

  • Listen well without interrupting
  • Practice being present to each member of the group
  • Notice if you’re speaking a lot, then step back to make room for peers to speak
  • Assume that you might miss things that peers see and see things that peers miss
  • Surface your feelings in such a way that makes it easier for peers to surface theirs
  • Regard your views as a perspective onto the world, not the world itself
  • Reiterating these discussion guidelines periodically can help ensure that all students’ voices are heard

Creating Norms. Fundamental to any inclusive learning environment is honoring the belief that disagreement is okay, but disrespect is not.  This is accomplished by setting up and practicing norms for intentional, respectful dialogue. Consider these practices offered by the University of Michigan:

  • Criticize ideas, not individuals in your group
  • Avoid blame, speculation, or derogatory language
  • Avoid assumptions about members of your discussion group
  • Avoid generalizations about social groups based on race, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, or citizenship
  • Do not ask individuals to speak for their (perceived) social or cultural group

This Takes Practice.  Creating intentional and respectful dialogues among peers takes consistent and sustained practice.  There will be discomfort, yet in discomfort there is also the possibility of learning.  As we work together, we will all make mis-steps in different ways and need to recover.  There is a lot going on in any one person’s history and life, and it can help to give a generous read to see where a person might be coming from.  Depending on how much energy you have in the moment, you can choose what to do with a conversation mis-step.  Each day will be different.  Consider what could work for you and your peers.

We hope that as the new quarter begins, you may try out something from these recommendations and see what works for you and your peers.


Kelly, Jaye, and Ziyan
Core Programs Team

Additional Resources

Watch a recent panel discussion on the meaning of free speech in the context of a public university called Speech and Counter Speech: Rights and Responsibilities, sponsored by the UW Race & Equity Initiative.

Strengthening Yourself for the Last Leg of the Quarter

We at Core Programs recognize and respect all the hard work you’ve been doing as graduate students during this winter.  We know that Winter quarter can be especially challenging given the weather, the darkness, and the usual stressors of navigating a graduate program. The good news is that the light is returning and the quarter is coming to a close!  For this final push, we offer a few strategies. Maybe one or more will serve you:

Saying “Not Right Now”.  We know that many of you are balancing personal and family time, school, and work responsibilities, and we encourage you to take a pragmatic look at your schedule for the next few weeks.  What can you absolutely hold off on doing for now (that you can then return to later)?  What do you absolutely need to make room for?  Whom do you need to say no to?  With the rhythm of the quarter system, there are time intensive moments where you have to keep your head down and focus. There’s a lot to do, but it will pass by quickly.  Then you can once again say “yes” to other things after the quarter is done.

Schedule your needs. Put the most important things you need to accomplish in your calendar, including self-care practices. When it comes to working on those final seminar papers, consider setting aside 30-60 minutes a day to work on a draft versus trying to do it all in one sitting.  Writing in smaller chunks will help you feel better knowing that you are making regular progress. Believe it or not, scheduling yourself for 30 minutes of exercise, or connecting with someone important, can make a difference in your overall productivity.  So can getting enough sleep!  While many people do gain energy from looming deadlines and big pushes of work, suffering isn’t a requirement of graduate school. We just can’t do our best work, if we are constantly in a stressed and exhausted state of mind.

Ask for help.  Now is as good a time as any to reach out for help.  Do you feel stuck on an individual project and don’t know how to move forward?  If you haven’t done so already, connect with peers in your program who are further along in their graduate work.  More often than not, they have strategies that worked for them, that you can then try out for yourself.  If you are having a hard time finding someone in your department, get a list of peer referrals from your Graduate Program Advisor or a student organization on campus that you relate to.  Or maybe you need to reach out to your professor for an extension all together—because life happens. There is no shame in this at all.  Asking for what you need is a sign of honest self-assessment and shows you are taking responsibility for yourself. But you have to act fast.  Either drop in during your professor’s office hours or send them an email with your extension request, with a reasonable deadline for when you plan to submit your work (this may have to be negotiated depending on your professor’s upcoming schedule).  If you’re communicating by e-mail, you can put “Time Sensitive Request” in the subject line and follow up with your professor as needed.

Reward yourself.   Make room in your schedule to celebrate yourself for all the work you’ve done—however small or big the milestone.  Recognizing your achievements is so important, as no one else will make time in your schedule to do so except for you.  When you have many important deadlines at the end of the quarter, consider allowing yourself a small celebration after a project is done–before you turn to the next task or project.  Plus, it really allows you to be present with your progress in graduate school.  You are doing a ton of work!  Go for a walk with a friend.  Make yourself a nice dinner.  Go dancing (and get to the venue before the cover charge).  Take a short dive into Netflix.  Schedule a game night in with friends, or 21 other affordable examples of treating yourself.

We love hearing from you!  Let us know your strategies for getting through Winter Quarter!


Kelly, Jaye, and Ziyan
Core Programs Team

It’s a Long Road: Take Care of Yourself

Winter quarter is often a time when energy can get low and isolation can get more intense. This year especially there are more events and unknowns that can add to the already high anxiety of being a postdoc. At the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, along with Core Programs in the Graduate School, we’ve been pulling together tips that we hear about and continue to practice ourselves. Here are just a few insights to share:

Resilience. These times, and this work, require resilience—and this means investing in yourself and those practices that fuel you.

Beyond “Self-Care.” We often talk about self-care, yet we can also work toward “communities of caring.” Those are acts of self-care that involve connecting with others, finding ways to reach into your network rather than merely escaping.

Get What You Need. Ask for support, ask for an extension, practice asking for what you need with trusted allies.  That said, there are times to escape.  Take a social media holiday, embrace solitude and quiet, completely let go into a Netflix moment, or whatever allows you to unplug. Pay attention to activities that calm you, restore you, re-energize you, and remind you why you are doing the work you do.  We all need some of each.

Be (Self) Forgiving. And be gentle with yourself, and others.  Everyone is tired, stressed and stretched at varying levels and for different reasons.  We will each make mis-steps. Acknowledge your own limitations — and those of others — and give yourself a generous read with compassion.

Keep It Real. Finally, you need to give yourself room to feel the full spectrum of emotions like anger, frustration, overwhelmed-ness, fear. Yet staying triggered in these states can exhaust and deplete you.  Work with trusted friends to vent and then identify ways to move forward that work for you.

At a January event with First Gen graduate students, staff, and faculty — people who are the first in their immediate families to earn undergraduate degrees and who are now working on obtaining (or have obtained) advanced degrees — brainstormed ways to do more to invest in ourselves and each other. We share these concrete practices here with you in hopes they might inspire a new commitment of your own!

  • Be okay with stepping back & saying no – you deserve space and time too
  • Embrace a guilt-free mind when it comes to self-care
  • Give time over to you: take a spa day, join a team, play video games, balance your finances, journal, get exercise….
  • Put yourself on your calendar so it happens!
  • Reach out to your community — inside and outside of your research group
  • Hold each other accountable to self-care practices
  • Reach out to mentors and advisors
  • Go out and be politically active on issues that are important to you

Caring doesn’t have a to be a big project.  It can be as simple as checking in with someone and asking how they’re doing (for real).

And check out these additional resources for more ideas:


Ground Yourself These Last Few Weeks of the Quarter

We see how hard you’re working.  You’re running here and there, juggling multiple responsibilities related to all aspects of who you are as a graduate or professional student.  In the midst of this spring quarter chaos, we want to offer you some tips to help ground you in these last few weeks of the quarter.

Connect with your body.  Feeling accumulated tension in your muscles?  Are you having trouble keeping your energy up?  Maybe you’ve been agitated the last few days.  These are all signs that your body is stressed.  We know this is common knowledge, but isn’t it interesting how we can easily ignore bodily feedback and try to plough through the day or week anyway?  Try taking 10-15 minutes out of your day to connect with your body (this is very possible as we can easily spend 10 minutes on social media).  Go for a brief afternoon walk on campus or outside of your home.  Sit in a quiet place such as the library, close your eyes, and take several deep breaths.  Match your caffeine intake with hydrating water (we won’t tell you to cut back on coffee, not now!) .  Keep healthy snacks on hand to make it easy to stay fueled with vitamin rich food. Connecting with your body allows you to be more mindful of your stress level and to actively respond to decrease it.

Shift from distraction to purpose.  It’s easy to get caught in a negative feedback loop of feeling bogged down, frustrated, or depressed about all the things you have to do to close out the year or complete your graduate degree.  And your feelings are totally valid and real.  Yet you are also a whole person and not just the sum of stressful experiences.  In those moments, it’s helpful to remind yourself of your purpose for earning that graduate degree.  You want to contribute to innovation in your field.  You are seeking to impact change in collaboration with your community.  You want to better support yourself and your family.  You want to make a unique contribution to knowledge and research.

Good enough is good enough.  Academia has the capacity to make us feel that we aren’t doing or achieving enough.  Yet in reality, we in Core Programs know that this is just not true.  We have the privilege of collaborating, and engaging in conversations, with a range of graduate and professional students throughout the year.  We get to hear about all the amazing things (no matter how big or small) you are involved in, projects and interests that go above and beyond your degree programs.  We also know that you have families you’re taking care of, working at one or two jobs to make ends meet, or that you are not always validated or seen on campus.  We too have projects that are not yet done, and a long list of things we want to get to.  Your work is never done–this is why the world (and your loved ones) needs you!  We’re telling you right now, you are enough.  And we see you.

Anchor yourself in community.  Make the time in your schedule to hang out with friends, colleagues, or family who care about your well-being and success.  Spend time with people whose well-being you care about.  Reach out to people who share your hobbies and interests.  Go hiking with your best friend.  Plan pizza and a movie night with peers in your cohort.  Make plans for connecting after your last deadline this quarter.  If you’re new to Seattle, consider joining a meetup group based on your interests.  Anchoring yourself in community reminds you that you are a whole person!


Jaye Sablan, Kelly Edwards, and Ziyan Bai
Core Programs Team