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Getting Started in a Lab

If you are a new graduate student in the sciences, you will rotate through several labs during your first year at the University of Washington. Your challenge is to find the right lab for you — one that best matches your intellectual interests and that helps prepare you for your career.

How to get started in a lab

  • Sample a range of lab environments and cultures. Find a lab that will help you develop as a researcher.

Find out what the ground rules and expectations are.

  • How many hours are you expected to be in the lab? (Remember that research is not a 9 to 5 job; you should look forward to hanging out in the lab—but also make sure you know specific expectations for your time).
  • What’s the definition of “progress” in lab work? What’s the definition of progress in graduate work in your discipline?

Look for opportunities that will benefit your career.

  • Will you have an opportunity to publish?
  • Will you get credit—as an author, co-author—for the work you do in the lab? Will your intellectual work really be your own? Seek a lab that gives ownership of your ideas to you.
  • Will you have a chance to push beyond the boundaries of particular grants?
  • Will you be able to collaborate with other labs?

Be smart.

  • The best lab is not necessarily the one that pays the most.
  • Success is not always about being comfortable— so look for a lab where you will be pushed a bit.

How to evaluate labs

Both established and new labs have great merit.

  • In an established lab, find out: What’s the lab’s track record? Where have people ended up working after their lab experience?
  • Recognize that some younger faculty—who do not have well established labs and therefore do not have the same track record as established labs—often bring the newest ideas to the discipline and are often willing to spend time with graduate students. Such labs might be a better place to try new things.
  • Where do people in the lab publish? In top-tier journals?
  • Ask other students about the labs.
  • Trust your instincts.

Be clear about your own expectations for mentorship in a lab.

  • How often would you like to meet with faculty mentors? (Make sure that the time you request is for the most pressing matters; don’t waste time on minor details that you can find out elsewhere).
  • Can you get on the mentor’s calendar? (Ask other graduate students in the lab about the nature and extent of mentorship).

Make good use of your lab work: Publish early and publish often.

  • Publications are the currency of success.
  • Publications are a guaranteed path to a relatively carefree thesis preparation.

How to succeed in a lab

  • Participation is the key to any successful lab. A successful lab draws on a variety of skills, so contribute.
  • Recognize that a good lab is one with mutual mentorship; that means you need to contribute, too. As a first-year student, you may well have expertise that others in the lab don’t have. Be a good citizen; contribute the work. Recognize that you have the potential to be a valuable contributor from the very first day you walk in the door.
  • Learn from others and support others in the lab. Recognize the expertise of all of your lab colleagues (faculty, visiting scientists, postdocs, graduate students, undergraduates, and even high school students).
  • During your first year, complete at least one research paper.

by Tom Daniel, professor, Biology

Succeeding in a Graduate Seminar

Some of your most important and impression-forming interactions with your classmates and professors occur in graduate seminars. Your stellar performance in graduate seminars is paramount to your success in the graduate program. Graduate seminars are the building blocks for your knowledge in the field and in graduate school.

How to succeed in a graduate seminar

Prepare for class

Do the reading. All of it. But don’t stop there. Annotate your reading. Ask questions of the text in the margins. Maybe even type up your notes. Always consider what’s at stake in the reading, how the reading informs your understanding of the class themes, other course materials, the methods, the content. How does the reading relate to your own burgeoning research questions?

Come to class with questions and discussion points. If you are reticent about speaking in class, recruit a friend to chat about your ideas for five minutes the day before class. Do not, however, memorize one point in the reading so that you make your one perfunctory comment in class. Everyone is on to that game!

In class

Do your part to help foster community. This means: Listen. Participate fully. Be respectful.

Showcase your intellectual curiosity by engaging with all types of ideas, not just the ones in your designated area of study.

When you speak, remember to look at your classmates, not exclusively at the professor.

Use your breadth of knowledge — connect the readings to other readings in your class and other out-of-class readings. Feel free to apply the readings or theme of the day to your project, but don’t be so focused on utilitarian knowledge that you fail to engage fully with all of the issues at hand.

Do not fall into the trap of wholesale skewering the reading of the week. This is intellectually lazy. The work must have some redeeming value if the professor has chosen to assign it. Even if you want to make a serious critique of the reading you should attempt to articulate its contributions/interventions as well as limitations.


Turn in all writing assignments on time. Do not save your seminar papers for the last week of class. Begin generating ideas the first week of class. Talk about your ideas with your classmates and your professor. If the professor has not given you a series of deadlines, create deadlines for yourself (i.e., identify paper topic in the third week of class, generate working bibliography in the fourth week of class, create abstract in the fifth week, write your first draft in the sixth week, etc.).

Graduate seminars are your first practice attempts at being a scholar. It should be fun to engage with ideas. Be prepared to spar respectfully — and always be prepared!

by Ralina Joseph, professor, Communication

Managing Large Writing Projects

Large projects, such as an master of arts degree thesis, dissertation, book, or just a long paper, can be daunting. For some of us, myself included, project management can be a challenge for any article written from scratch. This memo can help you break down your writing project into smaller, less intimidating parts. I will focus on the writing of a thesis or dissertation, but the same basic logic applies to even smaller writing tasks.

Getting started: Clarify purpose, argument, audience

Purpose: A thesis or dissertation should yield a high quality document that adds to the body of scholarly knowledge and is worthy, eventually, of publication in a peer- reviewed journal. Or your writing may address a public controversy or develop a creative insight that could change how people view a phenomenon of interest.

Argument: With your purpose clarified, think about your argument. Create a main argument that carries you through your thesis or dissertation. (There may be many other points along the way, but a core message will help you stay focused from beginning to end).

Audience: Keep a particular audience in mind. For academic work, identify a target journal. Think about who would want to read your work; this will motivate you to write and clarify your message.

Outlining, setting deadlines

One of the causes of vertigo with large writing projects is the sense that the work before you is too big or too much for you to handle given all your existing responsibilities and pressures. So break the project into manageable parts, and make the immediate task a two- or three-page mini-paper.

How to start: Outline your project carefully. Start with a one-page handwritten outline that is simply the main sections or chapter titles.

Then move to a more thorough outline, with detail under each of the points in the first version. At this point, each part of the outline is no more than a few pages.

Refine your outline to indicate how many pages and what kind of work each part will require. For instance, I might have a line in my outline that reads, “Introduce self-perception theory (two pages; brief literature review).” Your daunting, massive thesis or dissertation has now been reduced to a series of manageable, “do-able” tasks.

Set a schedule for completing each piece of the outline. Make sure that each chunk is small enough to be do-able in just a week or two, or even just a day or two.


First-time procrastination problems? You may just be tired, so relax and don’t be hard on yourself.

Persistent procrastination? Break your task into even smaller pieces.

One option: Identify a one-hour block of time. Work on your next writing task for just 15 minutes, followed by a five-minute stretching/social break. Repeat two more times, and in one hour you will have done 45 minutes of work. If that works, then schedule your next writing period for 80 minutes, and so on, until you can set aside three hours at a time for writing. You may find that taking the break after 15 minutes is hard to do because you get a rhythm and can’t stop working. That’s a good thing.

Another option: Schedule writing appointments with fellow students or faculty—or, form a three-to-five person study group that meets every one or two weeks to help keep each other on track.

Other options: See your adviser, commit to a scholarly conference (to create an external deadline), or set up some other writing-related appointment.

If your large writing project becomes so emotionally upsetting that you find yourself unable to do any of the above successfully, consider making an appointment for student counseling. It is easy for the different parts of our lives to get entangled, and the fear or stress you experience regarding your writing may have nothing to do with the quality of your ideas or your skill as a writer—but instead be symptomatic of other things upsetting you at home or at work.

And remember—it’s OK to ask for help.

by John Gastil, former professor, Communication

Creating a Research Agenda

by UW alumni Justin Reedy, Ph.D., Communication, and Madhavi Murty, Ph.D., Communication, in conversation with UW graduate students

Creating a research agenda should be a major goal for all graduate students—regardless of theoretical interests, methodological preferences, or career aspirations. A research agenda helps you orient yourself toward both short- and long-term goals; it will guide your selection of classes, help you decide which academic conferences (and within those, which specific divisions) to engage in, and steer you in recruiting mentors and research collaborators.

What is a research agenda? It’s a plan and a focus on issues and ideas in a subset of your field. You cannot study everything in your field during your time in graduate school, so decide what to focus on now, and what to defer until another day.

Research agendas are not set in concrete; they naturally change over time as your knowledge grows and as new research questions emerge.

Don’t be intimidated. Many students may start a graduate program with only a few ideas of areas they would like to study, or perhaps a few general research questions. Graduate courses, conversations with faculty and fellow students, and time spent reading the literature in the field can help you start to form a research agenda out of those ideas or research questions.

How to get started

  • Talk with faculty members about your general interests. Use faculty as a resource to find out which topics are over-studied and where additional work is needed.
  • If there are students with similar or overlapping interests, get their perspectives as well.
  • Read a great deal, even in the early weeks of your graduate work. Be open to reading research outside your immediate areas of interests and seeing how they link to your own areas.
  • Ask faculty for reading lists or copies of syllabi. Such resources help you familiarize yourself with the research already done in areas that interest you. Be sure to follow up on citations that are interesting or intriguing.
  • Identify key authors relevant to your interests. Read their scholarship and understand the work that has informed their research.

Advancing your agenda


  • Identify courses that will help advance your research agenda—both in terms of specific knowledge about the issues and relevant methods. Remember that the title of a class might not always fully describe it, so contact the professor to find out more about class content.
  • Look both inside and outside the department for classes—and look outside especially in your second year in the program. Graduate students in interdisciplinary fields, for example, may find very valuable classes in diverse departments.
  • Think specifically about the research questions you want to ask, and think about how you will answer them. Then pick courses to help you in reaching this goal.
  • Try to use class assignments to advance your research agenda. If possible, use each seminar paper as a way to focus on a specific part of your overall agenda —whether it be a literature review or a proposal for a study.
  • Don’t be afraid to take a chance on a course that seems somewhat outside of your agenda or your comfort zone. If the topics or research methods covered in the course draw your interest, you could find a way to incorporate those into your overarching research agenda.

Conference papers, colloquia, and research articles

  • Ask faculty members if they have research projects in which you can participate.
  • Work with more than one faculty member. Different faculty members provide different perspectives even if they are interested in the same concepts.
  • Talk to faculty and other graduate students about conferences you should attend (and conference paper deadlines). Use conference paper deadlines to pace your own research production.
  • Present your work at conferences, listen to others’ ideas, and solicit feedback on your research.
  • Consider working towards the publication of your papers. With enough feedback and guidance from faculty, fellow graduate students, and colleagues in the field, what starts out as a seminar or conference paper could turn into a journal article or book chapter.
  • Attend talks and colloquia on campus—both inside and outside your department. These talks can help you generate research ideas and help you see your research in a new light.
  • Recruit others to work with you on projects. Student collaborations are especially fruitful when the constituent members have similar interests, but bring different yet complementary perspectives and skills to the endeavor.

Be active: Be a part of the conversation in your field!

Strategies to take your research to market impact

In May 2020, the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs and UW CoMotion co-hosted a virtual professional development event focused on helping postdocs explore ways to commercialize your research products (check out the full recording). Four scientists in various entrepreneurial stages shared their insights on how to effectively take their research from discovery to market. 

Briefly, there are four major paths of research distribution: license innovation to an existing company or a new start-up, building an internal business at UW, and open distribution. Prior to making any decisions, consider the implications of each path, including risk, personal commitment, types of financial return, degree of control, and your ability to achieve success and independence. UW CoMotion provides guidance on innovation training, IP advising, protection & licensing, start-ups & incubator, funding & partnerships. You can always schedule an appointment to discuss which path works best for you.
Here, we summarize three strategies to assist you as you consider commercializing your research efforts.

Assess your interest and values. Are you interested in teamwork, creating a business model, or understanding the market demand of a certain product? Do you value the market impact of your research product and have a desire to start a business? Starting a company involves more than one person – you will need to collaborate and share similar values and goals with your partner (or partners). The ultimate goal of commercialization is to turn your research into a product with market value and make a difference! Spend time discussing common values, goals, and expectations. Remember, there’s no single path to success. Your goal is to create a product that has an impact – commit to a plan, but be willing to modify your path as you move through different stages of product and company development. Check out the 10 simple rules to commercialize scientific research.

Identify your support network. At the OPA, we strongly encourage you to build a mentoring team, regardless of your career aspirations. You need a support network of people who can assist you in different ways. This is particularly important on the pathway to commercialization, as you will end up needing to learn from experts in the business, legal, and industrial sectors. If your mentors are all from your academic life, you might consider branching out. Both Life Science Washington and UW CoMotion offer mentoring programs.

Time management and planning. Starting a business will feel daunting, and you will find yourself juggling among many unfamiliar responsibilities. Time management and planning are critical to making sure you are on track. There are time-sensitive steps (e.g., finding co-founders) that you need to accomplish as early as possible. You will likely need to acquaint yourself with new knowledge outside of your specific area of expertise, and you’ll need to build a collaborative team to accomplish your goals. These all demand your time and effort, which will feel increasingly constrained as you move your product and ideas from the bench to business. Check out tips on time management for start-up founders.

Last but not least, engaging in the entrepreneurial process has many benefits to your career development. For example, you will learn how to do translational research, tell a story about your research, and communicate to a diverse audience. You will also have the opportunity to expand your network as you explore the potential market impact of your research. It’s an exciting opportunity to fully apply all of the skills you developed during your graduate and postdoctoral research. 

Setting Boundaries for Yourself

These last few weeks of the quarter are truly a busy time. Many of you are completing final projects while also navigating job searches. Others are completing degree requirements in anticipation of graduating next year, or within the next several years. No matter where you’re at in your educational or career trajectory, below are some tips to help you push through this last leg of the academic year.

Protect your time. Graduate school can often make you feel like you have no control over your schedule, but this is simply not true. Yes, you are busy, and it’s still possible to manage your time. Block out times in your weekly calendar where you have no flexibility — e.g. courses, appointments, hard deadlines, family time. Reschedule meetings that can wait until after you complete the quarter. Hold small chunks of time during the day, or a larger chunk of time twice a week (or a duration that works for you), for self-care activities that re-energize and nourish you.

Set boundaries. During crunch time, it’s important to say no to doing things that take time away from completing your short-term goals this quarter. Often times in graduate school, exciting or interesting work or research project opportunities may come up that pique your interest. Just ask yourself: are these new projects a distraction from what actually needs to get done? Remember that it’s perfectly okay to say no to requests of your time, as only you know your needs and schedule. 

Connect with support. When the pressure is on, it’s important to stay connected with individuals that support us and have our best interests in mind. Having trouble staying motivated on a final paper? Organize an impromptu writing accountability group with peers at a café, or make it a potluck at home after you’re done writing for a few hours. Needing feedback on your work? Check in with your advisor or mentor to make sure you are on the right track. Feeling anxious or stressed out? Reach out to a friend, a loved one or a community member who can lend an empathic ear and help you stay present.

We hope these tips resonate with you, and good luck with the rest of spring quarter!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

How to study for general exams

I could use some advice on how to study for General Exams in the social sciences. I’m especially having trouble getting through all the reading I’m supposed to do! Any tips on *how* to read for exams? How about studying for generals, more broadly?


*A version of this question and the subsequent student answers were first posted in the UW Graduate Student Facebook Group. They have been edited for clarity and re-published anonymously with the permission of the question-asker. 

Hi, there!

Whew. What a great question! Preparing for General Exams is one of the most challenging and daunting aspects of a doctoral career, but I’m confident with a strong plan and your determination, you’ll enter your exam well-prepared!

Let’s start with how to prepare for General Exams more broadly. Thankfully (for you and for the Guide), UC–Davis has a comprehensive and accessible guide with tips for approaching your general exams.

This guide breaks preparation into five, concrete steps: understand how the qualifying exam works; know your examiners’ interests and personalities; prepare early; reduce your stress; and have an exam day plan. Check out the article for more advice on putting these steps into action!

Inside Higher Ed also features a guest blog post from Ph.D. candidate Stephanie Hedge on studying for General Exams. Hedge recommends writing every day, as well as reading previous exams and writing practice questions.

I hope that these resources, combined with conversations with your advisor, committee members and peers, will help you to feel more confident in how you organize yourself for the General Exams.

The other piece you asked about is how to read all the material you need to cover for your General Exam in a timely fashion. The Guide has gathered several responses from people who have completed their General. Read them below.

On the whole, they made it clear that you should be strategically skimming these texts — not reading them cover to cover — and focusing on the material as it relates to your research and the history of the field.

“Resist the urge to read everything cover to cover. Instead, skim through the entire book or article — spending at most 20 minutes on this step — and then speed read through it focusing on the beginnings and ends of each chapter. If anything doesn’t make sense, go back and read more carefully.”

“Write a mini review for each book from the perspective of your research and your reading list. For me, this helped me read strategically and also better remember what I read. Your committee might be different, but for my purposes knowing the highlights of an argument was important but knowing what X author said on page 53 in the footnote (for instance) was not. And that made it easier for me to read quickly.”

“Read reviews by others to get a second opinion on books you have to skim.”

“Try focusing on the network of conversation as opposed to a single article or book. For example, think about how author X responds to author Y, author Z disagrees with author Y’s response, etc. If you can keep track of that (especially as it relates to your questions) then you don’t need to devote nearly as much time to reading each piece itself, and the intro/conclusion plus footnotes will be enough to tell you how an article or book fits into rest of the literature.”

You will likely find it helpful to develop a system to organize all your reading notes.

One student suggests: “Try using your phone for notes. You may use Siri to dictate important sentences (verbatim or your own analyses/connections to other work, with a symbol to differentiate them). At the end, you should have about a page or two per book or article. That way, it’ll be easier to review that before your exam!”

This Grad Hacker article suggests a few different strategies: using a Wiki, a blog, or even an old-fashioned scrapbook!

Best of luck!

–The Grad School Guide

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 →

5 Tips for Managing Your Time Wisely

Depending on your grad program, we know that you are busy with course work, teaching classes or writing your thesis or dissertation, while also fulfilling life and work responsibilities off campus. We see you and know how hard you are working! Below are time management strategies that we hope will be helpful as you work toward your goals in the coming weeks and months.

Review your time. It’s important to know exactly how you are spending your time, before coming up with a time management plan that works for you. Take note of what your usual distractions are: Facebook? Email? As you develop your schedule, create times where you can turn off those usual distractions. Save them for a break or reward at the end of a productivity session.

Schedule productivity. What times of the day or evening are you the most focused and ready to work, so you can study or write? Block out those times on your schedule, and do manageable chunks of work. For example, focus on reading or work on a paper non-stop for 25 minutes, then take a five minute break. This “Pomodoro” technique has been shown to help people make steady progress towards completing a project (hint: none of us can focus for four hour blocks!).

Set priorities. Time management doesn’t work if you have too much on your plate, so set priorities in order to have better control over your schedule: 1. Block out hard deadlines for things like final projects, conference presentations, funding or internship applications, etc. 2. Make incremental progress on long-term projects, while prioritizing other tasks with immediate deadlines. 3. Take stock; Are there some commitments you need to say “no” to, or “not right now”? It is OK to postpone certain activities or engagements — or even drop a class from a heavy course load — if the timing isn’t right for you.

Develop your system. After you have reviewed your time, identified the best times you are productive and set priorities, set up a calendar or task system that will work for you. Some students work well with online calendaring, while others prefer physical to-do lists. Some students usw both! The goal is to set something up that will help you use your time wisely each day and each week. Sometimes to-do lists can feel daunting, so choose two or three tasks you will accomplish each day, then enjoy the satisfaction of crossing them off your list once they are completed.

Fuel yourself. You are a whole person, not just a graduate student, so (let go of the guilt) and make space each week to spend quality time with friends and loved ones and to do your favorite re-fueling activities. Also, make getting enough sleep a priority as it will improve your focus, help you think creatively and ensure that you are your best self. Finally, when you complete a task (no matter how big or small), reward yourself by watching an episode of your favorite T.V. show, cooking yourself a nice meal, or having friends over for games night. Here are more examples of affordable ways to treat yourself.

Feel free to let us know what time management strategies work for you!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

Managing Expectations for Group Work

As a working student, how do I manage others’ expectations so that I can reduce the number of in-person meetings I’m expected to attend on campus?
My employer graciously kept me on as a part-time staffer when I began graduate school (a two-year Master’s program). This is a professional position at 20 hours/week scheduled between business hours that contributes substantially towards defraying tuition costs. Almost all RA/TA positions are awarded to PhD students in my department, and I’m also taking out loans to pay for living costs.
I spend up to 60 minutes commuting via public transit from work to school (and vice versa) during the day. I’m very strict with how I spend my time and prefer to work remotely (using Slack, Skype, Google Hangouts/Drive, texts, and phone calls) whenever group work calls for coordination or my presence.
However, I cannot keep turning down requests to meet in person, most of which are last-minute reschedules. I have received several negative evaluations from former group members who say that I’m not a team player, largely due to my absence at meetings scheduled during my work hours (without consultation from me). Although I accept partial responsibility for not communicating my own expectations, I’ve offered to send completed work in advance of meetings and have requested minutes to follow up on delegated tasks — these have been met without response, and I am puzzled that members of my cohort would act so unprofessionally. I also offer to meet evenings and weekends, but people have rejected this, citing work-life balance.
My employer and I have discussed having to request time off to attend multiple meetings throughout the day, which has occurred so frequently that I have been asked to set an end date to my job. I expect to find part-time shift work to accommodate my school schedule next year, so I do not see this problem going away anytime soon. I am sure that student-parents have similar demands on their schedule. Do you have any advice for us?
This answer was written in consultation with Katie Durham, academic programs analyst and Evening MBA student with the Foster School of Business. 
Hi there,
Thanks for writing in. This is a tough spot to be in. It sounds like meeting and scheduling your group work around other commitments – especially when your peers tend to have different schedules from yours – is what’s causing you the most stress. I’ll focus on giving you some strategies to manage the expectations around your time, and then see if I can relay a few other resources on group work and work-life balance that you might find helpful.
When you first start a group project, communicate your schedule and the limitations you described to me – your commute, your work, etc .– to your group members. According to Dr. Carla Patalano, professor and chair of MBA and MHRM at the New England College of Business, working effectively and efficiently in a group starts with creating “written, agreed-upon expectations, often referred to as Group Charters, Contracts or Project Plans.”
Patalano says her students, when working in groups, choose a time once per week to convene. This might help you to balance work and school, especially if you start shift-work in the fall. In this case, consider requesting at least one day per week that is consistently your “off” day, and then plan to use that for meetings, coming to campus, etc. Of course, it may not be a day your group is free – so be prepared for that!
If meeting regularly once per week is not feasible or is unnecessary for your group, be sure, from your first meeting, to share your expectations about future meetings: how far in advance should they be scheduled? How often can your group members expect you to come to campus, and how often will you expect to Skype into meetings? When you meet, who will type minutes, and how will they be shared with the group? How will tasks be delegated? Ask your peers to share their schedule and expectations. If they say they can’t meet on weekends or evenings, respect that.
As Patalano suggests, be sure to have these expectations written down, perhaps in a Google doc that can be accessed by the whole group. Having these expectations clear from the beginning will mean there are no surprises when you say you can’t meet on a certain day, or when you miss a meeting that is rescheduled with little notice.
I also consulted with Katie Durham, academic programs analyst and Evening MBA student with the Foster School, who is also very familiar with the challenge of balancing work commitments, school, and group-work. Katie says that when she works in groups, “My team schedules out several weeks in advance sometimes and if someone can no longer make it, they try to call in or at the least send their work to the team. My classmates all have jobs and long commutes and we make it work. We often meet via Google hangout and only meet in-person when we really need to hash out an idea.” Profesionalus internetinių tinklapių ir elektroninių parduotuvių kūrimas bei seo paslaugos už priimtiną kainą – SEOpaslaugos.com
For additional reading, check out this comprehensive guide to group work, which includes a checklist for each team member to reflect on their performance in the group, and some guidelines for creating a teamwork contract. As well, check out this guide on balancing work and lifestyle from Core Programs.
Managing your own time and other’s expectations of you while working to complete an assignment is tricky, but it’s absolutely a skill that is important for working in the professional world. I hope this gives you some ideas of how to better manage your time as a working professional and as a student.
The Grad School Guru
Ask the Grad School Guru is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guru doesn’t know the answer, the guru will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guru 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 →

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.