Maintaining optimism in a demanding career–or, why happiness is not a waste of time in grad school

My mom is the happiest person I know, and I was always aware of it growing up. It made me proud, for a while. Then I became a teenager, and I started rolling my eyes. A lot. It was easy to make fun of my mom for being so cheery. Then I went off to college and I started to really appreciate her again. But then, I realized that not only was my mom super happy, she was also really smart about being happy–she made choices to make herself happy everyday. She sings in the grocery store. She laughs super loud while watching tv. She gets excited about everything from running into friends to hearing her favorite songs. And you know what? All of that takes work.

I really started to understand the work of being happy and that appreciation has only grown since I got to grad school, where it’s clear that I can either find a way to enjoy this life, or I can let my potentially demanding job choice swallow me whole. I definitely don’t make the more difficult choice every day, but I do try! So this week, I asked some wise grad school friends why happiness can seem so hard in academia. Here’s what we came up with…

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How to be productive if you don’t like the Pomodoro Technique

Or, every tip that has helped me write my dissertation.

We are on day 8 of #100daysofdissertation, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out Academeology on Instagram and she’ll get you filled in. I’ve been really enjoying talking to other grad students about what they do to get sh*t done this past week, so I’ve decided to write up what works for me here. I hope this list is helpful to you, whatever large project you might be up against, academic or non. The title is mostly a joke, but I don’t use the Pomodoro method, instead I do a bunch of other stuff, like….

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Bags for grad students

Thanks to @yikesbutmakeitfashion who asked for a bag round-up for grad school ❤ Here are my current favorite workhorse bags….


Let’s start with what I’m currently using, the Everlane twill zip tote. This tote is $48, has a ZIPPER, and it has held up super well–no strap damage or loose stitching. Cons: It doesn’t have any shape so any bulges caused by throwing your whole life in there will show. Other options below.

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Back to school shopping: Grad student edition

One sad part about being an adult who is still in school is that I REALLY miss back to school shopping. Here is a mystery of my childhood: why did I think I needed an updated lunchbox every year? Why did my backpack, binder, and lunchbox have to match? Now, I don’t even use a lunchbox, instead I just pray that the tupperware in my backpack doesn’t explode on my way to school. But I still love new school year supplies–I just have an updated list of needs:

1) Good pens. I got a pack of Staples Opti-flow pens last year and somehow they all wandered off. I’m looking to re-up my supply (they dry INSTANTLY) but I’m also tempted to buy a set of Muji pens after reading the reviews.

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Q & A: Tech in grad school

Q: Hi Rebecca! What are your thoughts on tech for grad school (specifically tablets)? Is there anything that’s made your time in academia more efficient?

A: Hi! I don’t have a tablet but I really wish I did–I see people bring them to conference sessions, meetings, etc and they seem like a lighter, easier thing to travel with. Our dept appears split on having them or just bringing a regular laptop. 

In terms of other tech that has made my life way easier: Zotero (citation manager, get the Word plug in and YOU WILL NEVER HAVE TO CITE BY HAND AGAIN) and Evernote (keeps all your notes in one app–I didn’t see the value at first but it’s far more searchable than going through all your word docs) have been my two favorite upgrades. Also, an hour tracker is a good way to keep yourself on track when you work (and to recognize that even when it feels like 60 hours of work a week it’s really not!). 

Lastly, not grad school specific: I’ve been using Cladwell to get dressed every day. It’s $40 per year (sign up on their website, not the app store), and it just makes getting ready totally brainless, in the best way possible.

I’m reblogging this to say I just bought Grammarly Premium as well–it is like spell check but way better, and says things to you like “you’ve said the word ‘communication’ a lot in this document, want to try a different one?” and “this sentence is wordy.” Seriously life changing. I had an out of body reading experience the other day while looking over some writing–I was like “wait did I really write this this well?” Thx Grammarly. 

Fun asides to leave in your thesis/dissertation:

Passive aggressive thank yous 

Inside joke acknowledgements

Jokes in footnotes

Unacknowledged puns

Saucy comments like “as much as researchers would like this to be the case..”

Random trivia in footnotes

Unnecessary appendices (songs listened to while writing, lists of weird historical events, etc)

Citations of yourself, because goals

Unnecessary citations of your academic friends 

Song lyric quotes in italics as chapter openings

What else you got? Looking to spice this document up.