Graduate students, new and advanced, have the task of juggling many responsibilities each semester: coursework, research progress, and professional activities, with a little bit of social time mixed in. Now, while we are in the middle of summer, say your advisor comes to you and asks that you apply for a fellowship with a deadline in November.
This is just one of many scenarios that could lead to you balancing graduate student responsibilities and applying for funding. The key to a successful fall application season is planning. Planning (or lack of it) can have a significant impact on the stress of a busy fall. There are many resources, such as the gradhacker blog, that provide great strategies for handling busy semesters. The following strategy is just one of many ways to plan a semester, based on the experiences of a fellow graduate student.
Plan big, work small
Start planning before the beginning of the semester. First, write out all of the goals you have for the semester (including completing classes, finishing a chapter of your dissertation, and applying for that fellowship). This could be in the form of a list with deadlines written in or a calendar. For each big goal, write the action items necessary to complete the goal. For your fellowship, this might include writing your research proposal, talking to references, and ordering your official transcripts. Then, portion out blocks of time (a week, for example) over the semester to finish each action item. For this part, a calendar might be helpful. Allot extra time in each task for unexpected changes or issues that might come up. If you have specific items written out for the week, you have a step-by-step plan ready for meeting your goals.
Creating a long-term plan is just the first step. You also need to consider strategies to complete the scheduled tasks. Each week, align your daily work to meet the target action items for that week. There are many time management strategies out there, and you can decide what’s a good fit to make your day as productive as possible (see The Lost Art of Doing One Thing at a Time and Measuring your Workday in Pomodoros).
Some things to remember:
Celebrate small! Completing many small tasks leads to completing a big task, so don’t get discouraged if your research proposal isn’t fully written in one afternoon. Instead, celebrate the literature review you put together as one of the pieces towards the proposal.
It’s OK to move things around! As you start working through your tasks, you may decide that you underestimated the amount of time you needed or had a personal issue that interfered with your work for the week. It’s OK! The long-term plan is meant to be flexible and adjusted over time and the extra time you allotted can account for delays.
It’s OK to take breaks! As graduate students we can sometimes feel guilty about taking time off, since there is so much to get done. It’s important to balance work and personal time.
Good luck with fall semester! Remember that GradFund can help with determining funding options and applying for funding!