It's time for the annual New Year posting. Last year, I talked about the potential power of affirmations -- in the sense of thinking about concrete goals you hope to accomplish for the year. This year, I'll work in the same theme, but I'll be a bit more specific, and specifically for graduate students.
Now is a good time for graduate students to ask themselves some important questions:
1) If you're planning on graduating this coming semester (or the end of summer), what do you need to do to get there? Do you have a timeline -- with a few extra weeks of padding for unforeseen delays or writer's block? Are you on top of your job search? What can you do to make the thesis and job search go more smoothly? (Hint -- how can you make things easier on your advisor, faculty readers, letter-writers, etc.?)
It's a challenging and scary time -- but you can and will do it, and graduating will feel good. Very, very good.
2) If you're not graduating this year, are you ready to commit to graduating next year? Now is a great time to talk to your advisor and plan what needs to be done to get you out the door within 18 months. (Almost surely your advisor will be thrilled to see such initiative -- even if they don't think you're ready...)
There's an old saying that there's two types of students -- those who are 6 months from graduating and those who are 2 years+ from graduating. The point is that it's mindset -- when you start thinking you're ready to graduate, you'll start moving toward graduating. Are you ready to start thinking that way?
3) If you're early on in the process, what can you do to make this year a good one? Perhaps you can start a collaboration with someone somewhat outside your area -- generally a good experience -- through a class project this semester or by just talking to people about what they're up to. Figure out ways you can talk to people beside your advisor, like going to seminars or serving as a "grad student host" for visitors. Also, now is the time to be applying for summer internships.
4) Finally, if you've found yourself struggling with graduate school, and wondering if you've made the right choice, now is the time for some careful thinking. Think about what you want, possibly talk about it with friends and colleagues -- and then talk to your advisor. Maybe you and your advisor can come up with a plan to make things better. Or maybe you're better off leaving (with a useful Master's Degree), and now is the right time to look for jobs and finish off remaining projects before the end of the academic year. It can be much better to ponder this all now rather than wait until summer nears and realize your options are limited.
Whatever you're up to, I wish you all a happy, healthy, successful 2010.