Time Management Tips for Entomology Graduate Students
By Ramandeep Kaur Sandhi
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series contributed by the ESA Student Affairs Committee. See other posts by and for entomology students here at Entomology Today.
Graduate school provides an exciting opportunity to learn and enhance your professional and other soft skills while attaining an advanced degree in your field. However, graduate school can become really challenging and overwhelming when students struggle to meet the difficult demands of their degree programs in addition to their personal obligations. Being a graduate student takes a lot of work every day, and then there is always more to do the next day. Some common challenges in graduate school include balancing work and personal life, the unpredictability of work, procrastination, incompetence issues, and motivational barriers. We can develop certain time management habits that can prepare us to make every day less stressful and a productive one. I would like to share what has worked well for me, as a graduate student in entomology.
Use a Calendar
Use your smartphone or the old-fashioned method of writing on a paper to plan your activities in an organized way. A planner provides a reminder of important events and deadlines to decide how to effectively control your schedule and accomplish your tasks on time. While filling out your planner, include your research work hours, school assignments, professional obligations, weekend activities, and exercise time.
Prioritize Your Work Tasks
Prepare a daily to-do list and a weekly and monthly schedule including all the major exams, assignments, papers, and meetings. Figure out how much time you want to spend on individual tasks to successfully and effectively finish them. Stick to your plans. If you have planned to start a task by 9:00 a.m., there should be no excuse for starting that task at 9:15 a.m. Learn to honor your schedule and stick to it. Some days at work are long for completing all the planned things and you may feel very tired at the end of the day. Spend time with your family or friends to relax on these nights. Similarly, work on longer tasks such as writing a manuscript on less busy days.
Use Your Time Wisely
Plan the day ahead while driving to school or your laboratory. Similarly, you can review the class notes or proofread your assignments while sitting on a bus or train or waiting for a class. Sometimes, only 15 minutes can be enough to organize your day effectively and get started on the major task for that day. Some people (like myself) are morning people. If you’re a morning person, keep some hours in the morning to study. You may have some friends who are night owls and more productive in evenings, and that may work for them. Personally, I do not work a lot during weeknights, keeping that time for exercise and relaxation, and I keep part of my weekend free for lab work and writing manuscripts. Follow a pattern depending on your body clock and figure out the best time with high energy levels to deal with challenging tasks.
One of the other consequences of stress in graduate school is an “I don’t feel like doing it” mindset. Push yourself and just get started on a task even though you are not motivated. Eventually, you will be into it and get it done.
Learn to Say No Occasionally
The habit of multitasking to accomplish so many things at one time can put you through a lot of pressure. You may have strong determination and be smart, hardworking, and dependable, but it can become really difficult for all of us to manage many things together at certain times. Learn to turn down some opportunities to focus more on the most important tasks and your long-term goals.
Work in Groups Occasionally
Sometimes, working together with fellow graduate students can help you effectively complete a given task. My friends and I meet twice a month to discuss our research, dissertations, and classwork, and we review our statistics class assignments together, which helps us learn more from each other and be more efficient.
Be Disciplined to Avoid Distraction
Different social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn can consume a good amount of your time and make you procrastinate more and more. Try to limit your social networking and use certain browser extensions (for example, RescueTime and Strict Workflow) to track your time on busy days and be more productive.
Motivate and Reward Yourself
Try to figure out the things that motivate you to avoid procrastination. Engage in the whole process of research work, writing, and publishing results rather than just aiming for the end result. For example, instead of thinking about developing a perfect manuscript or proposal, first focus on improving your writing slowly by preparing smaller outlines and earlier drafts. Give yourself small breaks to refresh your mind. While writing my dissertation, I enjoyed going on hikes with my friends to clear my mind, and that helped me to focus more on the dissertation.
Engage in Self-Care and Follow a Healthy Lifestyle
Be kind to yourself and do not get disappointed if something goes wrong. Take some time off for self-care and socialize occasionally to avoid exhaustion. Being in graduate school, all of us have sacrificed our sleep at certain times. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle (eating healthy, exercising, and getting good sleep) is necessary to have the energy to remain physically and mentally strong and get all the tasks done.
Balance Your Work and Personal Life
It is important to know how happy and content you are in your life outside of graduate school. Maintaining balance between graduate work and personal life is very important to avoid stress and sustain relationships with family and friends throughout the program. During stressful times of qualifying and comprehensive exams and thesis writing, having family fun time can greatly help in de-stressing.
Overall, everybody has their own way to keep themselves motivated during the overwhelming work of graduate school. Figure out what works best for you as you learn to manage your time.
Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Lina Bernaola, Ph.D., for her valuable comments for improving this article.
Ramandeep Kaur Sandhi got her B.S. and M.S. in entomology from Punjab Agricultural University in India and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Montana State University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.