Notes From a Writer's Desk: Jumping into Spring
Winter break may be a good time to reflect and recharge, but setting a plan for the spring can be challenging, no matter what stage you have reached in your graduate work. Let’s face it: “spring” term is something of a cruel misnomer. Much of the term takes place in the dead of winter, when days are cold and dusk envelops us painfully early. But here’s the optimist’s perspective: as winter goes on, the days actually get longer. There is light at the end of the term! That doesn’t mean, however, that you should simply wait around for things to happen. Be proactive about setting goals and about finding a schedule that works for you. Here are a few tips from the FWC staff to help you jump into the new term.
It’s likely that you’ve had little contact with your advisor over winter break, but maintaining face time is important to the advisor-advisee relationship. Whether you are still in course work, dissertating, or anywhere in between, make it a point to meet with your advisor as early as possible to reflect on your progress and discuss your goals for the new term. Their schedules, like yours, will only get busier, so now is a perfect time to talk. And try to set up a regular meeting time while you’re at it, keeping in mind concrete goals to work toward as you think ahead to those future meeting points.
Setting goals is an important part of the research and writing process. Some people are comfortable with large, more nebulous goals (e.g., write chapter, finish article, prepare conference presentation). Others prefer to compartmentalize these larger goals, breaking down major writing and research projects into sections, thematic focus areas, and other concrete tasks. This approach can offer a system of accountability for you to follow, as it compels you to establish more frequent deadlines that can coincide with known obligations, including meetings with your advisor. It can also provide an opportunity to track your steady progress throughout the process, offering a sense of accomplishment as you achieve each benchmark goal instead of just at the end of the project.
As you set goals or take stock of your work responsibilities, try to prioritize YOU time. Reflect on whether your balance of work versus play in the fall was productive and fulfilling for you. And this semester, consider leaning into leisure. Besides setting boundaries on your work time, you could try pursuing a new hobby or checking out some classes offered by Harvard Recreation or the Center for Health and Wellness.
Be unapologetic about advocating for yourself. No one else will protect your time for you, so put your professional and personal needs first. As a once self-professed night owl, I now swear by regular morning writing blocks. Make meetings with yourself to plan (and actually do) the research and writing you need to advance professionally. Make those meetings with yourself—the ones for your work goals—the most important meetings of your week. Ask questions. Ask for what you need. Set limits. Say “no” to busywork and unpaid labor. Cultivate relationships with a well-rounded support team of faculty, peers, informal mentors, and non-academics.
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