A Fall-but-really-it’s-Winter Update.

We’ve had snow already this year, but last night’s snowfall is the first to cause snowbanks to form, shovelling to commence, and the winter boots to really be put on. And, so the calendar tells me, Christmastime is close.

Since I am not in coursework anymore, I don’t have final end of semester deadlines this term. The pro is that I get to keep on keepin’ on without pressure to complete specific items. The con is that without massive deadlines, I can’t seem to justify rewarding myself with a break over the season where many people are taking a break.

I’m okay with the lack of deadlines the PhD environment comes with, and I’m also okay with the keepin’ on with my regular work. But this brings about a different challenge – when are you allowed to “reward” yourself with a break? Graduate students (and, generally speaking, academics) have to enforce their own work deadlines and keep on top of their own productivity. And, since we don’t have specific vacation allowances for time put in, as most other people who work in regular jobs do, when should you allow yourself a break?

This is a question my PhD colleagues wrestle with all the time. I’ve witnessed many different strategies of how and when to take a break. Some people take a break when they feel like it, and cram work in when they are up against a deadline. Or, some people mimic the working world by putting consistent daily time in and breaking over the holidays when others in their life are taking their holidays. Or, maybe, some people don’t ever really take a “break” because it’s hard to delineate time “off” from time “on.”

So, without really having a plan of what to do (or how to justify a break of some kind), I’m trying to create my own in-term deadline so that when I reach it, I will take a (hopefully) deserved break, that hopefully coincides with the upcoming season.

That’s my (holiday) plan, and I’m sticking to it.

Happy Holidays!

A Fall Update.

It seems that a “summer update” didn’t actually make it to the internet; my bad. This summer was a roller coaster ride of house-renovations, PhD comprehensive exams, and a bit of fun, here and there.

Now that it’s officially the fall – in both seasonality and school semester – things are ramping up and the mood around Kingston has shifted. For me, the start of the semester was quiet, and low-key, a distinct change from the last two falls, where I began a masters degree (2012) and then my PhD (2013). With comps finishing right at the beginning of the semester, I was ready for a break.

There’s nothing stranger than vacationing when everyone else is hard at work; I guess it’s like and accountant taking a vacation in the middle of tax season. It’s guilt-ridden and looks selfish. But, I know it’s necessary to take a break after a long stretch of hard work. Rest is crucial to pressing on with more work, and I firmly believe in rewarding myself, when appropriate.

The task at hand is now a more complex one – and it’s one that every PhD student faces at this point – how do you accomplish all of the things you need to accomplish when you have all of the time in front of you and absolutely no structure imposed upon you?

I’m a self-professed scheduler, plan-maker and organizer with professional years in project management and event management, so I know I have skills that will help me out. But, much of what I need to produce involves copious amounts of writing. When people think about academics, they don’t always think of them as “writers” but, believe me, we’re all in the same boat, and writing a lot take a lot of time.

So I’ll press on, making plans and scheduling my time, and working towards productivity. After all, the work is really just beginning.

See you later in the fall (I hope).

Thoughts on Grad School, take 6 (aka I finished my master degree!)


One week ago today, I completed my master degree.


It was a true race to the finish line (which was slightly self-imposed, but also came with a tuition rebate for the month of August), and even though my advisor and I worked back and forth for many hours over the last few days before the submission deadline, all the hard work is worth it to get to the finish line.

But really, I’m at the beginning of another start line: in September I become a 2nd year PhD student, as this past year counts as both my master degree and year 1 of the PhD program. Exciting times ahead!

Here are a few summary thoughts on the process I’ve gone through in the last 11 months:

1. My writing has changed significantly. I’m not implementing all of those changes here, (*ahem* passive vs. active voice), but how I construct my thoughts and get words on the page is significantly different, eleven months later. I recognize that my writing is stronger, more developed and my overall voice is closer to the academic style that is required.

2. Criticism 101. Learning how to handle criticism is something every young working (or studying!) individual has to learn, and it’s hard. It’s often a harsh experience to receive criticism, and also difficult to avoid taking things personally. I know this, because I’ve been there in many of my previous roles. However, all that wonderful practice has opened up my ability to see criticism for what it really should be: constructive help to make your ideas better. I love getting feedback and I thrive on making my work better and better, and I don’t mind receiving other relevant opinions on my work; in fact, I welcome it.

3. Idle time. I’ve always been a very busy person. I like having places to go, people to see, and things to do. But, this past summer really opened my eyes to the idle time syndrome that is part of graduate level education and work. Once classes are over (for the summer, or for good), you have to buckle down and do the work, among a very flexible and wide open amount of time.  At first, I didn’t know how to cope with the lack of activities etc, but after three months of learning to adapt and thrive, I look forward to moving through my final year of coursework to a more open and free-form schedule. Idle time doesn’t mean wasting time, but it does mean learning how to be efficient and effective with the gift of time that is flexible. 

So for the next few weeks I’m moving apartments (more to come on this!), moving offices (hello, PhD!), and preparing for the fall semester. I’ll take some time off to enjoy a few novels and check out the Wolfe Island Music Festival this weekend, too.

Stay tuned for more details, as well as the return of five things on Monday!

Thoughts on Grad School, take 5.

The spring/summer semester is well underway and that means nice weather and lots of free time. I mean…. lots of unstructured time with plenty of work to do, but way less stress (for now, at least).

I made it through two challenging semesters, read more than 250 academic papers (I have the paper cuts to prove it), and am still looking forward to next fall when I continue on as a PhD student.

What else have I noticed since my last post on grad school? Well, here are a few insights:

1. Research doesn’t always work the way you want it to. In fact, it hardly ever works as you expected it to. It’s initially very exciting to run a study or experiment, and then is promptly followed up by a deep sense of disappointment when you start running the data through SPSS.

2. Without a schedule, without focus. I thought I’d want more freedom to my daily routine, but it seems that I really prefer my early wake-up time followed by getting to the office at a reasonable time. I put in my time and by mid to late afternoon I bugger off to others things, feeling better that I’ve at the very least tried to do something productive. As they say, there’s always tomorrow.

3. It’s a ghost town as soon as the undergrads leave. Better watch out for your advisor, as they might become scarce as soon as the undergrads depart. I’m pretty luck in the sense that my advisor is clear about his schedule and is pretty good at making time several times a week, but sometimes they vanish into the night just as the students seem to do.

4. You have no excuses not to be productive. This is the hardest part; you have no reason not to be as effective as possible because you’ve been given the gift of time and freedom to complete your research. There really are no excuses for not completing (your project/degree/program etc) on time.

5. Vacation / Stat holidays quickly lose their meaning. I remember getting so excited for a long weekend when I was a full-time professional – it was the best reward to know you had a four-day week ahead of you. But, in the world of academia where holidays can be taken as you please (you can interpret this in a variety of ways), every day can either feel like a vacation day or a work day or some nasty hybrid of the two. Setting goals and sticking to a schedule helps. As does having a bf/gf that lives in the “real” world with a “real” job. At the very least they’ll remind you when it’s time to take a break!

For previous “grad school” posts, see 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Some BIG news.

This time last year I found out that I’d be heading back to school full-time in the fall and I patiently kept things under wraps for a few months.

However, this time around, I’m eager to share my next piece of news because it both feels right and I’ve actually been talking pretty openly about this for a while now.

I’m thrilled to tell you that I am advancing both my education and my career by – yes, you may have guessed it – embarking on a PhD this fall!

I guess this is big news in the sense of making a three or four (or five?…) year commitment, but it’s probably also no surprise to some folks who’ve known a PhD has been on my radar as early as a year ago.

I’ll be staying on at Queen’s and in September I’ll be a 2nd year PhD student (yes, my Masters counts as year 1 – BONUS!) and I’m so, so, SO excited to keep on trucking.

Wish me luck!

Thoughts on Grad School, take 4.

It’s been a while since I updated you on the goings on of grad school.

Kingston is finally warming up, albeit slowly. And, with the onset of spring, plans for spring and summer are starting to materialize, and I have some really fun things to look forward to! (Anyone else thinking Osheaga this August, too??)

The winter semester is all but three weeks away from being complete, and I have a ton left to do before April ends and it’s onto my masters project full-time. Let’s hope I make it to the end of the semester in one piece.

Here are a few new thoughts on grad school.

When my mentor asks about my progress on my thesis #whatshouldwecallgradschool

1. You actually end up falling in love with the library at some point.

I said early on in the year I didn’t know how to use the library, and that at 26 years of age, I finally learned how to navigate the academic library. Then I told you I actually borrowed books from the library. The new news is that I’ve become a bit of a book hoarder! I now love seeking out a hardbound volume at the library and I even know where to find things faster the more I visit. I don’t always love lugging the heavy books around, but oh those books. <3.

2. You love the money for TA’ing, but loathe having to do the actual TA’ing. 

I actually enjoy grading, most of the time. Of course it always comes in waves when you have tight deadlines or other things going on, but let me assure you that it is really satisfying to read a good report or paper and as a result be able to give a great grade! Conversely, it really sucks to give someone a bad grade. The money is great (hello, unionization) and, contrary to popular belief, I find TA’ing pretty fun in a nerdy/privilege kind of way.

3. Your relationship with your supervisor is like a fine wine. 

It gets better with age.

It’s also probably fair to compare your relationship with your supervisor with something else: a racetrack. Full of twists and turns along the way.

4. You dream of the summer semester for the free time it will obviously afford you. 

Kidding! We all know there is going to be a ton of work to do come May, but we all secretly plan to read non-academic books by the lake while soaking up the sun and spending our evenings on patios.

We’ll see how that pans out….

(For previous “thoughts on grad school” posts, click for 12, and 3).

What’s your ideal work day?

Home Office

Home office


School office

Have you ever thought about what it’d be like to do whatever you want every day (at work)?

This week I’m on a reading break (No class! Woo!) and I’ve been able to experiment with how I spend my time each day. I’m always trying to figure out the most effective way to schedule my time and prioritize my tasks to be as effective as possible. And, the beauty of being a graduate student is that most of my time is in my control. Of course, I still have to meet with professors and schedule time to perform TA duties (in class and outside of class), but most of my time is my own. I’m pretty lucky. But, sometimes the lack of structure can have a crippling effect: where are you supposed to start?

For most people, their day-to-day activities are more or less controlled by where they work, and what the boss’s expectations are. But, if you did have the flexibility or freedom to do whatever you wanted, how would you organize your work day?

Would you sleep late and work late, or rise early and get done as quickly as possible?

Would you want to work in a quiet or a loud space? Coffee shop or home office?

More and more people are able to control what their workday looks like.

Maybe you have a more flexible start/end time. Maybe you can work remotely when you have big projects on the go, or perhaps your main office is in another location, so you always work from home. Maybe you go to the gym on a longer lunch break.

For the vast majority of professionals, some elements of choice are now baseline expectations in establishing what type of work environment any individual wants. The way we measure productivity, especially in the business of services, is constantly evolving. More and more managers are of the “get it done right and well, and I don’t care when it got done” mentality, and I know that’s good for morale.

Personally, I’m a bit of a traditionalist.

I like going into the office around the same time, and having a consistent schedule, day-to-day. I sometimes work from home when I have a large project on the go, or need some time to think things through without interruptions.This week I’ve been working from home in the mornings and going into the office for the afternoons. It’s a nice way to build a break into the day and also make sure that I keep my effectiveness up by changing up my environment.

I guess I’m not all that different from most 9-5 professionals, but I like knowing my time is my own.

So, what does your ideal work day look like?