Throughout grad school, I’ve always felt both strongly motivated and completely unmotivated at the same time. It’s a very frustrating way to live. I always have a long list of tasks to complete. Some days, by the end of the day I feel like I haven’t been able to check anything off. Then, on the other hand, I’ll have other days where I check off a zillion things on my list.
You would think that the second set of days are the ones I’m super productive, but that’s not always the case for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t always put everything I need to do on a list. Which then means I don’t necessarily get the satisfaction of checking things off – specifically repetitive activities, like going for a run or writing at 750words. But doing both of these are being productive and accomplishing something. Second, as a grad student you’ll probably find that you spend a lot of time in your head. By that, I mean that often, a lot of progress is made by thinking about your problem and trying to come up with solutions. It’s not all hands on work (unfortunately). This doesn’t count as crossing something off, but I often find that I make some of my biggest discoveries when I’m busy focusing on something else (like going for a run) instead of trying to directly work on my problem.
When it comes to being motivated in the summer, I find it gets much more complicated. You no longer have courses (either to take or as a TA) to help keep judge how the semester is progressing. It’s amazing how having a course to follow keeps you more focused on how time is going by. When you are just “there”, it’s easy to let it get away from you.
One thing that has been working well for me this summer, is having had to redefine my project. It means that I have lots of little tasks to do, as I work on completing the background research I need, and coming up with new avenues to explore. Also, in order to keep on top of everything, I have been having weekly meetings with my supervisor. This has given me lots of short deadlines to work towards. While I would I generally say I’m self-motivated, I find having these hard deadlines is great motivation to stay on top of my work. It also gives me another sense of accomplishment when I can walk out of the meeting feeling like we’ve moved forward from the previous week.
I’ll have to see how this translates over the next couple of months. First, I have a conference coming up, which I’m attaching some vacation travel to. The end of my trip and the start of my supervisors vacation is actually going to overlap. I’m also going to be supervising another student for part of the summer. So, at that point, I’m going to have to work on enforcing my own short deadlines.
How do you stay motivated throughout the summer? Especially when the weather is shouting “come out and enjoy?” (Not that that’s happening here, as I listen to rain pound my window.)