November 18, 2013

10 Ways to Foster Happiness and Productivity in Graduate School


My poor, neglected chronicle has been dormant for far too long. I still have quite a few photographs and stories of my adventures abroad, but would like to first reinvigorate this forum by means of a transition from a travel-like blog to a chronicle about games, medieval studies, and academia. In a way, this post is about coping with transitions, of staying happy and productive during uncertain times.

For most of my PhD experience so far I have encountered little stress; folks sometimes wonder how that can be the case. I had tremendous amounts of anxiety during my MA (2007-2008), which eventually led to burnout and 1.5 years working outside grad school. When I returned to pursue a PhD (2010), I vowed to make the experience as fun and stress-free as possible. I have certainly had stressful moments over the past three years, but most of them have been fleeting or had to do with situations beyond PhD work proper. Recently, a friend was sharing his experience with the all-too-common slump that most of us endure when we transition from course work to comprehensive exams and the dissertation. Indeed, a large number of students, suddenly faced with the daunting task of going through a rigourous comp exam and a 200-page study, withdraw from their program. Others fall into depression. Still other candidates become completely paralyzed and may go for months without writing (or, hyper-focusing on teaching). No matter where you are in the process, there are strategies you can do to help alleviate some of the anxiety, stress, and feelings of inadequacy. I have listed below ten strategies I use to keep myself focused, motivated, and, for the most part, happy. Whether you are just starting out or are in the last stages of your dissertation and feeling overwhelmed, may they bring you some relief and encouragement!

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March 2, 2013

London, thou art the flour of Cities all

After roughly seventeen hours of travel, I have finally arrived in London. The title of this post, which belongs to the sixteenth century poem “To the City of London” often ascribed to the Scottish makar William Dunbar (b. 1460), describes my experience well so far (though I think Vancouver, like many other wonderful urban centres around the world, presents an admirable rival for being “Soveraign of cities”). Indeed, London has proven to be a most welcoming and inviting city; I have chatted with quite a few folks on the streets, shared a glass of wine and good conversation with my new flatmates, and had a few people not only help me find my way around labyrinthine Paddington station, but also carry my heavy luggage bag up an entire flight of stairs. The immigration officer, an older gentleman, didn’t even ask me any questions at the border. Upon hearing I was a PhD student, the officer immediately perked up and revealed he had also once been a PhD Candidate (and then proceeded to reminisce about his long-abandoned PhD dissertation on a modernist Swiss writer).

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