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Planning for the summer

March 9, 2014

This post may sounds a little premature to some of you. After all, it’s only March, we *just* changed the clocks and there’s still snow on the ground. However, before you know it summer will be on us and things will be happening! Things! Exciting things! But in order to ensure you get said “things” done, you need to take a critical look at your life and prepare.

“It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations, if you live near him.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Gandalf is right!

To start, get a calendar. I’m a big fan of Google Calendar because I use multiple devices – my phone, desktop(s), a laptop and an iPad, and this automagically sync’s everything between them. As a result no matter what I’m using, I can check my schedule. However, I know others prefer a planner or agenda made of dead trees. Each their own. I find the latter too easy to lose. I’m assuming most of you have some sort of time management system, but if not, there’s no time like the present to start.

After this, start planning our your summer. Think of conferences you’re going to, events you know you have to attend (weddings, parties, concerts, whatever), and write all of those down. If there was one thing that changed between undergrad and graduate school for me, it’s that everyone got married and started having kids. Suddenly, hanging out with people became scheduled between naptime and bathtime. Granted, that sounds a lot like first year, but lets stay on track here.

Now the tricky part. Start thinking about how long everything will take to prepare. Say you’ve got a conference starting Monday May 26th where you’re presenting a poster? Great. First off, you want to make sure your poster is printed by the Friday beforehand – May 23rd. In order to ensure this happens, you want to give the print shop at least 3 days, to account for any unforseen delays on their end. This brings you back to May 20th. Now, you want to make sure your supervisors have approved the poster. Lets assume it’ll take them a week to do that – May 13th. Great. So you need a (close to) final copy of your poster sent to your supervisors by May 13th. But you have to do some analysis before then, and then create the poster. That can take another 2 weeks or so, which means you have to start this process on April 29th, in order to be able to present on May 26th.

Ah! But if you have a plan Bilbo, you can run off off into the blue!

So that example is an “ideal” case, where you have lots of time to prepare, and things go off without a hitch. Many of you might be reading this and thinking that there’s no way you’d spend that much time on a poster. But very rarely will things occur in isolation – while you’re working on that poster, you’ll also be writing up manuscripts, collecting data and possibly teaching or supervising summer students. In that case, you want to make sure that you know what is due when, and that you don’t miss important milestones to avoid last minute panic.

But what if it’s not a poster? What if it is your thesis defence? If your supervisor is away for the entire month of August, then you either defend in July, or September. You need to plan for that. This becomes exponentially more difficult if you have multiple supervisors (especially if they travel a lot in the summer), and at the PhD level is a nightmare because you are at the mercy of your supervisor, your secondary supervisor, your examining committee and anyone else who has to be there. As a result, you have to start planning this well in advance if you hope to defend by a certain date.

The advantages of planning your summer now are numerous. For one, you can start looking into flights, transportation and accommodation for any conferences you’re going to. In addition, it can give you a concrete idea of what you need to do, and when you need to do it. As a result, you set a series of “microgoals” that you can use to gauge your progress through your project(s), which has the dual benefit of keeping you on track and keeping you motivated through small victories.

In addition, being on top of tasks will mean you can deal with things as they come up both good and bad. If the weather is nice and people want to go to Sandbanks for the day? Sure! Go for it! You know you have time.

I’M GOING ON AN ADVENTURE!

Have a great rest of the semester, and happy Spring!

This was also published on Gradifying

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