I was asked at the beginning of December if I’d like to contribute to the English blog’s “A Week in the Life of a Grad Student,” and here it is the end of February and I’m just getting to writing it. I’d like to say this is because of an unbelievable work ethic that I possess but, in reality, the truth has something to do with a problem I’m sure most grad students can relate to: procrastination. We don’t mean to be this way. We just are. But here I am now, finally taking the time to write this down. I’ve enjoyed the previous entries in this series (Jen, Phil, Masa). If you haven’t read those yet, please do so, as I’m sure they’ll be exponentially more useful than what you’re about to read. Nevertheless, here’s how my week usually shakes down.
This semester I am teaching Engl 247: Pop Culture & American Literature. I teach three days a week; because of this, a good chunk of my time is devoted to being in the classroom, preparing lecture notes, and holding office hours (but let’s be honest, students rarely take advantage of those). The morning that I teach I usually prepare class notes or re-read the lecture notes I’ve already written. I need to feel prepared before I teach, especially since I like to run the class as a discussion, without having to refer to lecture notes. My preparation helps that immensely.
My days are usually pretty consistent. I am in my office at the school by 8:30am every morning. I have to come in to the office. At home there’s videogames, guitars, food, and a cat. How can you work with all that great stuff constantly calling out to you? The office is conducive to work. There are no windows, harsh lighting, and pretty much no external stimuli. There’s still the internet and the constant struggle to remind myself to close the browser, stop wasting time, and get down to business. I’ve been pretty successful in doing so, I’m happy to say. I write at least 2 pages of my dissertation a day, but often I write more. I don’t allow myself to get stuck in the research trap of the PhD; there will always be another book or article to read, and you have to admit to yourself that you can’t read it all. I force myself to write. It might not be pretty, it might not be articulate, and it certainly isn’t poetry, but it’s words on a page, material to shape and model during the editing phase. My dissertation writing is done through brute force, in other words. I cannot allow myself to get caught up in the fine details of perfection.
I usually work pretty consistently until about 2pm and then after that, depending on the day, things can go off the rails. Socializing keeps us sane, of course, and I would be remiss if I didn’t recognize my friend and colleague Jesse Hutchison in this. Our offices are across from one another, and we usually hang out and talk for at least 30 minutes a day. Usually we’ll eat lunch together too, often watching a TV show or something when doing so. We rant to each other, we argue, we agree. It’s a good friendship and it certainly helps me get through the day or the week. These moments are important. We can’t work every waking minute of every day. Of course there are meetings (quick shoutout to FirstPersonScholar.com, of which I’m an editor) and various English events that come up here and there, as well, but I still try to keep the same work ethic and schedule.
I’ve been lucky in that I’ve been able to keep a Monday through Friday, 9-5 type of schedule. My evenings are reserved for spending time with my friends and my fiancé, doing my best to not bring my work home with me. I treat the PhD like a job, and I think this has also helped me manage my time and expectations throughout. Spending time with those I care about provides a welcome relief from the days at the office, with my face buried in books. In this same vein, I make sure to give enough time to my hobbies: music, videogames, and writing. I don’t want to be swallowed up by my work. It’s important to me to not let the PhD define who I am.