Lana Yarosh shared her with us 5 practices (developed through much trial and error) that helped her stay happy in grad school:
- Pick a good conference in your field and go to it every year (including your first year, even if you have to pay for it out of pocket) — when there were times that I thought about quitting (and there were those times), a conference has always brought me the energy, the influx of new ideas, and the wonderful people that I needed to get back in gear. My two chosen conferences are CHI (Human Factors in Computing) and IDC (Interaction Design and Children).
- Avoid “time shifting” whenever possible — time shifting is when you end up shifting something you need to do today to another day in order to do some piece of work (e.g., “I’ll sleep tomorrow,” “I’ll get in touch with my advisor some other day, today I need to focus on this paper,” etc.). In my experience, time shifting only makes me more stressed out and less productive in the long run. If you need to skip this conference deadline and try for another, then maybe that’s the thing to do.
- Get to know the people in your program — these folks are not only great to get to know as friends, but also will likely be your colleagues in the years to come. Also, they can commiserate with anything that you’re currently facing so they’re a great source of social support.
- Have a routine that includes all of the things that are important to you — make a list of what is important to your happiness and make sure that you get a chance to do these things. My list includes things like swimming, hanging out with friends, exploring new places, reading for fun, and yes, research. You may have to set boundaries to make sure that the important things actually make it on your schedule, but it’s totally worth it to your overall level of happiness. I once told my advisor that I would not do certain types of academic activities because it would interfere with my work/life balance. He wasn’t happy at first, but later on accepted it and even said he admired me sticking to my guns on this (but, do pick your battles).
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help — when you’re struggling or need something, ask for it. I hate asking for help, but I basically went crazy when I tried to handle everything myself. I’ve gotten help from my advisor, my committee members, my lab mates, my roommates, my extended academic family, my biological family, people I’ve met at CoC Happy Hour, and professionals (the Counseling Center at Georgia Tech is free for students, may be the same at your school). Don’t be afraid of looking lame. Sometimes you have to decide whether you want to save your face or your ass and the choice should be clear.
At the end of the post, he mentioned that
For me, I’m more productive when I’m happy. So, when I plan to “swim, do 8 hours of work, and have dinner with friends,” I actually get a lot more done than when I plan to “work for the next 16 hours.” And, I’m immeasurably happier.
This is really what I want!!!
Something is worth learning ahead of time: from the post
A real-time skill is something you need for live performance. If you’re going to speak French, you have to memorize a large number words before you need them in conversation. Looking up every word in a English-French dictionary as needed might work in the privacy of your study, but it would be infuriatingly slow in a face-to-face conversation. Some skills that we don’t think of as being real-time become real-time when you have to use them while interacting with other people.
More subtle than real-time skills are what I’m calling bicycle skills. Suppose you own a bicycle but haven’t learned to ride it. Each day you need to go to a store half a mile away. Each day you face the decision whether to walk or learn to ride the bicycle. It takes less time to just walk to the store than to learn to ride the bicycle and ride to the store. If you always do what is fastest that day, you’ll walk every day. I’m thinking of a bicycle skill as anything that doesn’t take too long to learn, quickly repays time invested, but will never happen without deliberate effort.