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Life is just so funny. One day, you could be hours deep into work and quite overwhelmed, then the next day is completely empty. This has been quite a normal experience for me while in grad school as well as when I was working full time. It sucks, not because of the work load, but because the days where you don’t have anything to do, can be filled with anxiety. Grad school is very much this way. You can go weeks with non stop work, then, poof, nothing. The days with little work are the worst because you will feel like you “should” be doing work. To that, I say “nay”.
I am currently busy with quite a few experiments. Our research team just got the green light to do more experiments, so we are pretty busy. We also have meetings galore, so that’s fun. I tend to be the go to guy with these experiments. Don’t get me wrong, it makes me feel amazing to be in charge of doing the experiments. This is the reason why I started research, but it can be overwhelming some times. Also, motivating myself to get any work done has been difficult. Caffeine can only get you so far.
For incoming grad students, or grad students that are getting into the bulk of your research, having this ebb and flow of work is normal. Heck, you may have weeks where you never see the sun, but know that this is essential to get you where you want to go. This can be fun too because you learn so much about yourself and you grow as a researcher. Though, it can be hard when there is little to know motivation.
Motivation is a Tricky Thing in Grad School
How the heck do you stay motivated in grad school when you do repetitive things constantly? 5 years of a PhD is a long time and keeping the motivation can be a difficult thing to do. Staying motivated in a master’s program can be tricky too, especially towards the end. So, how do you stay motivated while in in grad school? I have a few ways that may help you keep that motivation. These aren’t always the solution but they may help. They have helped me significantly. You won’t know until you try, right?
Just Do it
I have written about how to motivate yourself (link here and a video here). There are even classes you can do to get more motivation too (here). But the best thing that I have found is to just get started. Lately, motivating myself to do something has been hard. I think of all of the things I have to get done and end up just procrastinating. This causes unwanted anxiety and stress. The best thin to do is start small and motivation will come.
The above figure is from The Subtle art of Not Giving a F*ck. I just listened to it on audio and man was it good. The author describes that motivation is a cycle. Motivation leads to action which leads to inspiration. But also, action leads to inspiration which leads to motivation. You just need to get started and motivation will come.
There will be days where this just doesn’t work, honestly. I have had days where I was super motivated the night before and then I come in and get nothing done. I’ll start my projects and things just don’t get rolling. You have to be patient with yourself and show a bit of compassion. Jut getting started on the motivation train might not how you stay motivated in grad school. You may need an extra boost of motivation.
Maybe take a Course on Getting Motivated
There are plenty of ways to stay motivated. There are actually a ton of courses on the web that you can take that deal with ways to stay motivated. One of my favorites is ineedmotivation.com. They have so many courses that will help you boost motivation as well as stay motivated. I took a few of their courses and they have really helped a lot. Of course, as a grad student, I really couldn’t afford too many courses so I stopped. They helped to get me started but it was up to me to stay motivated. If you are looking for a good course to take, check out this link. It might be the extra boost you need to stay motivated while in grad school.
Make it Fun
Today, I am going to do a ton of work but I am also going to have fun doing it. I have 250 samples to dilute prior to analysis and I think I am going to listen to an audio book while I do it. I have a good list of books to listen to if you are interested. (link here). If I make the task enjoyable then it doesn’t seem like work at all. Grad school work is not physically demanding, but mentally. If you are able to convince yourself that you don’t really need to think while doing the task, you’ll find you have a lot more energy to do it. Make the work fun and have a good time doing it.
I find that motivation is often increased significantly if you make the task fun. Just imagine you have to write your thesis and the last thing you want to do is literally write your thesis. You ca have a negative outlook and that makes the process more difficult, or you can have some fun and make it a game or something. Say, for every 500 words that you write, you get to watch a Netflix show. That’s fun. It is also a really good method to keep you going because of the task and reward system you have going on.
Take Time Away From Grad School
There’s a major problem that occurs n grad school that might be what is causing you to be very unmotivated. That, of course, is burnout. You might be feeling unmotivated because you have done way too much and pushed yourself too hard, for too long. One way that I find best to prevent burnout and keep motivation in grad school is to take time off. Taking a long weekend or even a vacation is one of the best ways to stay motivated and continue on. Time away from what you are doing can be the difference between finishing and not. Trust me, you do not want to lose motivation because of burnout.
Whatever you have to do, just start. Grab a nice big cup of coffee and start. It doesn’t have to be much but at least you will see that you are moving in the right direction. I hope whatever stuff you have is easy and get’s done quickly. Some times just thinking about the project or problem is the hardest part. That is what is going to keep you back from finishing whatever it is that you want to get done. Doing it is the easy part, thinking about it is what is difficult.
I hope you all have an amazing day and week. If you haven’t already, go check out my blog about the best gifts to get a grad student. The link is here. Thanks for reading!
There shouldn’t be any shame nor guilt in the no work days! My body has taught me to not have guilt on such days because those days can be just as valuable! But you’re right: those days can also be anxiety-inducing because it’s out of routine and we have to make decisions on what to do and what not to do which is different from just another work day. If I were an employer, I would require employees take a minimum number of days off so that they could rest guilt free!
Excellent post. I learned a great deal about the lack of motivation in my undergrad students from reading it.
Fantastic post…thank you for sharing!
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