Habits of a Successful Graduate Student

Surviving grad school can be a tricky thing to do. You will be faced with a significant amount of road blocks in the 2-8 years that you are in school for. Some of these roadblocks are easy to traverse around while others may be a bit more difficult. But, with a few good habits, you can train yourself to take these head on and be quite successful, or at least survive. Here are 8 Habits that I have found quite useful to have when in grad school.

  1. Stay consistent. Stick to a schedule and try and keep that such as getting to the lab every day at 9 am and staying until 5 pm. By having a routine and sticking with it, you will find getting things done way easier. I stick to being in the lab from 8 am to 6 pm. This gives me enough time to get stuff done and doesn’t have me doing extra work in the evening.
  2. Make time for joy. Remember that life is so much more than your work. Why people say differently is so mind boggling. What do you enjoy doing outside of work? Figure that out and do it after your work day is up. Or, doing it during the work day when your experience are running lol. A grad program can be long but that doesn’t mean that your life stops. Finding joy in your life with increase productivity, I guarantee that,
  3. Exercise. I have a ton of blogs on exercising and how it helps. Stay consistent and exercise often. You will be happier, more energetic, and a much better grad student.
  4. Sleep at a reasonable time. Sleep is as important, if not more, than anything on this list. There are many effects that can occur if you do not sleep enough. Read more about it here.
  5. Learn to motivate yourself and don’t wait to be motivated. There is a great video by Therapy in a Nutshell about motivation. I suggest watching it. Here it is.
  6. Make your bed. You have probably seen this all over the internet. It’s true, making your bed is a great habit to have. Here is a great video to watch that is also extremely motivating. I hope it helps.
  7. Stay off social media. Social media is such a distraction, especially when you don’t want to do work. By learning to stay off of it, you will be more productive, and, to be honest, happier. You can get way more done in a shorter amount of time so you can leave and go do things that bring you joy. This is a habit that I am currently trying to get. It is hard but worth it.
  8. Meditate. Mental health is as important or even more important than physical health. Making this a habit can be the difference between finishing your doctorate/ masters or not. Trust me when I say, meditation is a life saver. Read about how to start here.

These are a few habits that I think will help you finish this journey. Grad school is tough, but with help, you can survive and thrive. I hope you already have some of these habits down or you are willing to try and create these habits. I know they will help you significantly. If you are having trouble getting motivated, I highly suggest taking a look at some of the courses at INeedmotivation.com. Here’s a link to those courses.

Learning to Meditate in Grad School. A Guide for Beginners

So you are stress beyond belief in your studies and you need a way to relax. I guarantee that someone that has noticed your stress has said that you need to exercise and meditate. There’s good reason to bring both of these up because they work. I want to share how I got started with meditation and hopefully it can help you start as well. Here are a 5 pieces of advice will get you started on your journey to enlightenment, or at least stress reduction 🙂

  1. Download the app Headspace. In my last post, I talked about how it is one of the essential apps that I have on my phone. There is a reason for this. I use it everyday to meditate for at least 10 minutes. They have a step by step approach that you will catch on to very quickly. It is a great tool especially when starting off.
  2. Find a quiet place to sit and meditate. Once you have Headspace or if you are using YouTube, Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. This is essential because you need to be as relaxed as you can get. Once you find a place, I recommend sitting or laying down. I find laying down easier, but you are prone to falling asleep, so you can pick whichever way you want to meditate lol.
Meditation, a simple guide for beginners. | by Imed El Mokhtar | Medium

3. Follow the instructions for beginner meditation in Headspace or on YouTube, or really on any meditation app. Here are a few good YouTube meditations that I have used in the past. Meditation 1,2,3,4.

4. Focus on your breathe. This will help to clear out the thoughts that will populate your mind. Focus on your breathe going in and out of your lungs. After a while, you’ll notice that you will go into a very relaxed state. This is where the magic happens. I have experienced all types of weird things at this stage, from colors, to faces popping up, even hearing weird sounds. Just keep in this relaxed state as long as you can.

5. Dedicate at least 20 minutes a day to mediation if you can. I feel that right before lunch is a great time to meditate because after lunch, I know I will fall asleep. Stay consistent and I guarantee you will be a more relaxed person.

Meditation is extremely easy and has amazing benefits. Benefits include:

  1. Reduction of Stress
  2. Anxiety Control
  3. Stronger Emotional Health
  4. Increased Attention Span
  5. Generates Kindness!!!!
  6. Improves Sleep
  7. Reduce Blood Pressure
  8. May Help Control Pain

These are all reasons to start meditation in grad school. You may experience a ton of problems that meditation can help fight against. I took up meditation for anxiety but now I do it to help emotional health. I am a stronger person because of it and way better mentally. If you have any questions about getting started, send an email my way. I can send more information.

**If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, I highly recommend that they seek help. Online-Therapy.com or TalkSpace.com are great ways to reach out to a licensed therapist and get the help needed. Therapy has 100% helped me and I know it can help you.

How I Prevent Panic Attacks

One thing that I, unfortunately, deal with are panic attacks. I can remember my very first one which caused a whole progression of events that led to about 6 months of depression. That panic attack was brought on by pre-workout and way too much stress.

I get panic attacks every so often but they are no where close to the first one I had or the other few that I had prior to therapy. Let me describe to you what it felt like. People often say that it is like having a heart attack. This is 100% true. My heart was racing, I was sweating, my thoughts were going all over the place, and I had the worst anxiety of my life. I honestly thought I was dying, but at the time, I was actually learning a valuable less, how to get help and get healthy. Of course I did was not thinking about that at the moment I was having the attack. In fact, I was having thoughts that were creating more anxiety such as “Will this continue throughout my life? Will I ever recover? Why is this happening to me? What did I do to deserve this?” All thoughts that really didn’t help.

I eventually learned that I needed help and that was one of the best things that I ever for my mental health. If you are like me, you do not want to have panic attacks. This is why I want to share a few ways that I reduce the attacks so I don’t have them nearly as bad.

  1. See a therapist

I want to start off with this because taking advice from a stranger online is not the best way to help with the anxiety you are feeling in life. See someone that is a professional and really dive deeper into why this is happening and what can be done to stop it.

2. Give your panic attack a name

Name your panic attack. Tell it that you don’t want it around and that it is not welcomed. This helps for me, though not as much as other methods that I will discuss.

3. Go outside and just breathe.

This is mindfulness and it will help. What I do is put my phone and electronics as far away from me and I go outside and just take a ton of slow, deep breathes. I will immediately feel a reduction in panic.

4. Do Not Try And Control It

By trying to control the panic attack, you can actually make it worse. I did not know this until my therapist as well as many other therapists from books and videos told me this as well. They say that your body will adjust to what is going on and make it seem less bad the next time you have a panic attack. By trying to control it, you can make the next panic attack stronger and you do not want that,

5. If you can, just go on a jog

A quick run or jog usually tires me out. The racing thoughts do go away when you are running so it helps for the moment. It will also tire yourself out so the panic attack may go away quickly. If you have trouble breathing though, do not do this. Some panic attacks will make you hyperventilate so this method of reduction is not advised

6. Go on YouTube and play lofi music. Then think of a place that you feel secure and comfortable.

Picture your “happy place” and stay there for a bit in your mind. Take a moment to really calm down in your happy place. Mine is in a boat, in the Keys. I go there often.

7. Tell yourself “This, too, shall pass”

It is a good mantra to tell yourself. This moment will pass and you will get through it. You will be a stronger person because of it and you will be ready when or if it happens again.

I use these methods when I have panic attacks. Honestly, they aren’t even panic attacks anymore, more like a bit of heightened anxiety that I have learned to cope with. I promise you that you can get through whatever you re going through, but you need a bit of time. Nothing is wrong with you, we all experience this, but sometimes people experience worse panic attacks than others. You can get through this and anything else that is thrown your way. I hope these methods reduce your panic attacks and I hope you get the help you deserve. Have an amazing day.

**If you or someone you know is suffering from mental health issues, I highly recommend that they seek help. Online-Therapy.com or TalkSpace.com are great ways to reach out to a licensed therapist and get the help needed. Therapy has 100% helped me and I know it can help you.

Writing and Publishing a Literature Review: Grad School Stress

I think one of the most stressful portions of grad school is writing academic papers. You want perfection when all you hear from everyone is “just get it done, it doesn’t have to be perfect.” I hated hearing this because I wanted all of my papers to be perfect., but what even is perfection? That may be another blog post to be honest. This post is about writing a literature review and going in for publication.

I submitted my manuscript to a journal in May, I believe (this year has been weird and my days and months are out of whack). We received comments in June and resubmitted three weeks later. I am waiting to hear back from the editor to see if I will be a published author or not. Hopefully I am.

This blog is about the process of writing such a monster of a paper. I believe I had 65-70 pages at the very end. Probably 30 of those pages were references though. I counted over 200 references when I was finished. Yes, it was a beast and very scary, but you can totally do it and have fun while skimming through articles for hours. Here’s a list of how I went about writing my lit review.

  1. Create a skeleton

You need a basic outline of what you want to include and where sections will go. Remember, literature reviews are trying to bring as much knowledge about a subject into one paper. It needs to have flow and tell a scientific story. What I mean by this is you want to tell the reader why your future research will be important due to a lack of knowledge in the field you are working on. Also, you want the reader engaged since this is a very long chapter of your dissertation. Having an outline will keep the paper organized, it will help you find specific papers to use, and it will make it engaging to the reader.

2. Just write and don’t go for perfection at first

It is much easier to just write than to think about writing. I often put off writing because I think that I can just do it later when I have motivation. I then spend hours or days thinking about the writing I have to do and it’s torture. Don’t do this, just write. This paper is long and you will need to put in time. It’s way easier to write a little everyday than to cram it in last minute and hope that it makes sense. Plus, your first draft will most likely suck. You will re-write sections multiple times and never be satisfied, but at least you wrote something. My first draft was absolute garbage, not going to lie. My adviser worked with me and we managed to turn something that belonged in a landfill into something that (hopefully) belongs in a journal.

3. Read, read, read

When you have all of your sections outlined, you need to start reading a ton of articles. I mean….A TON! I read about everything from lead poising in children, to quantum entanglement. My research deals with lead so how I ended up reading about quantum physics, I don’t know. But seriously, read as much as you can, and if you can, write a summary of the paper. That will help later on when you are looking for stuff to place in your lit review.

4. Be kind to yourself

Some days I would write1500 words in the span of a few hours. Other days, I would only write 200. This is normal!!! Push yourself to do the best you can but be kind to yourself when you don’t hit the crazy goals that you set for yourself. I promise you that you will finish.

5. Have your adviser review prior to submitting

My adviser had to review my paper since this was my very first manuscript to go in for publication. He added sections, subtracted sections, and rewrote quite a bit. After his revisions, it was time to go in for initial publication.

When submitting to a journal, it is extremely wise to determine if the journal you want to submit to will actually take you paper. I did a ton of research and found a decent one to send my review paper to. I will have another blog if/when it gets published. I went online and they have a few websites where you can upload your paper and it will give you recommendations on what journals to submit to. This is what I did and it worked fairly well. Once you find the journal, go on their web page and read everything about that journal. Make sure it has a good impact factor since you want more people to see your manuscript as well as cite it in their papers. These factors will help you get noticed and are great CV boosters. Once you submit, sit back and wait. Usually for literature reviews, you’ll get comments back a bit later. The reviewers usually go through the whole paper and read almost every citation you put in. Mine did at least.

6. Read the comments and reply

My comments were not terrible. I have heard of people reading the comments from their paper and immediately crying because the reviewers just ripped them apart. This probably won’t happen to you, though. So, read the comments, let them sort of digest and then tackle them head first. I would say a vast majority of the comments were dealing with grammatical errors and addition of some more references. If you do get crazy comments, talk with your adviser about how to address those specifically. Sometimes you may have to just fight the reviewer to keep what you have in the paper.

7. Send the comments back and wait.

This is where I am at in the process. I constantly check the journal website for any hope, but I know I need to be patient. I will update all of you when I find out the outcome. It should be any day.

Good luck with your lit review and I hope this somewhat helped. Peace for now

Why I started a Blog

So you might be wondering, “Ben, you are a scientist, not a writer! Why are you blogging?” I’ll tell you why. I am currently in my last year as a grad student and writing has become such an important part of my day that I almost consider myself a writer and not a scientist. I have written paper after paper, hoping to get at least one published. By creating a blog, I am able to hone my writing skills and, hopefully, better convey the science that I am doing.

Writing has been such a great outlet for me as well. I am able to express my emotions through writing and it has helped me significantly drive back anxiety and depression. I put on coffee shop music, sit down, and just write whatever is on my mind. Sometimes, I write scholarly articles/manuscripts. Other times, I just write gibberish and hope that no one sees it. Either way, It has helped to make me feel accomplished as well as helped to keep my attention on something (my attention span is garbage). I have just begun my journey and I hope this leads into something greater. Even if I suck at it, at least I will be proud that I started.

“Dude, sucking at something is the first step to being sort of good at something”-Jake the Dog

Last one for the night.

I feel like a good place to begin is how I stumbled upon the Buddhist Society of Western Australia. I honestly cannot remember why I was looking for Buddhist teachings, but man was this one of the best things for me. Ajahn Brahm is an amazing monk who has extremely powerful stories that teach kindness, compassion, love, and everything in between. I was probably trying to find videos on how to reduce anxiety to be honest, and found his videos on how to reduce anxiety and live life to the fullest. He has been such an influence in most things that I do and how I think about issues. I am a much more optimistic person now that I follow his teachings. I will post a link below to one of his videos. I’ll write more about how he has helped during grad school as well as other videos that I find extremely helpful. 


 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jtq3BQ8da9s&ab_channel=BuddhistSocietyofWesternAustralia