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Lessons Learned from the First Semester

Tater tot

Tater tot

So I’ve been planning a catch-up post following the conclusion of my first semester in the doctoral program. All is well… learning and growing… though there are some lessons learned.

Lesson #1: Have a life between semesters. Before the first semester I “studied” things that ultimately didn’t prove relevant. When the semester ended, I made sure I had my textbooks purchased and articles downloaded for this semester, then shifted my focus to my personal life, where I did everything from museum trips to replacing the little bulbs over the stove to tossing files to making gallon batches of bolognese sauce and three-gallon batches of coconut porter. I bought a car. I read a pile of books. I cleaned carpets, updated my office wardrobe, saw movies in a real theater, and had oysters on the Embarcadero with Sandy. And oh right, got married!  That left plenty of time for a reentry period where I could read assigned materials and reflect about the upcoming semester.

Lesson #2: Find pleasure in the process. My pleasure is a) the relationships with other students and faculty, and b) the relationships with others in the research communities, and c) learning in general. When I read something that strikes a chord, I write the author and thank them, and sometimes that sparks an interesting conversation on its own. (This is why I found it odd when a professor at MPOW told me the process was lonely. Writing is a conversation… a very long conversation at that.)

Lesson #3: Cooperate and graduate. Also known as, “It’s all about the tam.” It’s like Officer Training School: there are many times when mine is not to question why (and attending two military training camps in my life has been useful for that lesson). Either the guidance and direction will prove correct in the long run, or it won’t, but it is what it is.

Lesson #4: Take care of my body. It’s physically challenging to work full-time and be a doctoral student. I did everything I could to carve out time for moderate exercise, even if I felt like a zombie on the treadmill. But being sedentary adds up. Two weeks after my last paper I was 5 pounds lighter, thanks to a brief no-carb regimen and overall more activity, and I felt better overall. I suspect that will be a cycle throughout the program. What can I say? The occasional Tater Tot lightens the darkness.

Lesson #5: Don’t mess with Mother Nature. I’ve had all kinds of advice about when to do schoolwork. I’ve tried getting up early (keep in mind I get to work by 7 am), staying up late (9 pm is late for me!), spending one or two weeknights in a coffee shop… what works for me is to slog through work during the week, ensuring I have a minimum of weekend spillover, and then knuckle down over the weekend. I start early and work until almost-dinner, and then I knock off. My body has its own rhythm, and barring the occasional midweek emergency edit, or a second wind on a Wednesday when I can do a couple hours at Starbucks, that’s that.

Lesson #6: Be forthright about my delicate condition. Early in the semester, a respected colleague at another institution with whom I was collaborating on a work-related project began writing me on Saturday mornings, and it became clear the weekend was his preferred time for working on this project. I finally said, I cannot do this on the weekend; that time is now allotted for doctoral studies. He took it in stride. (I think.) I bring my day-job work home when I have to, including the weekend, and I work a full day and then some, but working-as-a-fun-weekend-hobby has ended for me, if it ever existed.

I also let other people know that I’m more tired and less focused than usual. (My boss says PhD stands for “Pooped, Harried, and Distracted.”) They deserve to know what they’re dealing with.

Lesson #7: Throttle back. I was invited to an event marking the 10-year anniversary of the decision on the Children’s Internet Protection Act. I struggled with complicated feelings and turned to a respected colleague who pointed out that I was asking permission not to go. These conflicts are hard for me; I want to be on the dais making references to all the important work I did back in the day. But I have one body, one job, one family, and only so many hours in a day, and I had been given very good advice to Not Take On Anything New (waving at Candy and Jennifer). In the end, not going ensured I had that extra chunk of time, energy, and focus I needed to get to the finish line my first semester — a little early, in fact.

Lesson #8: Retrieve and organize anything remotely useful. Refworks and Dropbox are my dear, dear, DEAR friends. (Dropbox has been for a while.)  I am already reaping the rewards of this discipline.

Lesson #9: Don’t bop around from topic to topic. This is not my personal advice; this comes from nearly everyone I know who has a PhD, or is a doctoral student. Thank you and so noted.

Lesson #10: Librarians rock. There’s this librarian at Simmons who has offered the most amazing help! I consider myself a reasonably decent searcher, but there are times when I hit a wall or need affirmation that I’m in the right direction.  If you can imagine how much a librarians’ librarian needs to know, that’s the kind of resource she is. Thanks, Linda!

 

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3 Comments

  1. mary lou carson wrote:

    muddling through–hope the facebook comment got posted. just want you to know how increedibly proud of you i am.

    Friday, October 11, 2013 at 10:07 am | Permalink
  2. Corin wrote:

    Thank you so much for this! I’m starting a MLIS program part-time next semester while working full-time, and while it’s not as taxing as a PhD program, I have a feeling I will be using these tips to help me cope with the increased work load!

    Friday, October 11, 2013 at 12:45 pm | Permalink
  3. DC.Nerd wrote:

    Crap, now I want tater tots.

    Monday, October 14, 2013 at 11:03 am | Permalink

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    […] The Free Range Librarian covers a variety of topics: her continuing education via a doctoral program, reflections on online instruction and the necessary technology, and the […]

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