your dissertation is as important as your dog.

I just wrapped up a two week course for graduate students on effective and engaging teaching in the social sciences and humanities. The first day of class, as we talked about issues we’d like to cover over the session, one student asked how to ensure that teaching doesn’t take up all her time so that she can actually finish her dissertation.

I outlined my core belief when it comes to teaching (don’t reinvent the wheel) and a handful of strategies I had discovered worked well for work-life balance in general: have a strict schedule and clearly outlined goals, and be sure to block out time for your non-student self.* I made an off-hand remark about how, in my research on graduate students, I found that students with children were much better at all three of those things than students without, but particularly the last one, because they felt they had a good excuse for “turning off” their grad student role.

The student who originally asked the question piped up, “Oh, I get that. I’m great at calling it a day to go take care of my dog.” I asked her to pretend, for just a moment, that her dissertation was as important as her dog. If she could stop herself from writing too many comments on her students’ papers or tweaking the reading list again or over-preparing for the next day’s lectures because she knew she had to go home to take her dog out, surely she stop herself from doing all those things because she had to take care of her own research.

Bottom line: Setting aside time for your research while you’re teaching isn’t neglecting your students, it’s taking care of you and your career (and ensuring you can still afford dog food when you finish your PhD).

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*It can be tough, because of all the immediate reinforcement that teaching and the classroom provides, but as Jeremy illustrates, anything (including research or ones dissertation) can be turned in to a game that offers similar psychological incentives.


9 thoughts on “your dissertation is as important as your dog.”

  1. I was thinking of it the other way around. If only the dissertation would pee all over everything and chew up furniture if it was neglected for even a few hours too long, it’d be much more assured of daily care…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m suffering from the lack of a “like” button. As Jeremy noted soon after his return, FB has me well socialized.

      I’m sure both would help make work more of a priority, whether it’s negative or positive reinforcement that ultimately accomplished it.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a student with kids, and while I agree that we are better to block out time for our non-student selves, we such at making time for ourselves — not our family selves, but individual selves.


      1. I agree whole-heartedly, Dr. Mama Esq. I wrote more about being a grad school parent here. In the same way that neglecting your research for your students isn’t doing you any favors, you can’t neglect yourself (or your relationship) for your kids. This is one of the things that Oprah used to drive home show after show that I’m afraid has been lost in the post-Oprah generation. Although Ellen does have a lot of people dancing, which grad students could also benefit from more of…


  3. I’m responsible for digging into the settings and turning on likes for comments. They were already on for posts. But now I’m going to find out how to turn off getting an email every time somebody likes what I said.

    Liked by 3 people

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