Staying motivated in research is hard…

Well, summer is over and the school year has once again begun. We’re all back to the grindstone balancing classes, research, TA-ing, perhaps job-searching, and of course, life. How many times do you find yourself on news sites, Reddit, Facebook, or other sites during the day? How about staring blankly at your computer screen?

Often times it can be difficult to stay motivated and accomplish the research tasks that you know you need to accomplish in order to inch ever closer to graduation. This is particularly true if research is all that you’re doing and not taking classes at the same time. I saw an article on this very topic of staying motivated and thought I would share/summarize its points as well as provide a few more tips of my own.

(1) Keep a victory list — Make sure to remind yourself of all you’re doing and accomplishing on a regular basis. Often times, I look at my CV/resume and am amazed at all that has happened since I started graduate school. If you keep a research journal, looking back upon several months worth of entries will show you the progress (even if it’s small) that you’ve made.

(2) Revisit your goals — Are you a list maker? I am. At the beginning of a semester (including the summer), I always make a list of what I am going to accomplish that semester. Then, I think about it on a monthly basis…what do I need to focus on this month to make sure I accomplish my semester goals? Then, each Monday morning, since I don’t want to work right away anyway, I write my goals for the week. Breaking the research goals down in this manner cuts your semester into easy-to-accomplish tidbits.

A quick note — if a task pops up that isn’t on your goal list for the week and isn’t time-critical, write it down for the next week. Unless it’s vital to finishing your weekly goals, you can easily get side-tracked and go down some serious rabbit holes by following things that pop up. (That’s what the “Future Work” section is for, right?)

(3) Listen to inspiring people — This was an interesting thought in the article. I realized that this is critical to how I’ve continued to motivate myself, whether I realized it or not. I am a news junkie, and I also love participating in SWE Webinars. By listening to other peoples’ stories, specifically people in positions to which I aspire, I am reminded of all that I want to accomplish.

(4) Do Outreach — I love interacting with little kids. They are so naturally curious, it is like a immunity boost. It’s also a great experience practicing explaining what you do in simple terms.


My additions to the article’s list:

(5) Surround yourself with a positive network — Grad SWE has been instrumental in my surviving graduate school. Having periodic get-togethers and professional development events is another example of a shot in the arm. I love seeing and hearing what my fellow female graduate students are doing in their research. Outside of school, my husband and our families are a huge support, and are always so excited to hear how my research is going. These types of positive influences inspire me to continue making progress, especially now that I am so close to defending and graduating.

(6) Make sure to have fun and take breaks — Sitting at a bench or at your computer for 8-10 hours a day can be draining. On a small scale, make sure to get up at least once an hour and take a small break – go talk to a friend, take a walk around the building, go get coffee, just get away from your desk/bench for a bit. On a larger scale, assuming your advisor is okay with it, take a day off every once in awhile. There are studies which show that Americans tend to work too much and are too stressed for our own good. Having a mental sanity day can do a lot to relieve stress which built up over the course of several weeks or even months. Do things you love. Whether that’s shopping, reading a good book, playing with your dog, sleeping, or watching movies doesn’t matter as long as it’s not at all related to research. You’ll come back recharged and ready to make more progress.

(7) Exercise — It’s amazing what a 30 minute walk can do to clear your head. When I was trying to figure out how to creatively solve some research problems, I would simply go walk around campus. Naturally, I started thinking about the problem, but I was able to come up with some solutions simply because I was thinking about it in, literally, a different way. Exercise became part of my stress-relieving routine during my preparation for the PhD qualifying exams. Every day I would go to the gym after studying and let off steam. Now, it has become part of my weekly routine. I find that I am much less stressed out on a daily basis when I work out. If I don’t go to the gym for several days, I can feel the stress bubbling up inside me and I tend to be cranky until I can get down to the gym.


I hope those tips and tricks have helped you. If you have things that you do which weren’t mentioned above, please add them in the comment section below! We can all benefit from one another’s experience!

The original article can be found at:


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