Making the most of summer in Grad School

Hello Grad SWE community! My name is Amy Zheng. I am the newly elected Developmental Mentoring Coordinator. I am a first year Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt University.

Since this is my first summer doing research full-time as a graduate student, I have been thinking about ways to make my summer more fulfilling, in life and in my research.

  1. Set summer and weekly goals


Every semester I schedule a meeting with my advisor to assess my research goals for the semester and come up with next steps. This has been really helpful since I am a goal-orientated person. I love crossing out items on my to-do list.


This strategy also helps me look at the big picture. It is a time where my advisor and I can come to an understanding on where we hope the project will go.


  1. Look up deadlines for upcoming grants and scholarships


Some of the most prestigious fellowships, such as the NSF GRFP, are due in the early fall. The summer is a great time to start looking at previous applications. For the GRFP, I found the website below to be especially helpful.


I also find it helpful to talk with my advisor and mentors about my proposal outline. The summer is also a great time to start looking for workshops and writing seminars for the fellowships and grants you plan to apply for. At many universities, workshops for the NSF GRFP are held in the fall.


  1. Plan time to exercise at least once a week


I try to exercise before lunch. It helps me break up my work day and keeps me from getting drowsy in the afternoon. It also makes my lunch seem extra tasty! I try to hit the gym at least once a week. Many university gyms include exercise classes so it makes creating a weekly schedule much easier.


  1. Leaving your office for lunch


When I feel like I’ve spent too much time at my desk, I go to the outdoor seating area and eat lunch. Smelling the fresh air does wonders for lowering my stress. While I eat lunch, I usually look up recipes that I want to make for future meals or watch Youtube videos. I try to treat my lunch as an opportunity to learn something new outside of work.


  1. Taking a weekend trip


After working in the lab on weekends and not leaving town, I find myself getting sluggish and stir-crazy. Blocking off a weekend to take a short trip has helped me feel refreshed. Being in a new environment and having new experiences can make your struggles in the lab seem less immense. A few weeks ago, I took a trip to Atlanta and explored the city for the weekend. When I return on Monday, my mind was refreshed and ready to work on planning experiments and reading papers.


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