JI Heads Back to School-Part 2

By August 18, 2016

Here?s part one from Amanda in the series.

I just shaved for the first time in a month. Although, in my defense, I think I grow a decent beard.

This summer has beeacademian a hodge-podge of various things I needed to do, thrown into a bucket from which I pull one thing at a time, blindfolded. I?ve vacationed, taken a class, gotten a job, experienced loads of car trouble, did maintenance on a house, and even watched Star Wars in a park. Each day was different than the previous. The ambitious reading list I made going into the summer remains incomplete, and I?ve just only come to grips with that. The randomness of summer life was perplexing and refreshing.

Heading back to school for me means getting into a routine again (probably something I should have done better over the summer). I?m starting year two of my PhD program, my final year of classes? huzzah! I?m genuinely excited to be in them. This time of year always reminds me of beginning a Harry Potter book, with the fervor of magical possibilities on the train-ride to Hogwarts, or the Trax-ride to the University of Utah. Who knows what life will be like by the end of the year? The possibilities for progress are grand, indeed.

As I?m preparing my daily routine of going to campus, reading, writing, working, and attending class, the reality of muggle-Utah sinks in. School is great, and I spend much of my time thinking about it, but there?s that thing called life, and it mostly happens outside of school. It?s difficult in the midst of reading alone in a room somewhere to remember that one ought to be mentally present at home, that dinner requires planning, and that physical health is important for mental health. Where has all my partitioned time gone? And then there are the looming elephants-in-the-room that need to be answered come May: what will I do for a dissertation proposal? Who will be on my committee? I don?t know when I?ll be able to answer these questions, but I need to by the end of the year.

Heading back to school mixes the magical excitement of classes, routine, and possibilities with the profane anxiety of real life, efficiency, and unsolved problems. But I think the thing that?s caused real anxiety throughout graduate school is the fact that it?s mostly a one-person-show. Most of my time is spent alone, with my thoughts and a book, or with my thoughts and a computer screen. The routine of heading back to school means preparing for this kind of time and planning to interrupt the monotony. Last semester, a few graduate students got together weekly and bowled as an accountability meeting for research and writing? we didn?t get much research and writing out of it, but I found myself looking forward to it more and more as the semester drew on. I also found that my productivity and motivation after these meetings increased. I hope to bowl again this semester.

Lastly, to deal with the excitement and anxiety, I?ve relied on antidepressant medication. The routine of graduate school depends on reliably being able to focus on minute tasks while at the same time shaping grander ambitions/projects/historiographies. These hermeneutical tasks tend to be in tension with one another. Graduate school routine, in other words, requires not getting into anxiety-driven ruts? which, it turns out, I?m really good at getting into. Medication, while not the end-all-be-all solution, has helped me avoid these ruts. If you?re a graduate student reading this, know, at least, that it?s helped me.

So, I?m back to planning, both giddy and nervous, for the books, the papers, and the non-academic life coming in the next few months.

Article filed under Miscellaneous


  1. Thanks for the post, Jeff. I, too, found that with medication I am a lot better student and function much better as a human being. Again, not for everyone, but it’s an option that those with mental health issues should consider.

    I’m curious about how you deal with the time alone. I find that since I spend so much time alone it doesn’t feel like “time alone.” I’m always mentally busy and feel like the lack of downtime negatively affects my ability to be at 100% for long stretches.

    Comment by J Stuart — August 18, 2016 @ 8:52 am

  2. Thanks, J. Honestly, I’m still working on dealing with it. I guess I try to take it in chunks. I move around every few hours: I find that being in a different physical space helps me focus. I alternate activities: it’s easier for me to read a book in two or three sittings as opposed to one, and I try to switch it up with writing or work. I also try to find community where I can: reading blogs, bowling, class.

    Alone time doesn’t always feel lonely to me, especially if I’m engrossed in some task… But I have moments when I snap out of that focus and I start worrying about everything. So it’s moments when I realize the loneliness that get to me.

    Comment by Jeff T — August 18, 2016 @ 9:20 am

  3. Thanks, Jeff. Enjoyed it.

    Comment by Ryan T. — August 18, 2016 @ 12:39 pm

  4. Jeff — Thank you for sharing. I can empathize with the juxtaposition of anxiety and excitement. It also never occurred to me that the aloneness of grad school could actually be a producer of anxiety, but it makes perfect sense. I myself find that when I am getting increasingly anxious I need to take a break and be around other people. The presence of others is often enough for me to break out of my head and my own emotions.

    Comment by Amanda — August 18, 2016 @ 9:03 pm

  5. Thanks, Ryan and Amanda.

    Comment by Jeff T — August 18, 2016 @ 9:59 pm

  6. Thanks for this, Jeff. I empathized with so much of this as a grad student. Hell, I still do as a first-year faculty.

    Comment by Ben P — August 19, 2016 @ 1:43 pm

  7. Thanks for your post Jeff.

    Comment by Hannah — August 22, 2016 @ 4:58 pm

  8. Sorry, got cut off there. I liked your reflections about your time alone and how time with others sometimes helped your productivity. I have also been trying to figure out for myself how to figure out for myself how to block time. I have thought about, for example, going to the gym for a chunk of the day to clear the slate.

    Comment by Hannah — August 22, 2016 @ 5:01 pm


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