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Adjusting to a Million Moving Parts

When I accepted a Ph.D. position at Oregon State University, every person I told was shocked or amazed that I was going straight from my undergraduate. However, the more I looked for advice on what laid ahead, the more I ran into “tons of people do this” or “this is more common than you think” and “it’s easy”. None of that was helpful.

If you applied for graduate school, you likely kept top grades and were involved in some form of research. You are probably used to managing several moving parts during your education, but that is nothing compared to the amount of moving parts in your schedule once you start your Ph.D. pursuit. If I showed you my average daily schedule with my complete time blocking done you would probably pull your hair out. My life as a graduate student contains five moving parts, you have your (1) classes, (2) research, (3) program, (4) teaching and (5) life. Yes, life is last on the list, unfortunately. These five moving parts have their own moving pieces.


Classes. Luckily, this is the simplest component in your life. You don’t have to take nearly as many credit hours as you do as an undergraduate, but don’t you worry, it is twice as much work as a full course load as an undergraduate.




  • VolcanoWorld website admin

Management of labs

  • Rock Preparation

  • Sediment Separation

  • Mineral Separation


  • Developing proposal

  • Reading papers

  • Finding funding

  • Organization

  • Samples

  • Data

  • Analysis techniques


  • Proposals

  • Conference abstracts

  • Manuscripts for publication




  • Deadlines

  • Presentations

  • Courses needed (in and out of the department)





  • meetings


  • Reviewing material

  • Editing material

  • Printing copies for students

  • Creating lab PowerPoints





  • Eating habits

  • Exercising

  • Annual doctors check-ups

Stress Relief or Relaxing 



As you can see, there are way more things to manage than you first realize. Especially the adults in your life. The biggest lessons I learned after my first year are (1) say no when you can, (2) time blocking is the best time management skill for those who get easily distracted, and (3) ask for help before you are buried. There are barely enough hours in each day to manage your to do list, so efficiency is key. More significantly, those asking tasks of you sometimes forget you have other responsibilities pulling you in other directions, as well. In addition, sometimes our superiors have a warped sense of how hard they had to work in the past and tend to push that on you. You can say no. Stand up for yourself because mental health is a serious issue in graduate school and spreading yourself thin only makes it worse.

You can do this. Take stock in yourself. You have the ability to achieve. More ability than you may even realize.

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