practical phd

a transparent source for all things PhD

There’s a common refrain that academics should write every day, which you all already know I don’t do.  But many folks, myself included, reframe this to that we should be touching our research every day.  Yet, even touching your research every day isn’t always possible. During the semester, the demands of teaching can make it hard to find the time.  The system that has worked for me so far has been to keep a balance between research and teaching by allocating certain days for each.  

It’s really easy for teaching to take over more and more of your time.  There’s lecture prep, designing assignments, responding to students’ emails, coordinating with TAs, maintaining participation records, and grading.  Furthermore, most of this happens on a weekly basis. I usually teach both of my classes on the same days, so I schedule my office hours between classes and work on anything class-related before and after class and during office hours when I’m free.  

The days I don’t have class are my research days.  I still keep up with urgent student emails, but on research days, I try not to productively procrastinate with teaching work unless it is required.  Research days are reserved for meeting with RAs and working on grant applications, data collection, coding, data analysis, and writing.  

There are weeks when grading priorities take over and I don’t get to part or all of my research time, but for the most part the dividing my calendar between the two activities makes it easy to maintain.  Since my schedule is teaching twice a week, this usually looks like Monday and Wednesday are teaching days and Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday are for research. I used a similar approach in graduate school when I worked as an RA.  It would have been easy to prioritize work with a deadline over my own research, so I separated my week out into 20 hour chunks with 2.5 days for my RA work and 2.5 days for my work. Separating my time this way builds in a more immediate deadline to do what I need to do for deadlines like those associated with teaching or RA work because not finishing means cutting into my research time.  

This system works well for me now, but I can definitely foresee the need to change things in the future.  First, I’m a first year AP, so my service load is relatively light. With more service work, I’ll need to build in specified time to do that as well, which is likely to cut into my research time since all of the work associated with teaching will still need to happen.  Second, I have a 2-2 load, but have been teaching two sections of the same class each semester this year. With shifting to 2 different course preps, I’ll need to adjust my schedule to perhaps focus on one class on one teaching day and the other class on the other, but will also do some work in preparing the classes to ensure I’m not grading assignments for two classes in the same week, for example.  Finally, most of my active projects are in the end of data analysis or writing stages, which I find easier to engage with while balancing teaching. As I move into data collection and early data analysis with new projects, I’ll need to see if my system still works.

My approach does mean that I’m not touching my research every day, but it also means that my research is not untouched most weeks.  Even without working on it every day, I am moving forward. When summer comes around, I’ll switch to working on my research every day, but until then, a step forward is still a step in the right direction!

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