Pandemic Life as a Student Parent: A Learning Specialist’s Journey
Shortly after Penn shut down in March 2020, I learned I was pregnant. I was tremendously excited, but there were moments of anxiety as I dealt with the pandemic and a huge life transition. I loved my life as a grad student at Penn and my work helped me stay grounded amongst chaos. Although the fatigue, nausea, and other pregnancy symptoms led to some rough patches, the strategies I learned as a busy doctoral student and a learning specialist at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center kept me on track. I had a weekly planner where I kept important deadlines, grouped into different categories so they were easier to remember. On days where I felt overwhelmed or exhausted, I wrote a few encouraging words in my planner to help me stay calm. At Weingarten, supporting students over Zoom and working through their challenges together helped me feel connected.
In December, my son was born and eight weeks later I returned to being a student and my fellowship at Weingarten. Many of the time management and study strategies I had previously relied on were now impossible. For example, I often recommend mapping out a weekly and daily schedule as a great way to get started with better time management. Dr. Rashmi Kumar’s Structure the Unstructured Time post provides a helpful guide. Now that I was caring for my son most days, my schedule was extremely unpredictable. Sometimes he would nap for 2-3 hours when I could get work done, other days he might nap in 20 minute increments or not at all.
Through a mom blogger, I learned a new phrase that became my mantra: “Flexible routine: not rigid schedule!” Each day, I have one or two priorities in mind. I still find it hard, but I am learning to think more about the big picture of my week, versus getting too caught up in what I can’t get done some days. I know I will get to each and every task, it just may take longer than I had anticipated. That is okay.
I want to end with a positive outcome of my new schedule. Being forced to work in small chunks of 20-30 minutes has led to increased creativity and motivation for writing. Somehow I ended up with a 65-page dissertation proposal which I will defend in May! Before my son was born, I often set aside one day a week for writing tasks, but much of that time would be spent on distractions like social media or texting friends. Writing in short chunks almost every day and taking lots of time in between to think about the logical arguments of my proposal has led to a much more positive experience, and helped me become a stronger writer. I would recommend this strategy for any student who is struggling with writing.
Welcome Boot Campers
“Writing begins when our fear of doing nothing at all outweighs our fear of doing it badly.”
~ Louis de Bernieres
So, how about a hearty shout-out to all the members of the Spring ’17 cohort of Dissertation Boot Camp. Whether you are at the stage of proposing, or data crunching or actually dissertating, congratulations – you’ve made it this far, and like we’d say back in the day, that ain’t nuthin’.
For those not in the know, Dissertation Boot Camp is brought to you by your Graduate Student Center. The boot campers resolve to arrive on-site every morning for two weeks, turn off their email/social media, and get right down to it and have at it until early afternoon. They also get the opportunity to meet one-on-one with a Weingarten instructor to discuss their project, timelines and any unique challenges. Dissertation Boot Camp has become a popular program, and has been running for more semesters than your blogger can count. I mean, your humble blogger could count semesters, but that would require needless additional research, and procrastinating on the writing of this blog post by engaging in needless additional research would be setting a bad example.
For those of you who couldn’t do boot camp this semester, fret not, here are a few helpful hints from your learning center:
- Inviolable Writing Time – Essential and non-negotiable, inviolable writing time is the basis for Dissertation Boot Camp and the “secret” to completing any writing project of considerable length. This means you set your weekly writing time and then you guard it ruthlessly. Nothing and no one gets to intrude on this time. If something comes up that needs time, steal the time from something else.
- Log Off, Sign Out – Writing time can never be inviolable if you are obsessively checking email or social media. For three or four or five hours, you must remain out of the loop, away from everything that is not related to your project. And let’s have none of that nonsense about multitasking; your project demands as much focus as you can muster. Besides, in your blogger’s humble opinion multitasking is a sinister plot created by rogue elements in the human resources industry to make writers feel insecure about their “efficiency”. Confirming this notion, however, would require additional needless research, and since we’ve already dismissed needless additional research, I’m moving on.
- Visit Your Learning Center – Dissertation support is a popular service here at Weingarten. We can help you with managing the project or thinking through research strategies. We provide you with a totally confidential, non-judgmental space. Just think of us as the human embodiment of a hot bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich – soothing.
Senior Learning Instructor