The Difficulty of Dissertating (or working) From Home

ProjectsHalfDone | Dissertating from home


It’s over.


Dissertation defended. Edits done. ETD submitted. Done. (Oh, and I passed, by the way)

For the last 6 months or so, I’ve been working and dissertating from home. My assistantship with my department ended, and although I did secure some part-time employment, it was all computer based so I worked from home. Every day I had to find the motivation to get up and do some actual work, whether that was writing my dissertation or doing work-related items, I had to force myself to get into that mindset.

Working from home…and being motivated every day was hard.




There were days when I wanted to lay in bed all day. There were days when I wanted to binge watch all of Netflix. There were days when I didn’t want to shower or put on real pants. There were days that those things happened. But how does that help me? Aside from the fact that everyone does need some down time…doing those things didn’t move me any closer to my goal of graduating. But I pushed through, and while it wasn’t easy, I did learn a lot, and I did finish. Finally.

So I want share some of my tips on managing the work/life balance when work and life are happening in the same space. Whether you are working on your dissertation or just working from home, the struggle is very real! These tips are what got me through the last 6 months.

Tip 1: Dress the part! You’ve heard this. I know you have. We all know we should do it. Get up and get showered and get dressed like you’re going in to the office. Or at least put on jeans. Or real pants. You can do this. It will cue you to be in “work-mode”. It sets the tone for the day. Sweat pants are for watching TV and being a bum on the couch. Yoga pants are for yoga. Put on your big-girl-work-pants and do work!!

Tip 2: To-Do list your day. Write down what you want to accomplish. Use a planner or a schedule or just a piece of paper, but set some goals for the day. It will help you become focused and it will also feel really awesome when you get to check off an item. Start with little things like “Shower” if you have to. I use the Bullet Journal system (more on this in another post) and instead of putting a check in the box, I fill it in. This way, if I’ve made progress on an item I can halfway fill it in, to show that I worked on the task but didn’t complete it.

Tip 3: Have a designated work space. Again, you’ve heard this. Don’t work where you sleep. Don’t work where you relax. Don’t work where there are distractions! We know this. It’s easier said than done. Fortunately, I do have the space in my home to have a designated “office”. Technically it also serves as a craft room, but I keep the desk fairly clutter free so I have space for my laptop, books, and of course my To-Do list. Wherever your space, make sure you set it up for your work each day. Even if you are using your dining room table, make sure that you’ve got things cleared away, and your workspace defined so you can focus.

Tip 4: Time yourself! No, I don’t mean work as fast as you can. After reading a lot of news articles and blogs on productivity, I decided to try working in increments. The advice is to work for around 48 to 90 minutes, and then take a 12-17 minute break (This depends on which article you read.). Using the timer on your phone or any other timing device can help you break up your day and keep you from getting super-bored. I used the 90/15 minute ratio. It also allowed me to shift from doing my work-work to working on my dissertation. I didn’t feel guilty for watching a 5 minute funny video on youtube…because I’d scheduled that break. Find the ratio that works for you and stick to it!

Tip 5: Leave the house. Seriously. At least a few times a week, leave your house. This could be to go outside and exercise, putting on real clothes and going to the grocery store, or my favorite, going to work in a coffee shop. By nature, we are social creatures. Being home alone, by yourself, all day long, all WEEK long, is not good for the long-term. Even if you don’t talk to anyone, go outside. Switching up your environment will also refresh your brain and generate new ideas, moving you closer to your goals with work or with your degree.

For me, working from home is coming to an end as I am getting ready to start my post-doc. I’m excited to join the real world again on a daily basis, but I’m glad I did have this opportunity to work from home temporarily. I learned a lot about myself and my work habits. A lot of these I will carry over into my new job. Especially the Bullet Journaling and the timed breaks.

Do you work from home? What do you do to stay focused? What roadblocks have you found when trying to stay focused? Share your tips in the comments!


#GradSchoolProblems: Highlighting

So I have a problem. It’s a #GradSchoolProblem. I know other people have had this issue, I mean they have to…I can’t be alone on this…right?!


Now I’m not talking about what to highlight, how to find information or anything like that. Not even a color coded system of highlighting. (Although admittedly I have one for post-its flagging my dissertation work)

The issue isn’t even having ENOUGH highlighters.

It’s this:

Gradschoolproblems: Highlighting

It’s all the times I manage to highlight NON-LITERATURE. I’m not kidding. This is a real problem. It’s a weekly, if not daily occurrence. And let’s not even talk about all the inanimate objects I highlighted during prelims. Sometimes it’s because I’m half-asleep, sometimes it’s stress, sometimes it’s focus or a lack thereof, but seriously…I highlight all the (wrong) things some days.

Here are the things I’ve mistakenly highlighted:

  • Myself
  • The couch
  • My clothing
  • My bed
  • The wall (not even kidding)
  • The desk
  • The laptop
  • My cat
  • My coffee mug
  • Friends
  • My husband

The good news is that highlighter (and pen) comes out with rubbing alcohol. If you’ve ever done this, I’m sure you know that by now. But if you didn’t, now you’re informed!! (See if you can swipe some of those individually wrapped medical alcohol wipes from a med-student-pal for on-the-go highlighting mishaps) Requisite Disclaimer: don’t use rubbing alcohol on the cat…

What have you highlighted that wasn’t supposed to be neon colored? Anything better than my list?? I’d love to hear about your #GradSchoolProblems!

Have a great week, guys!

~Courtney “Queen of neon” 

The Last 6 Months

Ok Blog’o’sphere. I slacked.

I’m done with that now. So let’s review what has happened since we last spoke. There’s been a lot going on!!



  • Finished the semester
  • Got married!!


  • Collaborated on the evaluation piece for a grant that is still under review. CROSSING MY FINGERS!!
  • Co-taught an online class. Fun!


  • Helped out with the Governor’s School for Agriculture on campus! Got to work with some awesome kids.


  • Worked with Dr. Archibald on Evaluation Capacity Building with Cooperative Extension


  • Back to life…back to reality (Which kind of means things slow down…)
  • EXCEPT WAIT!! Prelims!!!!!!
  • AHHHH!!!


  • Go to AEA for my first time!!
  • Officially a Doctoral Candidate.


  • Check back and find out!!! And hear more about the rest of that stuff!

The Adjunct Archetype

One of the issues I see in higher education currently s the rise of the Adjunct.

Not to say that adjunct positions aren’t necessary in some cases, but in general I feel that it leads to the demise of the tenure track position and of the quality of education in these institutions. For the most part, adjuncts are just that, an add on. They often do not teach a full load, do not receive benefits, and in some cases they do not even have offices on campus.

The creation of more and more temporary adjunct positions is alarming to those of us who desire that dream job with research and teaching. That job we can begin to build a life around, a reputation from. Adjuncts do not have this security, the pay, the research access, or any of the tools of a tenure track professor. Yet they are expected to give our students a quality education?

I find concerning.

I do feel adjuncts have a place, and it’s a nice stepping stone into a real tenure track position, but it certainly should not be the standard.

Reasons TO Go to Grad School

So you want to go to grad school….

So you want to be broke.

Really broke.

So you want to hear all those 100 reasons NOT to get a PhD.

Have you READ the Chronicle lately?? According to 70% of their articles, this grad school thing is a waste of time. My chances of getting a professorial job are slim to none.

Then I remember when I swore I would never take another job that required me to clean a bathroom ever again.

Then I remember how much I value education.

Then I look at my fiance who took the first job he could to move up here with me. I think about his job which doesn’t require a degree although he has one (three). I think about his last job working with troubled youth that got him hit in the face with a 2×4. I think about the fact that right now, even though he’s upper level management, he hasn’t been able to come home in days because of the weather and he has to write his employees up for not coming in even though we are in a state of emergency. He feels like crap. He doesn’t agree with it. He’s not happy. He’s barely getting by. Thankfully once I graduate we should both be able to apply for jobs that fit with our degrees…or at least one of us can.

I don’t want that to be me.

Do I want to make a decent amount of money? Of course

Do I want to get an amazing tenure-track position? Who doesn’t? (Ok my fiance doesn’t. His problem.)

Will I? Maybe. It’s not impossible.

But if I don’t? Was grad school still worth it?


I’ll still KNOW I’m highly educated…and this matters to me. A lot. More than anything, this is personal. For a lot of reasons, I need to prove this to myself. (Basically why my fiance went to school…his degree is kind of useless…but he knew that going in.)

I’ll find a job. Even if I go back to teaching high school. That still doesn’t require me to clean a bathroom. Is it my dream job? No. But it’s A job.

I won’t have to clean bathrooms.

I’ll be more likely to be in control of my career path.

Will I be in debt? Yeah. Who isn’t? (Ok…again my fiance isn’t. Don’t ask how he managed a PhD without D-E-B-T)

But WITH this PhD I will be more capable of achieving my dream job. I’ll be able to at the very least say that I have published research. At the least I will be a step closer to becoming a professor, researcher, and evaluator. I will be more in control of my career and my life. I won’t have to be miserable every day at my job. I will have a chance at a career. Why does it seem like everyone is SO against people pursuing their dream careers? Why does every article discourage the pursuit of the PhD? What’s with making this all seem so hopeless? I mean I get being realistic, but really, to say to every student that they can’t be a professor?? You managed to do it…and clearly you won’t be around forever. Someone will need to fill your shoes eventually (and I hope sooner rather than later).

I realize getting a PhD now isn’t as useful as it was 30, 20 or even 10 years ago. But I also realize a high school diploma is now next to worthless unless my career goals include golden arches. You can’t just tell people to stop going to grad school (Although really, most of you are saying that). Yes, there ARE too many PhD’s. But are all of them equal? Are all of them trying to become faculty? No and No. So someone has a chance. Someone can get that position. Or even if they don’t, aren’t they better off (yes, depending on their field they won’t be) with this degree than they were before? Aren’t they at least even proud?? And it’s not like you, writing those articles on how a PhD is a waste of time and money, have never wasted time or money on anything. Heck, that’s what most of us are best at.

So quit knocking people for getting a higher degree. Quit trying to pull them down. I’m not saying don’t be realistic, but just once in awhile, some encouragement wouldn’t kill you, would it?

The Post That Almost Was

Let’s talk about this wild west world of the world wide web…shall we?

I almost made a different post on here, but I stopped myself and decided to discuss what I almost did… Here is a shortened version of the post that almost was:

I have a class project to do and I need responses…who wants to help? Your reward in this is feeling awesome for helping a graduate student out. Isn’t that what everyone wants?!?!!? Best reward EVER!!!

Ok, a little background…I’m taking a course on instrument development (how to make a survey instrument for my dissertation that my committee won’t totally hate). For this course we had to make up an instrument to test a construct. I have made the instrument. Now we need to pilot test it on a minimum of 35 people. These people don’t actually have to be my target population, or know a thing about what I’m trying to survey. I just need people to click bubbles.

Below you will find a link to my survey of Evaluation Perceptions of Agricultural Extension Agents. If you are unsure of what this position is, I will try to briefly describe it below:
[Description was here]

Here is the survey link: [LINK DELETED]

Again, this isn’t a real research project. This is JUST for a class. No identifying data will be asked for or recorded. You do NOT need to be in this profession or be aware of what this profession even IS to take this survey. It’s only 15 bubble clicks long. So won’t you please help out a poor starving graduate student???

So basically I made an instrument that is similar but not directly related to my dissertation research goals. Then I thought to myself…If I put this out there, in cyberspace, what rights do I have to this instrument??? Will someone steal it and call it their own? Will this hurt my research even though I will make a much different and much more in-depth instrument? Is this a bad idea? Am I overreacting since this is just a class assignment??

My department isn’t really competitive…we more or less assist each other as opposed to some departments where you keep everything to yourself for fear of others stealing your ideas. But am I being too open?? I’m not sure. I did send my instrument out through our department email list, but that’s one thing. I know those people. But what about on the blogosphere? How do you collaborate and generate ideas with strangers if you are concerned that they will steal your intellectual property? Where is the line? How do we move forward in such a connected environment but still maintain integrity and trust?

How do you stay protected?

You’re Doing It Wrong

Or you’re at least not doing it the way my opinionated graduate student self thinks you should be doing it.

I’m talking about my professors. Or guest speakers. Or really anyone with whom I have an interaction at this point. I’m usually judging them. Between being trained to teach, trained to research, and trained to basically observe…the end result is that basically all I can do is judge. I’m sorry. I can’t stop it. It goes on in my head almost constantly. (To be honest, we all judge things, all day. Her outfit, his car, you do it. You know you do. I’m just saying…)

It’s the absolute worst in class though. Mainly because I’m a former educator, am working on research in education, am working on a PhD in education and am taking…hey…this GEDI class thing…I can’t shut the judgy brain off!! I evaluate my professors for the wait time they give after posing a question to the class. I consider how many higher level questions they ask and how much they lecture. Even if I’m not in their class anymore, I find myself reading or learning about a teaching strategy and thinking “Oh yeah, Dr. X did that technique!!” or “Ohhh Dr. Y was SO bad at that!”. It’s kind of awful. I don’t want to be judgy.  I don’t mean to be, but it’s in my head. I’m constantly thinking about your teaching if you’re teaching me. So if you’re one of my teachers and you’re reading this, sorry for my judgement of you. Sometimes it’s good though!! Sometimes I get ideas on how to do things. But sometimes…I’m fairly snarky. Especially if you commit some of the “cardinal sins” of teaching that I have devised in my head.

Let’s name a few:

  1. Thou shalt not ask a question only to almost instantly answer it yourself.
  2. Thou shalt not talk in a monotone for 3 hours.
  3. Thou shalt not wander off on a tangent for more than 3 minutes. Maybe 5 if it’s funny.
  4. Thou shalt not lecture for the entire 3 hour class.
  5. Thou shalt not hold a clear and evident disdain for all technology, including scholar, blackboard, etc.

Why am I so judgy?? It’s really not the most attractive of my qualities and thankfully I usually keep most of my judgements to myself, because really…I’m not that great of an instructor yet. Might not ever be, who knows. But it’s in my head. All my professors and papers put it there!!

It’s stuck now.

Swirling around like a vortex of judgy doom, just waiting to leap on the next person to stand in front of a room and open their mouth….