Grad School Tips

How Two Grad Students Built an Accountability Relationship Online

I’ve noticed that, in grad school, there can be a disconnect between setting goals and following through on those goals.  Most of us love to plan and organize and make to-do lists. You probably spend Sunday evening or Monday morning setting goals and intentions for the week ahead.  I do!

But how many of those tasks do you actually get done each week? 75%, 50%, or 10%?

Sometimes it can be hard to find the motivation to actually follow through on those goals.  Especially, when you have so much unstructured time and no hard deadlines. It can be too easy to procrastinate.

Related Video:  The Only Way to Beat Procrastination

I believe that one way to actually follow through on those goals and responsibilities is through accountability.  I just wrote a blog post all about the 3 ways you can get started with accountability in grad school.

Today, I want to focus on the first step:  getting an accountability partner. I believe that accountability partners are essential for healthy and realistic productivity in grad school.  I believe in it so much that it is a major pillar of my group program, The Productivity Accelerator for grad students.

I first ran this 2-week program in February and 10 amazing grad students joined the program.  In the program, I paired each grad student up with an accountability partner. In this blog post, I will be highlighting one of those partnerships.

How Two Grad Students Built an Accountability Relationship Online | The Academic Society | Grad School Tips

Meet Mary and Katherine.  Mary lives in Florida and Katherine in Hawaii.  I recently discovered that they were still meeting as accountability partners even after the Productivity Accelerator had ended.  So I asked them to share their story.

Mary’s POV

We met each other through the productivity accelerator through zoom and then we maintained conversation on Facebook messenger! We mostly used Facebook to video chat once a week or every two weeks to touch base on our goals, and then we chat throughout the week on Facebook.

I have never had an accountability partner before, and after that I feel like I have a support system from the complete other side of the country. Before I felt overwhelmed and I was hesitant to speak about what was overwhelmed me.

But we share our own stories, I feel like I learn so much on how to tackle these everyday issues of being a grad student, including academic life, research, friendships and how to navigate interpersonal challenges in this environment that can be very high stress.

After this partnership, I felt more motivated and focused. Also, talking through issues like imposter syndrome helped me feel like graduate school is actually where I belong at this moment in my life. I realized that I am not alone, and that we are all trying to find our paths.

Related Post: 3 Must-Haves for Ultimate Accountability in Grad School

Katherine’s POV

Mary and I meet on Facebook Messenger. Every week, we message each other to check in, asking each other about our upcoming goals, challenges, and any major events we have going on. We also send each other encouraging messages throughout the week, especially if we've already communicated that we could use the extra support that week or on a particular day. We constantly remind each other that we've got this and that we can and will meet our goals!

Messaging has been a great way to articulate our goals clearly, set up that accountability relationship, and facilitate a space to both celebrate our successes and share in our struggles. In addition to messaging, Mary and I also have met a few times using video chat. For example, we've met on two occasions via video on a Saturday morning (my time)/afternoon (Mary's time) to do a co-working planning session. The opportunity to chat face-to-face has been especially beneficial for me, as I appreciate getting to feel like Mary and I are just sharing a coffee at the coffee shop and chatting organically that way (despite living on opposite sides of the US!).

It's also been a great way to set aside time for scheduling and organization, as well as providing a space to really talk through things we might be challenged by in the upcoming week and both give and receive advice on the matter.

I have never had an accountability partner before and I am loving it so far. Mary is fantastic – she's super smart, hard-working, and I can relate to so many of the joys she finds in her research as well as the struggles. Whenever we chat over video, we always end up exclaiming, "I'm the same way!" or "I feel you on that!" It's both validating to know that someone else goes through the same things that I do or thinks about their grad work in the same ways, but it's also a cool experience to voice that validation for someone else.

Before having an accountability partner, I struggled to find peers to talk to about my weekly goals, schedule, and struggles. I didn't have those connections in my grad program itself when I first joined Toyin's Academic Society (almost a year ago now), although I have been working to build some relationships of that nature here in Hawaii.

Personally, I have a hard time being motivated by internal accountability and often struggle to set and stick to deadlines that are only formulated between me, myself, and I. However, since having an accountability partner who I can relate to on so many levels, who really encourages and inspires me to be the kind of grad student I want to be, and who is in a field and university distinct from my own, I've been able to better set my own goals, deadlines, milestones, and actually meet them! Being part of a supportive community is so important in grad school – having those peers who you feel like are always going to be "on your side" and encouraging you – and, even more directly, it can make a huge difference in your own self-confidence and sense of belonging knowing that there's at least one person you can always reach out to to talk through your experience with.

Mary and I have only been accountability partners for a little over a month now, but there have already been so many benefits as a result of our partnership. In a more general sense, I feel like I have someone I can relate to in grad school – which was something I lacked before – and who I can share openly about my experience with, including but not limited to goals, accomplishments, and challenges. I have also felt more motivated to support others as well, through listening to and validating Mary's experiences.

I very much appreciate the space we've created through our partnership where we can have a mutual exchange of advice and ideas. One surprising benefit of having a partnership with someone who is not in my program/at my university is that I was able to tell Mary about an interpersonal problem I was going through with a peer in my own program and discuss that situation openly. Mary really listened to what I was experiencing and validated the upset I felt due to this other student's actions as real and nothing to be ashamed about.

Given her support, I was able to communicate how I felt about the situation with the other student involved and actually ended up having a meaningful conversation with that person about the impact of their behavior, which is a benefit I couldn't have foreseen but which has made my interactions at school so much healthier and uninhibited! (I want to mention this benefit in particular, as I don't think we're often willing, as adults, to articulate issues we're having with others, given worries about shame or embarrassment, and I want to be someone who IS open about these things and able to create a pathway for others to feel safe and accepted if they need to address any issues as well).

Ultimately, I am grateful that Toyin had the foresight to pair Mary and I as accountability partners during inaugural Productivity Accelerator, and I can't wait to see how our partnership develops as we continue on with our grad school goals.

Isn’t their story amazing?  I was blown away that my program would foster such a lasting relationship and friendship! You can hang out with them and other grad students in my Facebook community for grad students!

So, are you interested in building an accountability relationship with another grad student?  I offer the Productivity Accelerator 2-3 times a semester. And I want to invite you to join the waitlist to be the first to know when the program launches again.  The doors may be open now!

3 Must-Haves for Ultimate Accountability in Grad School

There are a lot of moving parts when it comes to getting a graduate degree. Taking classes, reading assignments, writing papers, giving presentations, being a TA, going to conferences, conducting research, choosing a research area, finding an advisor, teaching classes, applying for jobs, and…oh yeah, trying to adult and have a social life too!

It’s a lot to wrap your head around, which makes it so easy for you to be over-stressed and experience burnout.

But there is definitely no reason to do it ALONE.

If you are familiar with The Academic Society, you know that we believe in accountability. Accountability can be the difference between making plans and schedules but still getting nothing done and actually following through on those plans.

In this post, I’ll be sharing three key tools to help you follow through on your goals and plans and actually get stuff done!

3 Must-Haves for Ultimate Accountability in Grad School | The Academic Society for Grad Students | Grad School Tips

Accountability Partners

The first tool to help hold you accountable is actually a person. I highly recommend that every grad student have an accountability partner. In grad school, a great candidate for an accountability partner is someone who is dedicated to both productivity and self-care in grad school.

In an accountability relationship, you can set up a time each week to meet (in person or virtually) and set goals for yourself for the week. Your accountability partner can help you set realistic goals each week so that you work on the right things. Remember, we want to be productive, not just busy.

Related Video: The Most Important Person in Your Grad School Life

Co-working Sessions

Have you ever had a co-working session in grad school? I have literally been my most productive self when I work in a co-working session! You can do these virtually or in person. When I was in grad school, me and one of my besties would either go to a library or coffee shop together on the weekends just to sit next to each other and get work done independently.

There’s something about sitting next to someone who is being productive that keeps you motivated to do the same. I find that when I work alone, I’m more likely to get distracted or quit earlier than I should.

Related Post: Productivity Accelerator for Grad Students

Public Affirmations

When I set a goal for myself, I find it helpful to share it with others. That way I feel more convicted to get my work done because I don’t want to be a liar! Lol! A great place to share your goals is in an online community like my Facebook group for grad students. I often post accountability threads in that group to see what my grad students are working on and check back in on them later in the week.

How to Get Started with Accountability in Grad School

I definitely recommend finding an accountability partner, having co-working sessions, and joining a community to share what you are working on. But that may seem overwhelming to do on your own. I actually offer all three of these tools in my program for grad students called the Productivity Accelerator.

The Productivity Accelerator Method is a two-week productivity sprint to help you be more focused and productive in grad school so that you can actually get stuff done instead of stressing over the amount of stuff you have to get done.  This method consists of three major components: planning, accountability, and follow-through. So if you are good at planning and setting goals but struggle with actually following through and implementing those plans, the key piece you are missing is accountability.  And the Productivity Accelerator Method will help you with that missing piece.

Goal Setting

The Productivity Accelerator begins with goal-setting. Step 1 is figuring out what and how much you want to accomplish in grad school during the 2-week bootcamp. The Productivity Accelerator includes:

  • a strategy session with Toyin

  • backwards design roadmap

  • creating your 2-week plan


The second step of the program, is all about holding yourself accountable. This is a group program for a reason. The Productivity Accelerator will include a community of like-minded grad students as well as:

  • community work sessions

  • accountability partners

  • daily check-ins


Raise your hand if you love to plan! Most of us do! But actually following through with your plans is the hardest part. In the Productivity Accelerator, we will use the 2-week sprint method to:

  • help you start (and beat procrastination)

  • move from abstract plan to concrete work

  • keep you focused on what’s important

So what do you think? Have some work you really need to get done in the next couple weeks? Interested in joining the Productivity Accelerator to be paired up with another grad student as your accountability partner and have co-working sessions for two weeks? You can sign up to be on the waitlist for the program to be the first to know when the program is offered (2-3 times a semester).

The Productivity Accelerator Method for Grad Students

Do you ever struggle with staying focused and motivated in grad school?  Do you ever get so overwhelmed that you fall into a black hole of procrastination, from which there is no escape? Ok, that was dramatic.  But it’s happened to me! So I’ve come up with a method to get get you out of your unmotivated, unproductive funk. It’s called the Productivity Accelerator Method.

But I do have to warn you.  It shouldn’t be used all semester long.  Just when you have a lot of work to get done and you need a boost of productivity and motivation.

The inspiration for this method that I came up with for you was taken from the tech industry.  Often, a team will have a large project that they have to complete in the future. So to optimize productivity, they break their larger project into smaller two-week sprints.

And that’s what the Productivity Accelerator Method is!  A two-week focused and productive sprint. So if you are ready to learn how to, occasionally, implement this method into your grad school routine, let’s jump right in.

The Productivity Accelerator Method for grad students to be more focused and get stuff done in grad school | The Academic Society

The Productivity Accelerator Method

The Productivity Accelerator Method is a two-week productivity sprint to help you be more focused and productive in grad school so that you can actually get stuff done instead of stressing over the amount of stuff you have to get done.  This method consists of three major components: planning, accountability, and follow-through. So if you are good at planning and setting goals but struggle with actually following through and implementing those plans, the key piece you are missing is accountability.  And the Productivity Accelerator Method will help you with that missing piece. But first, let’s start with the plan.

Planning your Sprint

The first thing you should do before you implement your sprint is to set the dates.  Look at your calendar and find find the two weeks that you want to do the sprint. Then, make a list of all of your due dates and deadlines that you will have during those two weeks as well as a week after your sprint dates.

When you have made a list of your assignments, papers, presentations, and lectures that you want to get done during your sprint, determine how much time you need to spend on each of your tasks.  And make sure that you are being realistic. Don’t write that you only need two hours to write a paper when it usually takes you 5 hours.

Once you know what you need to get done and how long you need to get those things done, go through your weekly schedule, or create one, and schedule productivity chunks.  Productivity chunks are big blocks of time set aside to get stuff done.  They can be anywhere from 1 hour to 4 hours. But it must be time that you dedicate to productivity and not messing around on Facebook or your email.

Related Mini-Course: How to Create a Productive Weekly Schedule in Grad School

So schedule your productivity chunks during your two-week sprint.  I’m normally an advocate for moderation, but I would recommend scheduling more productivity chunks than usual.  Remember, this is a two-week sprint and not something that you should try to endure for any longer! I can’t stress that enough!

Finally, create a progress chart.  You can set this up however you want.  By days or by assignments/tasks completed.  You are going to want to keep track of how much you get done so you can celebrate your wins each day!


Once you have scheduled your two-week sprint, you need to find a way to keep yourself accountable. I don’t recommend doing this on your own.  I recommend getting an accountability partner. I stressed the importance of having an accountability partner you need in one of my recent YouTube videos.

First, determine the kind of accountability you need.  Do you need regular check-ins, reminders, planning sessions, co-working sessions, or all of the above?  Decide what you need and then find an accountability partner to sprint with you. They don’t need to be working on the same things as you or even at the same time.  They just need to want to get stuff done and be open to some accountability.

If you don’t have anyone to ask to be your accountability partner, check out my Facebook group for grad students.  There are over 200 grad students in my group who are committed to success in grad school. It’s called The Academic Society for Grad Students and this is your official invitation.

Facebook Group: The Academic Society for Grad Students

Once you have an accountability partner, set accountability check-ins.  I would suggest meeting either in person or via video at the beginning and end of each week to set a plan and recap what happened and determine if adjustments need to be made.  You should definitely be in contact with your accountability partner 3-5 times a week but planning and reporting sessions don’t need to happen that often.


Now let’s talk about the final, most important, and longest component of The Productivity Accelerator Method.  This is what you actually do during your two-week sprint. Now that you have a plan with accountability, how do you actually get stuff done?

Each day, I want you to create a realistic to-do list for your productivity chunks.  Write down the tasks and assignments you want to get done each day. Then I want you to implement the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks.  In grad school, I think you can stay focused for longer than 25 minutes so I recommend working for 45 minutes straight and then taking a 15 minute break and repeating the cycle until your productivity chunk is over.  This techniques keeps you from feeling completely drained and burned out after two hours of working and calling it a day. After each break, you will feel a bit refreshed and ready to take on the next task. It’s a way to game-ify your productivity.

I also recommend having one goal per pomodoro.  You want to be able to singularly focus on the task at hand.  When you multitask and have to switch what you are doing in your brain, you actually decrease your productivity by a lot.  So just work on one thing during your one pomodoro. You have the next one to work on something else.

After you have finished a productivity chunk, I want you to acknowledge what you were able to accomplish and celebrate the win.  You can share it with us in the Facebook group or treat yourself to your favorite self-care activity.

Facebook Group: The Academic Society for Grad Students

Of course, self-care is a part of The Productivity Accelerator Method!  It’s me, Toyin, advocate of self-care in grad school, writing this blog post.  So yeah, it’s included in the method. Not sure what is considered self-care? I’ve created a checklist in my #GRADBOSS planner of self-care activities you can do in grad school to help you decompress and feel less stressed.

Freebie: #GRADBOSS Semester Planner and Reflection Journal

And after you’ve done that, get some sleep and repeat the follow-through process the next day.  That’s it!

I do realize that this is a lot of work but that’s why it’s called a sprint.  And you will, for sure, be focused and get a lot of work done! So, if that’s what you are into, The Productivity Accelerator Method is for you!

Don’t want to do it alone?  Well, I’m inviting you to join me and a few other grad students to do The Productivity Accelerator Method together at the same time.  Periodically, I will be hosting a live Productivity Accelerator to give you a boost in focus and productivity.

During the live program I will be setting up accountability groups and planning co-working sessions so that we can (virtually) work together and pomodoro at the same time and have dance parties during our breaks!

Are you in?  If so, you can sign up for the waitlist to be the first to know when the next live Productivity Accelerator is happening.  Also, by signing up for the waitlist, you will get The Productivity Accelerator Method planning worksheet to help you set up your sprints whenever you are ready to implement one.

9 Ways to Make Friends in Grad School

Making friends as an adult can be hard.  Especially when you are in grad school and everyone in your cohort is in a different stage of life.  It’s so easy to isolate yourself or think that you can be independent in grad school.

I actually believe that becoming friends and bonding with your grad school cohort is essential if you want your grad school experience to actually be enjoyable and not soul sucking.

That brings me back to the issue of making friends in grad school.  I’ve talked with a lot of people who are in grad school including the grad students in my Facebook group, The Academic Society for Grad Students, about making friends in grad school.  Many of them tell me that they haven’t been able to bond with their fellow grad students or that the rest of their program doesn’t like them or excludes them from study groups and social events.

If you’ve ever felt isolated or excluded in grad school, this post is for you.  I’m sharing my 9 tips for making friends in grad school.

How to Make Friends in Grad School

Having friends in grad school can be so beneficial and can help you have a better experience in grad school.  If you had friends in grad school, you could study together, ask for advice, and have an understanding shoulder to cry on.

My suggestion is to not try to start or jump in a study group right away.  Try bonding with your fellow grad students socially first. Then it will be much easier to work together.  But how do you do that?

I’m glad you asked! Here are my suggestions and actual things I did to make friends in grad school.

9 ways to make friends in grad school, grad school tips, grad school advice, the academic society

Invite a classmate to a workout class.  

If you enjoy exercise, this could be a great way to make a friend.  When I was in grad school, my (now) friend, Veny, invited me and our other friend Kaitlyn to go to a Zumba class.  We had never hung out with Veny before. But we said yes. And that eventually led to us going to other exercise classes and becoming best friends!  We were inseparable in grad school and the chair of our department started calling us the Three Amigos.

Host a potluck.  

Potlucks are the way grad students party.  Gone are the days of clubbing and house parties.  As a grad student, all you want is free food and to go to bed at a reasonable hour.  So a potluck is the perfect social event to do that! Plus this can be a great way to learn about your classmates’ diverse cultures. Below is a picture of my potluck crew.

how to make friends in grad school

Host a game night.  

In my last couple years in grad school, my department would always have game nights every Friday.  We would mostly play this werewolf game and it was a lot of fun. Game nights are a fun way to get to know people very quickly.

Go to a concert.  

If you live in a town where there are concerts, you should invite some of your fellow grad students to listen to some music with you.  When I was in grad school, the Backstreet Boys came to Tuscaloosa. Me and my two besties all grew up listening to Backstreet Boys so we were sooooo excited to be able to see them in concert.  It was such a great night and a great way to bond! We still talk about that concert 5 years later!

how to make friends in grad school

Try a new restaurant.  

Something I really miss about living in Tuscaloosa, AL is the food!  Me and my friends would always try new restaurants together. You can invite a classmate or two to lunch with you to try out the cuisine in your new town.

Celebrate birthdays.  

The first outing I went on with my cohort was to celebrate Kaitlyn’s birthday.  Her birthday is in September. We had started school about a month before and I hadn’t spent any time outside of class with anyone in my program.  So when I was invited to Kaitlyn’s birthday lunch, I quickly accepted and got to know some of the other people in the department. We even took a picture commemorate the day (you can see how fresh faced and young we were below).  My suggestion is to find out when someone’s birthday is and have a lunch in their honor. Or, invite people to celebrate your birthday!

how to make friends in grad school

Movie night.  

I love a good movie night.  You can invite a few people over for a girl’s night and watch a rom-com, superhero movie, or whatever you’re into.  I actually invited a few of the girls from my department over for a movie night in our first semester. We made cookies and mozzarella sticks and just talked the whole night.  We never even picked out a movie to watch!

Go to football games.  

If you are in grad school, you are probably at a big state school where football is a big deal.  I went to the University of yeah, it was a BFD. Me and my cohort would go to the games together, suffer in the heat, and laugh at the ridiculous, over-passionate undergrads.  It was a great bonding experience for us all! Roll Tide!

how to make friends in grad school

Join an online community.  

As I mentioned before, I host a Facebook group for grad students.  In that group, I help with accountability, time management, and productivity.  So if you are interested in being a part of that group, click here to request to join and I’ll accept you!

Those are my suggestions for making friends and bonding with your grad school cohort.  I suggest to start socially. Once you get to know each other socially and become friends, you’ll be someone your classmates think of when they want to study with a group or work together on assignments.  You can have fun together and kick butt together in grad school together!

How to Manage Your Time and be Productive in Grad School

Do you ever feel like you’re working all the time but never get anything done?  Or do you find yourself working on one task all day and neglecting your other responsibilities?  Or maybe you have so much to do that you forget what you need to get done and end up working late or waking up super early to get stuff done?

All of the above are my experiences from grad school.  I always felt like I wasn’t being productive enough to get all of my work done.  But really, it was a lack of time management skills that I was missing.

However, I quickly got my act together and found a way to manage my time more effectively and be more productive every day.  I started implementing a morning office routine that helped me to stay on track, manage my time, and be productive every single day.

And today, I’m sharing my productive office morning routine with you!  You can read all about it below or watch my YouTube all about it. I even have a pdf template of my morning routine that you can use.

Productive Office Morning Routine

How to Manage your time and be productive in grad school, the academic society for grad students

  1. Brain dump everything you need to get done today.  The first thing I do when I get to my office is take 5 minutes to sit in silence and write down everything that I need to get done.

  2. Prioritize your to-do list.  Then I go through my list and figure out what things need to get done or started first.

  3. Determine your top 3.  Did you know that if you have more than 3 tasks on your to-do list, you are less likely to get everything done?  So I like to create a smaller priority list of 3 tasks that I need to get done first.

  4. Set time limits.  I also like to write down how much time I plan to spend on each task.  This is the time management portion of the routine. If a task takes longer than expected, you can always come back to it later after you’ve finished the remaining tasks on your priority list.

  5. Check your email.  Finally, I check my email to see if there are any other responsibilities or tasks that I need to remember to do in my day.  Warning. Never do this step first. It’s so easy to waste time in your inbox.

You can get a pdf template of this morning routine that you can use every morning by entering your name and email below!

I hope that you have found this post helpful!  If you try out this routine, I want to hear about how it works for you!  DM me on Instagram @theacademicsociety_ and share your productivity wins with me!

The Grad School Tag

🎓Tag! You're it! I just created a Grad School Tag and I want to hear your answers!

Awkward and Embarrassing Grad School Stories | The Grad School Tag

1. When did you start grad school?
2. What are/did you studying in grad school?
3. What type of degree program are/were you in?
4. What were you most nervous about before starting grad school?
5. What do you wish you would have known about grad school before you started?
6. What is your best grad school memory?
7. What is the most embarrassing or awkward thing that has happened to you in grad school?
8. Who is your grad school bestie?
9. How would you describe your grad school style?
10. What do you want to do when you finish grad school?

🎓Share this video and tag your grad school friends! You can go Live in our group, The Academic Society for Grad Students, or write out your answers in a post, or write a blog post with your answers, or create a YouTube video with your answers.

🎓But wherever you answer, make sure that you tag me or share it with me!

Failure in Grad School

Today, I want to talk about something I've never talked about in this group on this blog: FAILURE.  It's a huge part of the grad school experience and it tests our resilience!

Whenever I was having a hard time in grad school, I would call my mom and she would always tell me, "This is the grad school experience. It doesn't matter how many times you fail or feel like you want to quit. You just have to keep going. Getting a PhD is all about withstanding the pressure and not giving up."

So this this post is all about failure in grad school and how to survive and overcome it!

Why failure is an important part of grad school and How to Overcome Failure in grad school | The Academic Society

 Why Failure is a Part of Grad School & How to Overcome the Fear of Failure


Fear of Failure

The first thing I want to talk about is fear of failure. And my challenge to you is to change your mindset about failure. Whenever you experience it, try to think to yourself, "yes, this is the grad school experience and as long as I keep moving forward, I'm succeeding at being a grad student!"

The fear of failure can cause you to be reluctant to try new things or reattempt the thing you failed at.

The fear of failure may cause you to self-sabotage through procrastination, failure to follow through, or becoming overly anxious.

 The fear of failure can cause low self-esteem or low self-confidence. You could find yourself saying, "I'm not good enough to apply for this grant or fellowship." DON'T DO THIS!!!

 The fear of failure can breed perfectionism. Not the kind that makes you do your best. But the kind of perfectionism that prevents you from trying something that you could fail at.

So remember, it's is COMPLETELY NORMAL to fail in grad school. That means you are doing it right!


What Failure Looks Like in Grad School

Let's talk about what failure looks like in grad school. It can be very obvious or very subtle.

Note: If you are a grad student, you have experienced one of these!  We need to train ourselves to look at our failures, learn from them, and move forward!

What does failure look like in grad school?

  • running out of time to complete an assignment

  • failing an exam, project, or paper

  • "disappointing" your advisor (quotes because it feels like disappointment to you, but it's all a part of the advisor-advisee relationship)

  • needing a new advisor or committee member

  • getting poor teaching evaluations

  • having your grant proposal or journal submission rejected

There are many other ways to feel like a failure but you cannot let these roadblocks stop you from achieving your goals and graduating!  Because remember, once you have your degree, no one will care about any of those "failures" mentioned above!


How to Overcome the Fear of Failure in Grad School

We’ve already established that failure is a part of grad school. And the fear of failure can be paralyzing and hold you back.  Here are some tips to help you overcome your fear of failure:

Analyze all potential outcomes – Many people experience fear of failure because they fear the unknown. Remove that fear by considering all of the potential outcomes of your decision. I’m all about making pros and cons lists to help me think through consequences.

 Learn to think more positively – Positive thinking can help you build self-confidence and reduce self-sabotage.

 Look at the worse-case scenario – In some cases, the worst case scenario may be genuinely disastrous, and it may be perfectly rational to fear failure. But in most cases, the worst case may actually not be completely life-ruining. And being able to see this can help you move forward. 

Have a back up plan – If you're afraid of failing at something, having a "Plan B" in place can help you feel more confident about moving forward.

Remember, failure is something that all grad students experience.  It's part of the process!  Your job is to keep going and not give up!  I hope this post is was helpful! Let me know how you’ve failed and overcome that failure in the FB group for grad students!

Organization and Workflows in Grad School

Last Friday, I was asked to be on a panel for the grad students in my department, the Math Department, to answer questions about organization and developing workflows in grad school.  Building in organization and workflows while you are in grad school can help you manage your time more efficiently and be more productive. And that is definitely what we want in grad school!  There is no time to waste!


Organization and Workflows in Grad School | Grad School Panel Discussion | The Academic Society with Toyin Alli

In this post, I will list the questions that were asked and provide some of the answers given by the panel.

Organization and Workflows in Grad School Panel Discussion

What is your biggest challenge to balancing teaching, research, service, and home life?


Answer 1:  You can do all of these things well; but not at the same time.

Answer 2:  Not knowing myself or when I worked best.  I’m a morning person but the classes I taught would be in the morning.  So when the afternoon came, I was exhausted and not motivated to do research.


What do you know now about organization and balance that you wish you knew when you first started grad school?


Answer 1:  Knowing myself and when I was most productive for different tasks.

Answer 2:  Creating a morning routine, especially when you don’t have morning classes or classes at all.

Answer 3:  Dedicating time for myself helps to reduce burnout.

Answer 4;  SLEEP! The amount of work you get done and the quality of it dramatically increases when you have enough sleep.


Related Video:  How to Prevent Burnout in Grad School


Are there ways students can work together to help each other balance their schedules?


Answer 1:  My friends and I planned our tests for the same day so that we could have grading parties together and we wouldn’t procrastinate.  We also planned gym time together.

Answer 2:  Having shared folders for teaching materials is very helpful.

Answer 3:  Studying together helps.

Answer 4:  Student led seminars to help fill in the gaps for topics not learned in classes.


What apps or technology do you use to help keep organized?


Answer 1:  Google calendar

Answer 2:  Trello (I have a training called The Grad School Toolkit that walks you through how to use Trello in grad school.)

Answer 3:  Loose leaf paper instead of notebooks and then scanning those pages to have digital copies of all your notes

Answer 4:  Dropbox/Box/One Drive (cloud storage)


How do you have productive meetings with your advisor?


Answer 1:  Ask questions!

Answer 2:  Create an agenda for your meetings.  I had a formula that I used every meeting:

  • What we talked about last time

  • What I worked on

  • Where I got stuck

  • Questions I have

  • HW/readings for next time


How do you stay on task and not lose time?


Answer 1:  To-do lists

Answer 2:  Order to-do lists by priority and give yourself time limits.

Answer 3:  Set deadlines for yourself.

Answer 4:  Get an accountability partner and meet with them once a week to set goals and discuss progress.


I hope that this panel discussion was helpful.  If you want to join me live, when I have these talks, feel free to join my Facebook group for grad students.

Holiday Gift Guide for Graduate Students

*This post contains affiliate links.

The end of the semester is near and you are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel that is fall semester of grad school.  The holidays are approaching which means you’ll probably have a little time to spend with your friends and family.  Remember them?


I remember, when I was in grad school, I would always wait until the last minute to start thinking about holiday gifts for my friends and family.  There was always just too much work to do and my brainpower was better used elsewhere.  So, once the semester was over, I would take a little break and after a couple of days I would start thinking about gifts.  Which would be last minute and I would have no idea where to start.


That’s why I decided to create this gift guide for you.  So that whenever you are ready, you can come back here, click click click, and have all of your gifts purchased.

holiday gift guide for grad students on a budget.png


When I was coming up with this list, I wanted to make sure that everything had at least two of the following 3 criteria.

  1. The gift is inexpensive.

  2. The gift can be bought online.

  3. The gift can stand alone and won’t need to be packaged with other odds and ends to feel complete.


Holiday Gift Idea 1:  Accessories


If you have someone in your life who enjoys style and material things, I’ve found that accessories are great holiday gifts.  I’ve given my family members scarves and jewelry that they still wear to this day.


Here are some accessories for the women in your life.


Here are some accessories for the men in your life.


Holiday Gift Idea 2:  Fragrances


You can never go wrong with a good scent.  My family members love fragrances and perfume or cologne would make an awesome gift for them.  When I was younger, and just hitting puberty, my aunt would always ask me, “So, have you found your scent yet, you need a signature scent!”  During the holidays, fragrance sets are all the rage, so you can help your loved ones find their signature scent or add to their collection.


Holiday Gift Idea 3:  Food


Everyone loves to eat delicious things.  And I don’t think anyone would be upset about receiving food as a gift.  My grandad always loved those holiday sausage packs so we made sure to get him holiday sausage every single year.  It was a tradition.  I’ve recently learned about this company called Mouth.  OMG!  Everything looks delicious.  They have all of the sweet, savory, mouthwatering things.  Check out their homepage to browse around or you could look at their gift bags between $25-$50.


Holiday Gift Idea 4:  Handmade Gifts


In grad school, after my fellowship was over and I wasn’t balling anymore, I had to really cut down on my holiday gift giving budget.  So I tried making my gifts.  And my family still raves about those gifts today.


Scrubs, Lotions, and Creams


The first time I made my own holiday gifts as a grad student, I decided to make beauty products for my family.  I made lip scrubs, body butters, and shaving cream for all of the members of my family.  Then I packaged them up in cute little mason jars from Hobby Lobby.  I even created little labels that listed the ingredients.


Here’s a tutorial I found on Pinterest to get you started.  I would suggest starting with a lip/body scrub.  All you need is coconut oil, peppermint essential oil, and sugar.  You may have all of these already.

Framed Graphics


The next year, I wanted to stick with the homemade theme so I printed and framed cute little graphics for my family.  It was a big hit.  My sister actually put hers on her desk at school.  She teaches high school.  The graphic says, “You are amazing, remember that!”  

holiday gift guide for grad students on a budget


All you have to do, is look up quotes on Pinterest, head to Canva and make a cute graphic for free.  Then get it printed.  I created 5x7 pictures and framed them.  There are some nice inexpensive frames on Amazon.


Customized Notebooks


If you have a friend who is really into planning and journaling, you could make them a custom notebook and buy them fun pens.  I tried and failed at this, but I found a new tutorial on Pinterest that looks much simpler.  Also, these pens are fabulous!


Holiday Gift Idea 5:  Books


Books make awesome gifts for a person who loves to read.  Books that are funny, thoughtful, or sentimental are great options.  One of my favorite books is Why is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling.  Cookbooks are great gifts as well.  This one by Chrissy Teigen looks amazing!


A couple of years ago, I got my friend, who has a cat, a hilarious book about cats called I Could Pee on This.


Holiday Gift Idea 6:  TV series/Movies


If you have a friend who is also in grad school, or is just really busy in general, it’s highly likely that they have missed all of the most recent season of their favorite TV show.  Or they weren’t able to get to the theaters to see a movie that they were excited about.  It would be so awesome if you could give them the latest season of their favorite show or a movie they wanted to see.  The holidays are a perfect time for them to catch up.


Not sure what they would like?  Maybe they have suggested a show or movie for you to watch.  You can buy it for them and you can watch it together.  The Big Bang Theory is always a good option.


Holiday Gift Idea 7:  Novelty T-shirts


All you need to know is one thing your friend or family member loves.  Then order a t-shirt with that thing on it.  They would love it and wear it all the time.  I’ve had my eye one this Gilmore Girls shirt for a while.


Holiday Idea 8:  Job Application Crash Course

If you have a friend, maybe it’s you, who is planning to graduate this spring or summer and they haven’t started their job applications, you could give the gift of productivity.  There are so many documents that you are required to write to submit an application including CVs, teaching statements, research statements, cover letters, and more.  So you can either spend your break researching what all of those should look like, or you could just let me tell you in the Job Application Crash Course.  Click here to learn more about it.


I’ve also created a free job application resources guide, sign up below to get it in your inbox.

How to Prepare for the End of the Semester as a Grad Student


As a graduate student, the end of the semester can come with mixed feelings.  Excitement.  Because you will finally be free and have a little break to rest and start fresh next semester.  But you may also feel stress and overwhelm.  Because everything HAS to get done by the end of the semester.


You may have final exams, papers to write, presentations to prepare, research to make headway on, and maybe tests to write.  Not to mention other duties you have like tutoring, proctoring finals, and grading finals.  That’s a lot!


It’s so easy to experience burnout during this time and shut down.  But that is not what you are going to do this semester.  This year, you are going to have a manageable plan.  That starts right now.  So that you won’t experience overwhelm and unnecessary stress.  It is grad school, there will be some stress.  You just have to figure out how to handle it!  Now you have me to guide you along and help you come up with a strategy for success.

How to prepare for the end of the semester as a graduate student | The Academic Society


Why you Need a Strategy for the End of the Semester



You need to sleep.  Getting a full night’s rest (whatever that means for you) will help you think more clearly and get things done at the end of the semester.  I recently learned that when we sleep, our brain doesn’t shut down and also go into sleep mode.  It’s actually the opposite.   Sleep is actually an active time for our brains where a lot of processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs.  Don’t we need all three of these to happen at the end of the semester?


Eat Healthy

A part of your end of semester strategy should include eating real food and actual meals.  It’s so easy to “work, work, work, work, work” - Rihanna. And forget about fueling your body until it’s too late and you just grab quick snacks for sustenance.  I don’t want you to do this!  I want you to come up with a plan and a strategy that works for you so that you don’t forget to eat and you can have time to make (or buy) full and balanced meals for yourself.


Me Time

One of the easiest ways to experience burnout is when you don’t make time for yourself.  Having some time every week where you are doing something that you want to do and helps you recharge is so valuable.  Especially at the end of the semester when it’s so easy to forget about yourself and charge full force into the finish line.

Related Video:  What to do when you are feeling burnout in grad school

How to Create a Strategy for the End of the Semester

  1. Start at the end:  figure out exactly what will happen and what needs to get done at the end of the semester.  Write a list of all final exams, papers, and presentations that you need to take, write, create, proctor, and/or grade.  Are there any other things that you MUST get done by the end of the semester like applying for jobs or registering for a conference?  Write those down too.

  2. Prioritize your list:  figure out which items on your list are most important to you.  Of course all things on your list need to get done but some things hold more weight than others.  Decide which 3 things are most important and put a star (*) by them.

  3. Time Management:  Determine how much time you need to prep, start, and reach the result of your top 3 goals/responsibilities.  Can you start prepping for these things now?

  4. Figure out what needs to get done now:  Look ahead in your calendar and figure out what other assignments, projects, reports, classes, etc need to get done before you can start working on your list from step 1.

  5. Plan:  Now that you know what you need to get done, how long it will take, and the stuff that needs to get done first, you can actually schedule when you will do these tasks.  I’ve created a pdf called the End of Semester Strategy Roadmap that will help you keep track of what needs to get done by the end of the semester as well a video that walks you through how to use it.


Now go forth and end this semester on high note!  I know you can do it!

How to Prepare for the Job Market while you are still in grad school

If you have been following the blog awhile, you know that we have been focusing on how to plan for a productive week, every week.  Up until now, we've been planning one week at a time and one day at a time.

Now, I want you to start thinking big! What are your big goals for grad school? What kind of career do you want when you finish? What do you want to be known for in your field?

In this post, we will be taking these big goals, and breaking them down into smaller, more manageable baby goals that you can achieve each semester.

how to prepare for the job market while you are still in grad school | The Academic Society

Figure Out What you are working for

Understanding what you may want to do pretty early in your grad school career can be super helpful.

If you are interested in a teaching career, make sure that you spend your time in grad school preparing to teach. I know it may be easy to teach the same course every semester. But, it would look really good on your job applications if you taught a variety of class. You can start requesting to teach different classes. Also, you can go to seminars and conferences about teaching in your field.

If you are interested in a research career, you should definitely focus on your own research. But you should try to expand your interests. Try applying for a summer research program this summer. Go to conferences and seminars in your field. Also, take a course or seminar on advising undergraduates in research.

If you are interested in an industry or government job, try applying for summer internships to gain experience. Look for opportunities to work on a team.

When I was a graduate student, I built my grad school career all around teaching. I took courses on teaching, went to seminars and conferences, and taught many different classes. This really set me apart from the other applicants applying for the same types of jobs as me.


How to Prepare for a Teaching Job

When you are early in your graduate school career, even if you aren’t teaching classes yet, it’s important to take advantage of every opportunity that is related to teaching.  For example, if a graduate teaching training or course is offered, take it seriously.

If your department offers a course on teaching in your field, take it!  When I was in grad school, I took a course called Teaching College Math.  It was required that I take the course for my fellowship, but it was soooo helpful!  I studied learning outcomes, how to write a syllabus, about assessments and more.  Plus, it was something I could add to my CV that showed that I had teacher training beyond what most grad students had.

I also went to seminars on teaching and learned about active learning.  I was then able to implement what I had learned in my classes and write about what I tried in my teaching statement when I was applying for jobs.

During the JMM (Joint Mathematics Meetings), the big conference in my field, I took mini-courses on how to teach statistics as well has how to advise undergraduates in research.

So as you continue throughout your grad school experience, look for any opportunity that relates to teaching and take advantage of it.


How to Prepare for a Research Job

Disclaimer:  I’ve never wanted a job where research was a focus, so definitely consult your advisor after reading this blog post.

The first piece of advice is a no brainer.  Work very hard on your research.  Make sure you attend seminars and colloquia in your research area.  It would also be helpful if you were able to collaborate with others on a project.

When you are applying for jobs, it will be very likely that you will be the only person in your department working in your specific field.  So it’s nice to be able to show that you can collaborate and work with others.  See if you can find a way to apply your research in other fields.  Interdisciplinary research was a pretty hot topic when I was on the job market.

Whenever you hear about summer research opportunities, you should definitely apply.  I participated in a program called the Industrial Math/Stats Modeling Workshop where I worked on a research team with 5 other members.  We ended the program by writing a research paper and presenting our work.

Reaching out to other schools’ summer research programs also gives you networking opportunities.  Perhaps you’ll meet the very people who will want to hire you someday.

Finally, try to make significant progress on your dissertation research so that you can get a couple papers published before you graduate.


How to Prepare for an Industry/Government Job

Since my research area is statistics, I definitely considered working in industry.  My advisor urged me to take classes outside of my department that would build my list of skills.

I took classes where I learned how to program in SAS and SQL.  I also learned a few more skills in my summer research program IMSM which I mentioned in the section above.

I also think that you should look for summer internship opportunities and find people to collaborate with.  Any evidence of working with a team will look great on your resume when applying for a job in industry or government.


I hope this post gave you something to think about.  So, starting now, be on the lookout for opportunities NOW that will help you in the FUTURE on the job market.

Productivity Hack: Why you Should Keep a Journal as a Grad Student or New Faculty Member

I know what you may be thinking.  Isn’t journaling for preteen girls to write their current crush’s name inside of a hand-drawn heart?  Well, yeah.  But it’s also for graduate students who want to succeed and progress in their programs feeling less overwhelmed and manage time more efficiently!  It’s a great way to keep your productivity waaaay up!

I started keeping a journal last summer when I was planning my blog launch (my second blogging attempt....).  In it, I kept my daily to-do lists, my long and short-term goals, as well as ideas for the future.  The specific type of journal I kept is called a Bullet Journal, and let me tell you, it was so fun!  If you want to learn more about the Bullet Journal, or as us journalers call it, the BuJo, check out this super official website as well as these really pretty ones on Pinterest.

In today’s, post, I am giving you a list of reasons why keeping a journal is especially important for productivity while in graduate school.

Productivity hack for new faculty members and graduate students | The Academic Society


Keeping a journal can give you a safe place to reflect on the thoughts and emotions you have about your career.  Maybe you had a wonderful day at teaching or at work.  It’s good to acknowledge what you did that day and what made it so great.  Or maybe your day wasn’t the best.  Writing about it can be a nice release of those negative feelings and can help you to not dwell on it longer than necessary so that you can move forward.


Journaling is great for motivation.  Something that I love to add to my journal is a to-do list.  Checking something off of my to-do list is so satisfying and it helps me to celebrate each little win.  In an article in the Harvard Business Review called The Power of Smalls Wins, the authors’ research proved that making progress in meaningful work boosts emotions, motivation, and perceptions during a workday.  Writing in a journal can give you a place to keep track of that progress.

Keeping Track of Accomplishments

It’s also nice to keep a running list of all of your achievements.  If you do something awesome or get complimented on your work, write it down.  You’ll need to have these things on hand when it’s time for to start applying for jobs and funding opportunities!


Speaking of job applications, do you know everything that is expected of you to apply for jobs in academia?  If not, find out immediately.  You can get a checklist here.  Then you can write down all of these things in your journal.  And now that you know where you are going, you just need to make a plan to get there.  For example, being innovative in teaching is a part of my promotion requirements.  So each week I try to do something new in the classroom to see how my students react to it along with how well they grasp the material.

Related Post:  When to Start Applying for Jobs in Academia


A journal is a great place to write down all of your ideas for research or teaching, big or small.  Maybe there are colleagues that you want to collaborate with or service projects that you want to put together or be a part of.  Maybe there is new research in your field and you want to apply the results in your project.  The sky’s the limit!  I try to keep a running list of new activities for my students to work on in groups.  So far, the biggest hit was Derivative Sudoku.  Today, I’m trying a matching game with graphs of functions and their derivatives.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

How I use my Journal Daily

  1. I like to take 5-10 minutes either in the morning or the night before work to plan my day.  This typically consists of a To-Do list.  See my pro tip below.

  2. Throughout the day, I will write down any new ideas or goals that I think of.

  3. At the end of the day, I reflect on everything I’ve done and evaluate what’s working for me and what is not.

Pro Tip:  Try to keep your To-Do list short.  3-4 items is about all that one can manage without becoming overwhelmed.

I hope that you have enjoyed this post.  Using my journal helps me to stay focused at work and keep my productivity at 100%.  Do you currently keep a journal?  What type of things do you write in it?  If you don’t keep a journal, are thinking about keeping one now?

The #1 Mistake you are Making in Grad School (and it’s not your coursework or research)

Mistake:  The #1 mistake you can make in grad school is to let grad school happen to you.

The Solution:  Change your mindset.

I know that sounds so vague and intangible.  But it’s not!  I’m going to give you my tips for changing your mindset about grad school and move forward with intention.

You have probably heard that, when you start grad school, you will have to say goodbye to your friends, family, and free time.  Grad school will be so difficult, time-consuming, and life-draining that you won’t be able to catch your breath.  This is true for many, many grad students.  But it doesn’t have to be true for you.  Your experience in grad school all depends on your expectations for it.  

As a grad student, you typically fall into one of two camps.  First, is the group that freaks themselves out.  They think that they aren’t smart enough, everyone is smarter than them, or that their professors will expect them to know more than they already do.  The second group is the overconfident group.  They believe that they are completely ready for grad school and that it will be just an extension of undergrad.

While there are outliers, most grad students’ reality is actually somewhere between those two sets of expectations.  When I was in grad school, I learned that, yes, grad school takes a whole lot of time and a whole lot of effort.  But, when I took the time to look ahead, figure out my goals, and set a plan, I was able to find some time for myself as well.

If you are interested in how I did this, keep reading!


How to decrease overwhelm and stress in grad school


the number one mistake you are making in grad school and it's not your coursework or your research, grad school tips, grad school advice, the academic society, for grad students and faculty members

Be intentional about your purpose in grad school

It’s easy to say that your purpose is to get a PhD or to do research.  And yes, that may be your overall goal or end result of being in grad school.  But what about this year, this semester, or this month?

Are you taking classes right now?  Is your goal to absorb as much material as possible or to get an A in your class?  Is your goal to narrow down a research area?

Are you in research mode?  Your immediate goal could be to read and understand 5 papers this month.  Maybe you want to prove or discover something new to bring to your advisor.  Do you want to present at conferences or seminars?

Are you applying for jobs this year?  A goal could be to complete your application materials by October.  You can research positions and determine the type of job you want.

Are you focused on your teaching practices?  Do you want to improve your teaching evaluations?  Or increase student engagement in your classes?  Perhaps you may want to start prepping your classes 1-2 weeks in advance.  Or be observed teaching twice each semester.

Making these goals are so important.  If you have specific actionable goals that you can reach for each semester, you can understand how to schedule your time and remain focused on the right things.


Make a plan

Once you have a couple of goals for the semester or month, how are you going to make it happen?  Come up with a plan of attack!  Make a schedule and create smaller tasks within your bigger goal.

If you need help doing this, I’ve created a workbook for you.  Click the button below to get the Grad School Survival Workbook directly to your inbox.

 Related Post: Taking your Courses Online: 5 Tips for Success

Determine your Non-negotiables

Figure out what your “non-negotiables” are.  Think about your immediate goals for the semester and determine what tasks need to be done to reach them.  These tasks are your “non-negotiables”.  

As a grad student, I took the time to figure out my top goals and non-negotiables before each semester.  When I was doing my coursework, my goal was to start my homework assignments the day they were given.  When I was writing my dissertation, I had monthly writing goals.

When I started teaching, my top goals were to get my students to enjoy my classes and get amazing course evaluations. (This was helpful when I was applying for jobs in academia.)  You just need to determine what your non-negotiables are for the semester.



Money can be a major cause of stress for grad students.  It’s no secret that grad students aren’t ballin’ out of control.  But what does help is if you can start being realistic about how much money you will make each month. If you are a PhD student you are probably being supported in some kind of way. Maybe you are a teaching assistant (like I was) or a research assistant. You may also have a fellowship that comes with a stipend.

If you are a Mater's student, maybe you are only partially supported by your department and you work as a tutor or have a part-time job.

However you are expected to support yourself, take a moment to think about how much support that is. Like the actual number.  Then come up with a plan for the month for how to spend that money wisely.

Are you noticing a trend?  I’m all about the plan!

the number one mistake you are making in grad school and it's not your coursework or your research, grad school tips, grad school advice, the academic society, for grad students and faculty members


This is perhaps the most important tip.  You have to change how you think about grad school.  No more saying how overwhelmed you are or how impossible everything feels.  Create a plan with actionable steps.  Speak words of encouragement every morning.  This is call affirmation.

Plan your week ahead of time.  I like to take some time on Sunday evenings to reflect on my previous week and figure out what I need to do the next week and then create a schedule/to-do list for the upcoming week.

I hope that these tips will help you create a plan for yourself so that you can go through grad school with intention.

To be walked through these steps, download the Grad School Survival Workbook!

the number one mistake you are making in grad school and it's not your coursework or your research, grad school tips, grad school advice, the academic society, for grad students and faculty members

The Key to Productivity, Organization, and Having a Life in Grad School:  Working 8-5

Does this sound like a typical day for you?


You wake up thinking about all of the tasks you need to do for the day.  Then you remember the thing you meant to do yesterday, but you forgot.  So you spend most of your day working on the thing you should have worked on the day before.  Therefore you don’t have enough time to complete the tasks you had planned for the day.  Which means, that after dinner, at home, you try to do more work while you “relax” and watch tv.  Then you go to bed just to do it all over again the next morning.


Or maybe this is you…


You’re invited to hang out with friends or do something that isn’t grad school related.  You haven’t taken a break in while so you decide to go out.  But the whole time you are out, you feel guilty.  You have so much work to do and you feel like you aren’t spending your time wisely.  Therefore, you can’t fully enjoy your break.


What about this?


You are working on your research and you get stuck on a problem.  So you go read some papers to find inspiration.  Next thing you know, it’s been 3 hours and you haven’t prepped for the classes you are teaching.


Do any of those scenarios sound familiar?


I recently interview four PhD students and they all told me that they struggle with time management, productivity, and organization in some kind of way.  When I first started grad school, I was the same.


But then I discovered the key!  The key to getting stuff done efficiently and still having time for myself at the end of the day without feeling guilty about it.


Would you like to know how I accomplished this impossible task?  Okay, okay, I’ll tell you!

The key to time management in grad school: treat grad school like a job | The Academic Society for grad students and new faculty in Math and STEM


The Key to Productivity, Organization, and Having a Life in Grad School:  Working 8-5


You have to treat grad school like a job.  I know, it’s called school, not work.  But this is what I did and I saw major improvement in my quality of life.  I was able to sleep more and stress less!  Here’s what I started to do my third year of grad school.


Start Early

I’m a morning person, so waking up early allowed me to start working when my brain worked best.  I would wake up early, have breakfast and be at school by 7:30 am.  I would spend the first 30 minutes of my day checking and responding to emails and writing my daily to-do list.


To-do list

Having a to-do list is key!  Creating a to-do list lets you visualize all of the tasks you need to do in a day.  You can always refer back to it throughout the day to see if you are using your time efficiently.  Also, whenever you remember new tasks that you may have forgotten, you can just add them to the list.


There are pitfalls that you need to watch out for when creating your daily to-do lists:

  1. Not being mindful of time.  Not every task is created equal and will not take the same amount of time.  Some things take 5 minutes, like writing an important email.  And other things take hours, like writing up your research.  So you should always be mindful about how much time your tasks take.

  2. Creating an overwhelming to-do list.  I think I read that psychologically, if you have more than 3-4 tasks on a to-do list, you can feel overwhelmed and actually get less work done.  That’s why understanding how much time things take is super important.  What I like to do is to add how much time I want to spend on each of my tasks and give myself a deadline.

  3. Not prioritizing tasks:  Sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to check off tasks on your to-do list in order.  If there is something that needs to get done by the next day, try working on it before something that may not be due for a week.  Also, if there is a task that you are dreading working on, try to work on that first to get it over with.  Otherwise, you would just save it until the end of the day or perhaps never getting to it.


Homework:  Create a checklist or a to-do list and write down all of your tasks for the day as well a how much time you want to spend on each task.


Complete your day with a plan

At the end of your work day (my suggestion would be to finish your day between 5-7 pm), go back to your to-do list and see what things still need to be done.  If they aren’t urgent, add them to a new to-do list for the next day.

Once you get in the habit of things, you’ll find that planning your day becomes easier and easier.  And you’ll no longer feel like you are forgetting things or not spending your time wisely.  Then, at the end of the day, you are completely done and don’t have to worry about remembering things to do tomorrow.  They are already on your list and you can enjoy the evenings for yourself.


The Exceptions

While it is very nice to only work between the hours of 8-5, it’s not always feasible.  There are times where you will have to work outside of those hours.  In particular, those exceptions would include studying for tests, preparing for presentations, or grading hws and tests.


If you want to take the next step and start planning for the week, instead of day to day, checkout the Grad School Survival Workbook.

How to Get Your Students to Answer Questions in Class

So we’ve learned by now that students can only be engaged during a lecture for maybe 20 minutes at a time.  Therefore it’s important to break up your lecture and include some student engagement.

The easiest way to do this is to stop the lecture and ask your students verbal questions like:

  • What’s the next step?

  • Any ideas on how we should approach this problem?

  • Does this idea look familiar?

However, a lot of the time, your students will respond with blank stares.  This just happened to me on the first day of class.  Maybe it was too early in the morning.  Maybe they were intimidated by the math.  It doesn’t matter what there issue was, I still found a way to get them to answer my questions.  Because, like I told my students, I don’t want to stand up and talk for a full 50 minutes by myself!  They need to be involved too!

I’ve come up with 4 tips on how to get your students to answer questions in class.


How to get your students to answer your questions in class for grad students and new faculty | The Academic Society

Make your expectations clear on the first day of class

It’s important to set the tone on the first day of class.  If you expect your students to answer your questions throughout the semester, you must ask them questions on the first day.

It doesn’t even have to be deep or related to the subject of the class at all.  Start with low stakes questions.  Let them ask questions about the syllabus.  Ask them about their previous classes from the same subject.  You can even ask what their major is.  I’ve made a list of questions that you can ask your students on the first day of classes.

Download the Icebreaker Questions!


I like to start with an icebreaker activity to get them up and out of their seats to meet each other.  I go more in-depth about this icebreaker in my free e-course about implementing group work as a graduate student.  

After setting the foundation of some type of exchange between you and your students, they will have meet me and each other (if you tried my icebreaker) and loosened up a bit.  Now you can ask them any question and they will be less nervous to answer.

Answer every question seriously

It may be annoying to repeat something that you’ve already explained.  But sometimes students miss it.  Maybe they were writing notes or maybe they just spaced out.  But for some reason they missed it.

When this happens, you should answer the question fully and make sure that your students understand.

This shows that you care about them and want to help them as much as you can.  It also shows that you won’t embarrass your students if they answer something incorrectly.

Students really appreciate that!  It has been mentioned many times in my teacher evaluations that I never make my students feel bad for asking questions and that they can tell that I care about them learning.

Remember, teaching evaluations can be a big part of your job applications if you want a job in academia.

Embrace the awkward silence

Because it will happen.  You will ask a question and no one will answer.  When this happens, the best thing you can do is wait.  And after a significant amount of time has passed (30-45 seconds), if you can tell that they do not know the answer, prompt them.

Ask them a leading question.  You know, one that will lead them to the correct answer without giving it away.  A question that will put them on the right train of thought.

When you ask leading questions, you are training your students to think that way so that they can get themselves to answers to a question (when they are working alone) and don’t know where to begin.

Here’s what happened to me on the first day of my precalculus class, even after we had such a great time getting to know each other:

We were learning about the distance formula and started to work this problem.

Find the set of all points that are 4 units away from the point (2, -3).

I plotted the point on a graph so that they could get a visual.  Then I asked, “any ideas on how to get started?”


So I asked, “can anyone find one point 4 units away?”


So then I chose a random point at least 10 units away and asked, “is this 4 units away?”

Finally, a few people said no.  And then someone said we could add and subtract 4 units from the x and y coordinate.

And then we were well on our way to getting to the answer to that problem.

After we went through all of that my students realized that I would not accept silence as an answer to any of my questions.

Call on students

I don’t really like to put students on the spot to answer questions, especially in a lower level math course because people have real anxieties about math and I don’t want to traumatize them; I want them to love it as much as I do.  At least that’s the goal.

Also, being called on is something I hated as a student and it gave me anxiety!

I like to call on students to ask them how they feel:

  • “How do you feel about this topic?”

  • “Do we need more practice?”

  • “Which part is the most difficult?”

  • “If you were working this on you own, where would you have gotten stuck?”

That last one is my favorite.  It really makes the students look back at the problem to make sure they really understand it.

Extra Tips

Along with those 4 tips, I wanted to give you a few other small things you can do to get your students to answer your questions.

  1. Smile

  2. Look like a nice, approachable person.

  3. Be relatable and tell them about when you learned the topic.

I hope that you enjoyed this post.  Let me know which tips you plan to use in your classroom and please share any other tips you may have in the comments section below.  It could really help other grad students struggling with getting their students to answer their questions.

Download the Icebreaker Questions!

6 Tips For Getting Good Teaching Evaluations

As a graduate student wanting a career in academia, you need good teaching evaluations for your job application packets.  These evaluations become even more important when you are a new faculty member.  Evaluations can play a role when you go up for promotion.  However, you are often thrust into a classroom to teach without any teaching experience or training.  And when you ask people how to be good at teaching, the answer is usually, “experience”.

This is true.  But as a graduate student who has never taught before, you don’t have that!

This post is about how to be thoughtful about your teaching strategies so that your students learn, like you, and give you great evaluations.

Download the Mid-Semester Survey Questions!

6 tips for getting good teaching evaluations for graduate students and new faculty members in Math and STEM | The Academic Society


Relate to your students

This is where your experience level is a HUGE asset!  You know, more recently than any professor, how it feels to be a student and how you felt when you took the same course yourself.

Share your experiences with your students.  Explain where you struggled and give them tips on how to succeed in the class.

My students always perk up when I say, “Oh, I remember learning this.  A lot of my classmates (or just me) found it difficult but I’ve come up with a good way to explain it.”  Students love when you are relatable like this.  And it also shows that you care.  And those are the things students mention in teaching evaluations.

Make your students feel comfortable

I always greet my students with a smile.  I also smile throughout the lecture…but that’s just who I am.  And my students always mention it in my teaching evaluations.  They always say that they could tell that I loved the subject (because math is awesome!) and that I was happy to be there.

You can also ask them how they are doing.  Especially before and after class.  Then ask them how they are enjoying the class so far.  If you’ve asked your students what their majors are, you can also incorporate relevant examples throughout your lectures.

I highly recommend a mid-semester survey.  This will tell you how your students really feel.  I like to also ask what they would like to change about class…and actually make some changes.  They love this and will share these things in your teaching evaluations! 

I’ve made a list for you of my mid-semester survey questions for the class that gave me all positive evaluations.  Give them a try and see how they work for you.



Understand Time

Time goes so much slower than you think when you are writing on the board.  One minute to you feels like 30 seconds to your students.  You have to give them time to absorb what you have written.  Even if it feels like you are just standing in silence for an awkwardly long amount of time.

Note:  Nothing you do is too awkward.  The more awkward the better is my opinion (I’m a mathematician…awkward is our default), as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously.  It makes you more approachable to your students.

Another thing.  It’s important to realize that students have a jam packed academic schedule as well as social engagements.  I’m not saying to give them less work.  But try to seem a little sympathetic.

Group work

In class group work is my favorite.  It gives your students a chance to ask each other questions.  It also forces engagement.  When I get to a problem in the notes that takes just a little more thought to come up with a game plan for solving it, I like to break my students up into groups of 2 or 3, give them a starting point, and let them talk it out and work it out together.

Coming up with strategies on their own helps them remember the process so much more than just watching me do it!  If you would like to learn how to get started with group work, try my free 4-day email course, Student Engagement for GTAs.  In this course I show you how to set your class up for group work starting on day one of the semester.


Over-prepare for class

Make sure you have prepared more than enough information, notes, and examples for each class.  Use resources other than the class textbook for alternate examples and explanations.

It’s important to actually work the HW problems that will be assigned.  That way you will know exactly what topics and ways of thinking should be discussed in class.

Check for understanding every 3-5 minutes

It’s so easy to get caught up in beautiful mathematics and then you look up 10 minutes later and your whole class either looks lost or has zoned out!

Not good.  I like to check for understanding at every step.  Here’s what I like to ask:

  • “Does that make sense?”

  • “What should we do next?”

  • “What’s the overall goal of the question?”

  • “If you were working on this problem by yourself, where might you have gotten stuck?”

  • “Any ideas on how we should approach this problem?”

  • “Why?”

If you ask these questions, your students will say that you really cared that they understood the material in your teaching evaluations.

Remember, teaching evaluations aren’t everything and you do want to be genuine when you teach.  So just be yourself and try to remember how it felt to be a student.  How would you want your professor to address the class?

I hope that you enjoyed this post!  If you have any other tips or questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below.  Also, share this post with other graduate students and new faculty members.

Download the Mid-Semester Survey Questions!

How to Write a CV as a Graduate Student

One of the most difficult parts about applying for a job, internship, or research program is actually sitting down to write a CV.  You probably haven’t been writing down all of your accomplishments as you have gone through graduate school.  So it’s completely understandable that writing a CV can feel overwhelming.

If you are like I was as a graduate student, you probably only have the resume you used to get into graduate school.   And now that you are in, all of your undergraduate accomplishments are irrelevant.  Great.

But don’t worry, it’s best to start from scratch anyway.

How to Write a CV as a Graduate Student | The Academic Society | for graduate students in Math and STEM

Let’s start with the format and content that you need to create a standout CV for whatever job you are applying for.

Formatting Do’s and Don’ts of an Academic CV


Do use 1 inch margins on all for edges of your CV.

Do use 12 point font for the content of your CV.

Do using single-spacing.

Do write your name at the top of your CV in either 14 or 16 point font.


Don’t use multiple font styles.

Don’t use italics for anything other than journal and book titles.

Don’t center any lines of your CV, other than the heading.

Don’t use any accomplishments from your undergraduate years.  (This one is not a formatting tip, but it needed to be mentioned.)


The Heading of an Academic CV

In the heading of your CV, you should include your first and last name in either 14 or 16 point font.  Also, include the words “Curriculum Vitae” right below your name.  It’s also best to include either your school or home address, email address, and phone number.

The Categories of an Academic CV

Below, I have listed a few of the most common categories found on a CV.  Don’t worry if you don’t have any accomplishments in certain categories yet.  You definitely do not need this many.  I think I only had 6 or 7 of these on my CV when I was applying for jobs.

  • Education

  • Employment

  • Publications

  • Awards/Honors

  • Grants/Fellowships

  • Invited Talks

  • Conference Activity

  • Teaching Experience

  • Service

  • Extra-curricular activities

  • Community Involvement

  • Professional Memberships


What Search Committees Notice

I thought that it would also be helpful to mention things that I had on my CV that search committees noticed and asked me about during interviews.

If you actually taught classes, make sure that it is clear.  As a graduate student, I attended a program called the BFF (Building Future Faculty) Program at North Carolina State University.  One of the most helpful experiences during that program was that I was able to get feedback on my CV from a professor in my field.  So, we went over each part of my CV and he gave me feedback.  One of the things that stood out was my “Teaching Experience” Category.

I had listed that I was a GTA and gave details about the courses that I taught and he asked why I was trying to make it seem like I actually taught those classes that I listed.  Of course I was confused.  But I didn’t want to be rude about saying that I did teach those classes.

Apparently he thought that I was grader or ran recitation sections for those classes that I taught.  He suggested that I use language other than “Graduate Teaching Assistant” and state that I was the Instructor of Record for the course because, apparently, it isn’t that common for graduate students to teach as many classes as I had.

Meeting with this professor was so valuable to me and it really gave me a good idea of what an academic CV should look like as a graduate student.  That’s why I offer a service where I provide graduate students with feedback on their CVs.  If you’re interested, join The Academic Society and email me about it!


Another thing that stood out was interesting extracurricular/service projects.  I was a member of the Graduate Student Association and each year we would put on an event called “Night at the Museum”.  During this event, each department would set up a booth to teach children about their areas of study using fun themes like Pirate Night and Safari Night.

I actually got questions about this event (very small part of my CV) from multiple search committees.

The smallest things can help you stand out to a search committee.  If you are ready to start writing your CV, I’ll be hosting a workshop that will walk you through the process of writing or updating your CV so that it stands out to a search committee.

Register for the Workshop!

How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia Series, Part 1: Be Observed

When you get into your 3rd year of grad school, you probably have completed all of your course work, chosen an advisor, and started teaching classes.


This is also the time where you start to decide if you love learning so much that you want to do it forever!  Or you decide that when you finish, you want to take the money and run (get an industry job).


If you are in the former group like I was, you’ve realized that either teaching or research is your passion!  Or maybe you are passionate about both teaching and research.  In any case, you’ve found your passion and there is nothing else you’d rather do as your career.  Well, that means you probably want to go into academia and be a professor at a college or university.


So that means, in the fall (or spring) semester of your final year of grad school you, will start to apply for jobs in academia.


But…one does not simply click on a job posting, fill out an application, and hope for the best.  Oh no, my friend.  It takes careful planning and preparation to even complete an application, let alone stand out enough to get an interview!


That’s why I started this blog!  I hated that there wasn’t a roadmap for successfully going through the application process to land your dream job in academia.


I was pretty successful during my job search with the process that I made for myself so I wanted to share it with you!  You have enough on your plate with teaching, research, presentations, seminars, and writing your dissertation.  Let me do the heavy lifting for you.


This series, How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia will walk you through the steps you need to take before filling out a job application.  There are 3 parts in this series:

Part 1:  Be Observed

Part 2:  Observe

Part 3:  Roadmap to Success


How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia, Part 1: Be Observed | The Academic Society | for graduate students in Math and STEM

Part 1:  Be Observed Teaching

Depending on the type of school you want to work at (liberal arts, R1, community college), teaching may or may not be a huge component of your appointment.  But you will have to teach.


And the schools you will apply for will need evidence of your teaching skills, practices, and experience.  Every application will ask for a teaching statement or philosophy, teaching evaluations, and a recommendation letters that will give proof that you know what you are doing in a classroom.


And how will someone know how well you are doing in the classroom?


They will only know if they have seen you teach.


So the first step to prepare to apply for an academic job is to be observed teaching.  And not just once.


You should be observed when you first start teaching and after you become a “pro”.  And it would be super helpful if the same person observed you at the beginning and end of your grad school teaching experience.


So yes, it’s great to ask your advisor to observe you teaching.  But note:  they will be the one faculty member that knows the most about your research.  So their reference letter will focus more on that.


You need to find at least two faculty members to write letters for you that are ALL about your experience in the classroom.


So how do you find who to ask to observe you?


I’m glad you asked!  Find the best teachers in your department.  And don’t think that they must have a Ph.D. to be great letter writers for you.  Instructors are great faculty members to ask to observe your teaching!  If their only job is to teach, they probably know the most about teaching.


So choose two people to observe your classes.  Remember, they will need to do it more than once.  Preferably once at the beginning of your teaching experience and once at the end of your program.


There will probably be years between those observation times.  How will they remember your teaching skills and experience?  They have classes and students of their own to think about.


Make it easy on them!


Create a worksheet or form that is easy for them to fill out while they observe you!  And then you both keep copies that they can refer back to when you ask them to write their reference letter for you.


So how do you create a good form?  Well, your department may already have some created.  But if not, I’ve created one for you!


You’re welcome!


Download the Teaching Observation Form!

As you can probably guess that, to get a good teaching reference letter, you need to plan.  Years in advance!  And being observed multiple times will give your letter writer plenty of personalized and detailed material that is bound to help you stand out among the mass of other applicants.


Not only is it important to be observed.  It’s tremendously helpful to observe others’ teaching styles and practices as well.


That’s what I cover in Part 2 of the How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia series.  You can find that post here!

Don’t forget to download the Teaching Observation Form!  You can get it below!

How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia Series, Part 2: Observe

Welcome back to the series on How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia!  This series was created to give you a starting point as well as a roadmap for applying for jobs.  Because, trust me, it’s very overwhelming!  Here is what we cover in this 3 part series:

Part 1:  Be Observed

Part 2:  Observe

Part 3:  Roadmap to Success

In Part 1, we talked about how important it is to be observed teaching in the classroom.  If you missed the previous post, click here.


How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia, Part 2:  Observe Others | The Academic Society | for graduate students in Math and STEM

Part 2:  Observe Others’ Teaching Practices

If you are in grad school for anything other than Education, you probably had never taught anything before starting grad school.


So that means your own experiences in front of a classroom is not enough.  It is wildly helpful to see how others in your field teach their classes.  Particularly, the people known for their teaching skills!


Like the people I mentioned in Part 1 of this series who will be observing your teaching.


Since you want to develop a relationship with them, you should definitely ask them if you can sit in on a couple of their classes to observe them.


This is especially helpful if they are teaching the same classes as you, or a class that you will be teaching in the future.


And what should you do while you observe them?


Take notes!  Notice how they interact with the class.  Get a feel for their flow and teaching style.


Use the same form that I mentioned in Part 1 and fill it out for them.


If you missed Part 1, click here.


Download the Teaching Observation Form!


What do you do if you notice that your teaching is severely lacking compared to the teaching practices of the person you observed?


Ask them for more help.  I know that I love to talk about teaching.  They will be happy to help.


Ask them how they plan their classes.  Ask them how they choose what problems to work in class.  Ask them how they get students to participate in their lectures.


I have a method that I use that starts on the first day of classes to warm the students up and let them know that I want them to participate in the lectures throughout the whole semester.  I created a full email course that you can take to learn more.


Click here to take the FREE email course.


I hope that you are enjoying this series so far.  There is only one part left.  But first, let’s recap.


What do we need to do before we start applying for jobs in academia?  Observe and be observed!  Click here to read part 3 of the series.


Download the Teaching Observation Form!

How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia Series, Part 3: Create a Roadmap for Success

Welcome back!  You made it to the final part of the series, How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia.  If you haven’t gone through the first two parts, you can find them here:

Part 1:  Be Observed

Part 2:  Observe

These posts also came with a free gift.  If you missed the gift, you can sign up below to get the Teaching Observation Form.

Download the Teaching Observation Form!

How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia | The Academic Society | for graduate students in Math and STEM

Part 3:  Create a Roadmap for Success


I’m the type of person that loves to plan.  I remember, in undergrad, and my roommate can attest to this, what I did every semester.  I would plan my future.  I would choose the classes I wanted to take for the remaining semesters in great detail as well as my plans for after graduation.


My plans changed each semester but it always made me feel better when I gave myself something to work toward.  Like a personal challenge that only I knew about.  It always helps to have some type of roadmap.


That’s what we are going to talk about in the final part of this series on How to Prepare to Apply for a Job in Academia.


I know that I said we can’t just look at an application listing and click apply and be done.  But we do need to know what to expect in advance.


I remember, in the spring semester of my 4th year of grad school, I was planning my future, as I do.  And I decided to look up the types of jobs I wanted to apply for and boy were my eyes opened!


There is so much stuff that goes into an application packet!  At least a month’s worth of work!

Where to Find Academic Job Postings

As you know, I’m a mathematician so I went to the AMA website to look for job postings and found  It’s really the best place to search and apply for math jobs in academia.  Not all math jobs are on the site but most are.


Documents of an Academic Job Application Packet

So let me tell you what I learned.  There are at least 5 pieces of an academic job application.  They can include but are not limited to the following:

  • CV

  • Cover Letter

  • Teaching Statement

  • Research Statement

  • Teaching Evaluations

  • 3-4 Letters of Recommendation

  • Diversity statement (rarely)

That’s a lot of stuff to write!  And they all take a lot of time to actually complete.


So what did I do?  I created a spreadsheet with all of the jobs that I could possibly be interested in along with which applications required what documents.  It was so nice to have it all organized and it helped to keep me on track and ahead of deadlines.

The Job Application Roadmap

I know that applying for jobs can me very overwhelming and stressful, so I’ve created a roadmap for you to follow to help you prepare for the process.


Also, I want to be able to help you even more by walking you through the whole application process with tutorials, spreadsheets, and writing prompts.  So I’m creating an online course called Apply to Standout.


Would you be interested in taking a course that walks you through the whole application process with no research on how to write all of those documents above?


Sign up to get notifications when my course is ready.



Thanks for joining me in this series!  I hope that you are ready to start preparing yourself for academic job applications.