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What does grad school teach? Amazing powers of concentration

This week, we are comparing how students and educators in high-school and postsecondary spend their days. Today: Life as a graduate student writing a dissertation.

6:00 a.m. Feline alarm clock kicks in. I lever myself out of bed as quickly as possible to avoid the temptation of further sleep. If I don't make myself keep a schedule, it's difficult to get any work done.

6:30 a.m. Off to work: up the stairs to my "office." First order of business: put on the kettle for tea. I'm pondering what goodies might be waiting in my online news feed.

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7:30 a.m. Post on Twitter a series of critiques of the most infuriating and/or inaccurate news article of the day, then add material to a blog post I'm writing on a related topic.

8:45 a.m. I remember to have breakfast.

9:15 a.m. Time to deal with my e-mail inbox. There are new messages to respond to, and I need to send several more requests for dissertation-related interviews.

9:40 a.m. Research work today involves skimming through hundreds of news items from 2001. I'm trying to construct a timeline that will be part of an analysis of organizational change, and this is a small slice of the information that contributes to the "big picture."

11:00 a.m. My usual "it cannot be 11:00am already" moment. The timeline is slowly coming together and I can see how useful it will be when I'm done, but I'm reminded yet again of how much stamina and patience it takes to get through a research project, even as contained as mine is. My strategy has mainly involved breaking the work into manageable chunks and not focusing on how much I have left to do.

12:30 p.m. A series of Twitter notifications alerts me to the fact that it's everyone else's lunch hour. People have responded to things I said earlier, or they've been sharing and commenting on my recent blog post. I take time out for a break and to catch up.

1:15 p.m. Walk downtown and run some errands. I'm capable of happily staying in my apartment all day long, so I try to force myself to go outside and have some face-to-face contact. I don't get lonely at home, because throughout the day I'm in contact with friends and other researchers (worldwide!) primarily via Twitter.

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3:20 p.m. Phone conversation about a research contract. Definitely a positive thing, since I'm always looking for paid research work (insert stereotype of starving grad student here).

4:30 p.m. Working on a conference abstract. I don't know if I'll have the resources to attend, but the rule here is "apply first, juggle later." I made lots of notes on this while the ideas were fresh in my mind, so I have something to work with when I sit down to complete it.

6:30 p.m. There are new episodes of QI online, so I watch one of them in the background while cooking dinner and fending off cat harassment.

6:40 p.m. Google search for "Extreme Knitting".

7:30 p.m. Back to dissertation work. The longer I stare at my "methodology" chapter, the less sense it makes. Something else I've learned about research: Trust the process, because most of the time you probably don't yet know what you're looking for.

7:45 p.m. I'll just collect some more data. That'll do it.

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9:45 p.m. I got too absorbed in my task; when I stand and stretch, my spine produces unseemly noises. No amount of yoga-esque posing will soothe the stubborn muscles at this point. I check the news and post a few tweets.

10:15 p.m. Recreational reading. This involves either a novel, or a history book, or a historical novel (naturally). Paradoxically, taking my mind off research in this way has often helped me to think more creatively about it.

10:45 p.m. Lights out. Fall asleep to the sound of gentle galloping from the cats upstairs.

Melonie Fullick is a PhD candidate in the Faculty of Education at York University.

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