Three Ways to Reinvigorate Your Work Ethic
Written by Bridget Chalifour
“Wouldn't it be nice if we were older? Then we wouldn't have to wait so long.”
I think the Beach Boys said it best. Even though the Wilsons were singing about finally being with the women they loved, this wistful sentiment applies to many situations. I sometimes think of this line when I dream of the day I’ll finally reach my goals: completing my PhD, finding my dream career, owning my own home. As a first-year PhD student, these dreams still feel far away—like, really far.
I’m sure this feeling doesn’t just apply to me or to other graduate students. We can all feel a little stuck, like we’re in a kind of career purgatory where we’re working towards goals that seem so out of reach. How do I equate teaching 108 students to dissect fetal pigs with finally getting a job I love in governmental research? It’s hard to stay motivated and push through, but it is possible. Here are a few things that I’ve found helpful along the way:
1. Let Other People Inspire You
Luckily for me, I have ample opportunity to reinvigorate and motivate myself. Every week my department hosts visiting lecturers from all aspects of ecology and evolutionary biology, some from industry, some from academia, some from governmental organizations. These scientists come in, meet with graduate students and talk about their research concentrations, from climate change affecting wine growing regions to the symbiotic relationship between ants and caterpillars. Hearing the stories and backgrounds of people I admire helps me realize they also had to take a long, hard road to reach their goals.
If you’re not in the kind of industry that hosts lectures or conferences, Babes Who Hustle is another fantastic resource. I love reading babe interviews, especially the STEM ones. Finding a person who has the career or life I’m dreaming of and then simply asking them how they got to where they are helps to solidify the next steps I should be taking in my life. [Editor’s note: The final question on each interview is, “how can people contact you?” When you read an interview you connect with, reach out!] Learning what classes, workshops or training I should seek out helps me feel like I’m progressing in my work life.
2. Switch Up Your Environment
Getting a change of scenery can make a massive difference in your motivation. Taking on a new project, assisting in someone else’s lab, or even just changing it up and working from home or a new coffee shop can aid in making dull tasks more interesting. Working with friends— or even just in a crowded library or café—peer pressures me into being more productive; I enjoy looking like a busy businesswoman getting a lot accomplished.
3. Lists, Lists, Lists
Making a list of your daily, weekly, monthly, and long-term goals helps to roadmap what stage of your work you’ll be at in any certain time frame. Setting deadlines for yourself can create a structure for your work and your life, and help you stay organized and less stressed. I find this helps me to feel less like I’m wandering in the dark and more like I have a purpose; I have a map and I know exactly where I’m going.
All this being said, ultimately, we need to stop comparing ourselves to the people around us. Yes, I’ve heard about the PhD student in that other department who’s 21 years old and in his third year of his PhD. No, I don’t regret not skipping through years of school. I’m grateful for the time I’ve spent in the various stages of my life, and I’m glad I didn’t rush through my life so far. We don’t give ourselves enough credit for what we’ve already achieved—whether that’s graduating from school, moving into our own house or even just being bold enough to put ourselves out there and try new things. We should strive to be a little more inspired by ourselves and the women we’ve become.
Sometimes, it’s important to just be in the moment. As a graduate student, I love making my own hours. I love getting to take classes and expand my knowledge. Even though it feels like forever until I’m in the place and position I long to be in, I’m in a city I love, meeting incredible people and learning more and more every day.
For now, that’s enough to keep me going until tomorrow.
Bridget graduated from the University of Florida with a B.S. in Environmental Science, and an unofficial degree in knitting and watching Netflix simultaneously. She is currently seeking her PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In her free time, she's keeps busy by hiking, reading Darwin, and petting strangers dogs.