From the APA Science Student Council
How to Get Your Research Groove Back
The Science Student Council is a group of nine graduate students who spend a couple of weekends a year with the Science staff, advising on programs and activities that would benefit graduate students in psychological science. In this column, the students will present useful information that other graduate students need to know! Visit the Science Student Council to learn more about the activities of the SSC.
How to Get Your Research Groove Back
by Gloria Luong
Summer isn’t just a great time to relax on the beach, go on road trips, or throw barbecue get togethers – it’s also a wonderful opportunity to complete research projects and write empirical papers (believe it or not!). During the summer, graduate students typically take fewer classes (if any) and may have fewer teaching obligations, which frees up time for research projects that have been put off all year long. Once the fall term comes around, however, many graduate students may find their productivity levels are less than desired. The start of the academic year brings many challenges and demands on graduate students’ schedules: completing reading assignments for courses, writing term papers, teaching undergraduate courses, and managing lab operations. How can we, as grad students, juggle our research projects and papers on top of all of these responsibilities? It’s simple! Just follow these easy steps and you’ll be back to your hard-working productive self!
Set manageable goals.
What do you want to accomplish this academic year? Do you want to run that last study of your dissertation? Or maybe you want to finish writing up your Master’s thesis? Whatever your research goals may be, make sure that they are manageable. If your goals are “doable,” then (theoretically) you can do them! Try to set a few major goals for the academic year (e.g., advance to candidacy, finish writing dissertation) and make a list of things you’ll need to do to accomplish these goals. For example, if you want to start running a study, you’ll need to complete IRB forms and get approval, hire research assistants, run pilot tests, recruit your sample, etc. Then each week, work on completing your subgoals (e.g., fill out and submit IRB forms) until you’ve completed your major goals!
Set aside time to complete your goals.
As graduate students, we have all kinds of obligations (e.g., grading undergraduate course papers, emailing) that may distract us from completing research projects. Despite it all, keep your eyes on the prize! Set aside time each day of the week to work on your research projects and papers and stay committed to your schedule. If it becomes a routine schedule, you will be more likely to stick to it!
Track your progress.
Write down your goals and record your goal progress. Did you complete the IRB forms for your study this week? Great job! It can be very motivating just to see that you are making progress toward your goals. For the extrinsically motivated, you can even reward yourself with dinner out on the town or a movie with friends (or whatever motivates you). If you don’t complete your goals for the week, it may also be equally motivating to know you need to work harder next week. Tracking your progress may allow you to identify why you aren’t being as productive as you’d like to be and how you can tackle those issues.
Seek social support.
Find other grad students or colleagues who can hold you accountable for your goals. If you are not making good progress toward your goals, they may be able to offer helpful suggestions on how to move forward with your work. When you do complete your goals, you have a group of friends who can celebrate with you!
These tips may be a good starting point for getting research work done when the academic term begins. For a fun and helpful guide on how to complete these steps, check out Paul Silvia’s (2007) How to write a lot: A practical guide to productive academic writing. So what are you waiting for? Start setting goals and get your groove back!