Take it Away

Hello, gentle readers. I am currently writing you from my spot holed up in a hotel room in quiet and scenic Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; a place I had only ever heard of before because of the Billy Joel song that I’ve had stuck in my head since we arrived.

My partner has been traveling a great deal for his job lately. One of the many benefits of my insanely flexible schedule is that, since most of my work is reasonably portable, I can often pick up and ship out with him. As it turns out, being alone in the house with my computer, my books, and my fish for days on end isn’t the best thing for my sanity. As a result, whenever possible I take the opportunity to move my work with me. The crazy thing that I’ve found is that my gypsy life has made me much more productive. This is for several reasons:

  • Distractions are at a minimum. Since there’s not much to do in a hotel room other than the things I bring with me, I am forced into a situation where I have to focus on checking items off of my to-do list. I don’t look around and feel the urge to clean or straighten anything. I don’t have to cook, so I don’t blow off early to start an overly complicated dinner routine just to be away from the desk. I do go for runs still, but those are necessary. It’s a pretty great win-all.
  • Since I’m not at home, the usual at home requirements are on hold. I don’t have to suddenly go to a doctor’s appointment, or take my car to be inspected, or do a grocery run for some weird thing we forgot over the weekend. I don’t have to take out the garbage or recycling, or get the mail which might turn into a 20 minute distraction that takes an hour to re-focus from. I don’t have to deal with any household responsibilities that might take time away from writing. Again, I’m forced into a pressure-cooker situation with my work; my options are work on research or work on writing rather than work on work or work on life stuff.
  • While the hotel is comfortable, it’s not my comfort zone. I don’t feel the siren call of my bed beckon to me at 3:00 PM because my bed is several states away. I don’t have a comfy couch to lounge on with some Netflix at lunchtime. If I want coffee, I can grab some in the lobby; but this doesn’t turn into a spontaneous round of let’s do dishes. I have everything I need, without having any extras.
  • Any bad work-related habits I have are thrown off due to the lack of routine. Since my normal flight patterns are disrupted by not being at home, this means that I have the opportunity to create better ones in this space. When I find myself in a situation that strips me of my habits, I try my hardest to create new ones that are better than the old ones. This is particularly true when I’m in a space that’s temporary; I can be extra super diligent about working (you know, more than even usual) for a span of a few days and not allow myself the small distractions which can turn into big distractions because I can always go back to those “when I get home”. Being away gives me the unique opportunity to work out the kinks in my routine by completely scrapping the routine.
  • Since I’m not exactly in a hopping, bustling city, I don’t have the kind of after-work distractions that can lead to fatigue or illness the day after. It’s not like I’m going bar hopping in Bethlehem Pennsylvania (or doing much of anything that will keep me out late). I can go to bed at a reasonable time, not feel like I’m being “lame” or missing out on something because of it, and wake up refreshed and ready to work the next day.

In short, if possible, I highly recommend taking your work on walk-about. Break up your routine in any way that you can (coffee shop visits, libraries, etc.) just to get yourself out of the house and observing your work habits. You might find that such “work-cations” lead to increased productivity and overall betterment of sanity.

Write strong, my brethren!

Tools of the Trade

Writing a dissertation (or any long project; particularly one that involves research) is a specialized skill that requires specialized training and (not to be ignored) specialized equipment. While I suppose in theory you could write a dissertation on a single laptop with nothing but Microsoft word and an internet browser, doing so would be a great disservice to yourself and make your life needlessly complicated. In the digital age, technology is plentiful, relatively inexpensive, and generally easy to operate. There’s no reason to do without certain vital tools that can make your writing days more productive.

With that goal in mind, I thought I’d take a minute to share the tools of my trade; the things I use to write and research that make my life infinitely easier. I would go so far as to say that I probably wouldn’t have made it to this point in the process without them. For me, these tools are simply necessary to productivity; I think you’ll find them equally useful.

For reference: my primary machine is a basic model Macbook Pro from 2012. Nothing fancy, but definitely gets the job done.

External Monitor 

The only “excess” technological asset that researchers have found actually increases productivity is increased monitor space. It’s not the speed of your hard drive or parallel processing capabilities, but rather how much (literal) digital space you have to lay things out. For me, the external monitor is key to almost everything I do. It allows me to open a text on one screen and my notes on a second, thus transcribing with ease. It allows me to open my notes on one screen and my writing document on a second, thus allowing me to write from research with ease. It allows me to open multiple images on a large scale and compare them side-by-side. It allows me to have my citation manager available for reference during note taking and writing. My external monitor has been key to my work as a Graduate student, academic, and person in the world. And, when you’re taking a break for lunch or what have you, you can play your YouTube videos on one monitor while browsing the web on the second. It’s a win/win. If you’re not writing/researching from two monitors, you’re basically living in the dark ages. Invest in this not-terribly-expensive but terribly-useful tool now; I promise you won’t regret it.


Anyone who works on any serious project needs to have a backup strategy. While e-mailing yourself copies of your work might be one way to do this, there are easier and more consistent methods. I use a combination of Dropbox, Crashplan, and Google docs to save my work in triplicate both locally and in the cloud. No matter what you decide to use for backups, make sure that your plan includes: redundancy, frequency, and version history. You want to know that your work is being backed up on a regular basis, to several places, and that you can roll back a version should you need to.

External mouse and Keyboard

Because I’ve basically created a docking station for my mac, the external mouse and keyboard have become necessary. I’ve found, over the years, that I much prefer a conventional mouse to the built-in track pad that most laptops have. Additionally, an external fully sized keyboard makes it easier for me to type ergonomically. A few clever re-programs of the hotkeys on my Mac and it’s just as good as using the built-in keyboard. I use a Logitech wireless mouse/keyboard, and have since purchased several external travel mice for use when I’m on the go. 

Writing Tools 

I’ve previously gushed about the ease and functionality of Scrivener to my writing process.  If you are interested in Scrivener, here’s my affiliate link for windows, and here it is for Mac.  I will take this moment to emphasize how necessary the program has been to the continued success of my work. Additionally, this project is the first time I’ve used automated citation management software and I’m never looking back. I use Zotero because it’s free, integrates seamlessly to Word (where I do my composing; Scrivener I use for note-taking), and has a Scrivener work-around if I REALLY want it. If you do choose Zotero, make sure you know how to back up your library; it’s only a tiny bit tricky and requires an extra step every now and again to accomplish. Totally worth it for peace of mind.

Caveman Tools

my computer set-up with bookstand in use

my computer set-up with bookstand in use

This is not a technical tool whatsoever, but when I’m working with actual books (which I do with a surprising frequency), I use a bookstand to hold them up for ease of transcription. I seriously don’t know how I did without this thing. When I’m editing by hand (which I also do with a surprising frequency), I use a clipboard and many different colored pens. It’s crazy how much easier this has made my life; for years I’d edit on large hardcovers, notepads, or binders…. I finally broke down and spend the $5 on a clipboard and look at that! The rudimentary technology works exactly the way it’s supposed to!

So…. What tools are you using for dissertation writing that you simply can’t do without?

Soloist: Dealing with Isolation

One of the big challenges that we grad students (particularly non-resident grad students caught somewhere between late dissertation writing and the job market) face is isolation. Going from a structured schedule that involves a highly-social job (teaching and or learning) to sitting at home alone with your research every day can be extremely challenging. If you’re not the type of person that deals well with large tasks to perform in unstructured time, then you’ll face even worse troubles at this stage of the game (and frankly it’s a miracle you got this far). I’m not going to say that I’ve solved the many problems of academic isolation, they are definitely demons I face every day, but I’m coping and I certainly put a lot of thought into how to cope with these issues. Here are a few of my better brainwaves for methods I use to help deal with academic isolation.

Sometimes my job looks like this; a day of FD work on Tufts University's "Richard III"

Sometimes my job looks like this; a day of FD work on Tufts University’s “Richard III”

Get a Job

I’ve tried to keep a hand in teaching as much as I can, even when that means taking on alternative teaching jobs. I spent a few years teaching continuing adult education which was extremely rewarding and gave me somewhere to be once a week to make human eye contact and discuss things I was passionate about with other people. Though this program didn’t pay “the big bucks”, it was a worthwhile use of my time in that it got me out of the house, gave me a forum in which to try out new teaching materials, and gave me teaching experience that I might otherwise not have had the opportunity to acquire. But even when there are no teaching jobs available (this happens sometimes and it’s not your fault), consider taking on a very part-time, very temporary position somewhere near your beaten path. A few hours of responsibility, social activity, and paid work every week can do wonders for your self-esteem at this highly volatile time. Finding the right fit for this can sometimes be challenging, but think about things you’d actually like to do and see if you can’t monetize them. Remember: not every job you work has to go on your resume and you never know when you’ll meet someone who may just be a useful connection for your true professional calling.

Reach Out

I am not a highly social creature during the best of times, and my social energies get sapped very quickly when I’m under a lot of stress. What this has generally meant is that the dissertation process has made me not just an academic hermit, but a social hermit as well. At the end of the day, the last thing I tend to want to do is go out and be social. Despite this, I try to make an extra effort to see people who I know will 1) understand the process I’m going through, and 2) put positive energy back into my bucket. There are a few friends I have who I know are low-key to be around, will support me if I’m feeling not so great about my work life, and will understand if I just don’t want to talk about much of anything. Being around these people as much as possible (which, let’s face it, is not much when you have a demanding professional schedule) is important to keeping the lonelies at bay. I’m often pleasantly surprised at what an evening in the right company can do for my mood; and my mood in turn effects my productivity. In short: the right amount of time with the right people will help you be a better writer.

Museums can be a cheap way of getting out and staying mentally in the game. This is me an P.T. Barnum (i.e.: My chapter 4) at the National Portrait Gallery in DC

Museums can be a cheap way of getting out and staying mentally in the game. This is me an P.T. Barnum (i.e.: My chapter 4) at the National Portrait Gallery in DC

Vitamin D

Sometimes, just leaving my house to go for a walk can help to improve a dismal mood brought on by dissertation-related isolation. Fresh air and sunshine are mood-lifters, and endorphins will give you an extra kick to boot. If you’ve been keeping up with Dani Dash, you know that I tend to go running rather than walking these days, but whatever your speed taking a break outside is definitely worth your while.

Have a (Small) Treat 

While we grad students live on a notoriously tight budget, now and again a special treat can help you support yourself. Sometimes, this treat can be productivity related; if I’m stuck in the “I don’t wanna” phase of editing, I’ll take my draft to a favorite coffee shop and grab myself a drink (I almost never buy coffee, so this is a great little treat). Sometimes, it can be self-care related; if I’m feeling extremely stressed or strung out, I’ll find a groupon for a massage and take an hour just to refuel and unwind. The pitfall here is obvious: too much of a good thing can break your budget and self-reward structure. Just be careful about how frequently (and how much) you are treating yourself; but don’t feel guilty when you do on occasion (especially if you plan and budget for this). You are worth it.

Remind yourself Why 

This one is the biggest challenge. Facing down today’s job market, it can be difficult to remember why we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place. If you can find any way to remind yourself, any trigger to reinvigorate the passion which led you down the road you’re traveling, revisit it as frequently as you need. Often I get so caught up in the writing portion of dissertating that I can’t see the forest for the trees; it’s in these moments that I need to go see a show, or look at old journal entries, or re-read particularly glowing course evals from former students. Find a touchstone that will help key you in to what you love about the work and never let it go. I’m not saying you need to moon like an adolescent love poem, but without taking the time to reinvigorate your passion now and again you’ll slide into the doldrums of the grind and that is soul crushing. Fortify with frequent doses of vitamin L(ove) and try to ignore the vampiric voice of futility.

Get Help

I know many people (myself included) who are likely to thank their therapists in their dissertation acknowledgements. If you’re feeling stuck, depressed, or just unable to shake your mood, there is no shame in seeking professional help. The right person will be able to talk you through your troubles and inject some new light on the subject. If your issues seem to be mostly grad-school related, I highly recommend seeking out a therapist with a PsyD. Since this person has been through the process of getting a Doctorate, they are much more likely to understand your journey and be able to offer insight without you having to explain every step of the way. They have first hand experience with the stakes and stresses of exams, research, advisors, and the myriad of other field-specific stressors that academic life entails.

Whatever you do, don’t let isolation impede your progress. Breaking the cycle is a pivotal piece of “getting it done” (which, at the end of the day, is really what you need to do).


We All Make Mistakes

Over the past several years, I’ve had the enormous opportunity to do a great deal of teaching. I’ve had some extremely smart, talented, and driven students come through my classroom and I genuinely loved working with every single one of them.

I’ve also made a few observations about some of the most common mistakes that students make in a university setting. Between mentoring my own students, listening to my mentors tell stories about their experiences, and discussing teaching with colleagues, I’ve come to recognize a few basic patterns that students can develop which are ultimately destructive to their success in the classroom.

This is not to say that every student will make the same mistakes (far from it), or that

Jumbo: Tufts' Mascot and one of my favorite things to teach about

Jumbo: Tufts’ Mascot and one of my favorite things to teach about

avoiding these mistakes will guarantee top grades, but certainly remedying these issues can nip failure in the bud. Because I am discussing student patterns in general and not the behavior of any specific student (mine or otherwise), I don’t feel like I am betraying confidences to share these patterns in hopes that thinking about them might benefit university students in general. Please do note that I am not referencing any single incident or individual at any time, but rather a series of observations made over the years in dealing with many bodies of students.


If I had to pinpoint a single thing that could increase classroom success, it would be communication between student and professor. Instructors genuinely want their students to do well and are (on the whole) fairly generous with their abilities to help students do well. Student communication is key to unlocking this. If you feel you are struggling, reach out to the instructor. Chances are they have noticed and have a few ideas for how you can improve, or what you might do to remedy your situation. They also might know about university resources that can help you outside of the classroom should your issue be persistent/long term.

Office hours are a severely under-utilized resource. I can’t count the times I’ve sat in my office available and willing to help anyone who dropped by with no visitors to help. Simply taking a moment to stop by office hours with a clear problem in hand is the first step towards solving it.

This goes double if you know that an issue is brewing. If you know you are going to miss class for some reason, be late, or arrive in a state that isn’t best suited to learning, communicate this with your instructor well in advance of the conflict. Most of us are much more willing to be lenient when the students plans for a problem than we are to be forgiving after a student has a problem.


 Look at your schedule for the semester as a whole; do you have several assignments due in one lump “crunch time”? Are you going to be out of town unavoidably for a long weekend? Do you foresee any reason why you might not be able to execute what the instructor asks of you? Then discuss this with your professor. I cannot stress enough how important it is to plan well in advance; this shows your professor that you care greatly about your success, that you have the skills to deal with managing your own time; and that you can be trusted with privileges such as extensions and extra credit. Your instructor wants you to take your success as seriously as they do, and proper planning can help assure them that you are doing everything in your power to succeed.

This can also apply to your assignments; leave yourself ample time (particularly if you’ve never before completed an assignment like what your instructor has asked for). This way, if you run into a hitch, you have plenty of time to ask for help or clarification. Remember: instructors do not answer e-mails 24/7. If you leave your big paper worth a significant chunk of your grade to the last minute and are held up because you need input from your instructor, you might be putting yourself in a bad situation that could have been entirely avoided.

Not Reading the Syllabus 

The syllabus is designed to be your go-to resource for pretty much anything you might want to know about the course. There’s a reason that they can be so long! Chances are, if you have a question, the syllabus will have your answer. Before e-mailing or taking class time to ask your professor what day something is due or how your grade will be calculated, check the syllabus. If your answer isn’t there or is unclear, then you can definitely feel free to ask the question. Always look at the syllabus first; your instructor spent a lot of time crafting it to help you out in situations like this one!

Always remember: your instructor is someone who loves learning, loves the subject matter, and is invested in helping you succeed. We are on your side, and we are always hoping to help you improve over the course of the semester. We can’t carry you to the finish line, but we can definitely coach you there!

The Doctrine of Kindness

I want to take a moment to touch upon something that should seem so logical it needn’t even be said. In my experience, however, that doesn’t guarantee that it has already been discussed: being nice.

Look; let’s face it; having a pretty face just isn’t enough to get you by in academia. For that matter, neither is having a pretty CV or the best publications or the most accomplishments or the most prestigious fellowships. It’s a tough world out there, and it’s a world full of pressure and stress. It can be really difficult not to let this get to you; but at least in public you need to have a smooth, unbreakable mask of niceness.

Being a nice, helpful person absolutely will take you far. Remember that tenure-track means an institution is ready to stick with you for the long haul (and that haul can be pretty long). They want to work with you; they want to see your smiling face in every faculty meeting; they want to share a hallway with you. Nothing will keep them from wanting to do that quite like being someone who isn’t pleasant to be around.

I see every interaction with other academics as an opportunity to be the kind of person that I would want to work with. Whether this interaction is via e-mail, skype, or face-to-face conferencing, each touch provides me the unique opportunity to make a good impression. That being said, I’ve had to learn how to put my bad day aside so that I can present a clean, professional image no matter what’s going on in my life.

Of course, this is sometimes easier to do than others. It’s a lot easier to be “on” in an e-mail than it is at a conference. Particularly if you are an introvert, finding the social energy to present the kind of image you need to can be rough. Make absolutely certain that you take the necessary measures to ensure success for yourself on this front (whether that means scheduling some off-time during a conference weekend, sleeping in a little later on days when you have big presentations or job talks, or making sure that you eat a good breakfast to fuel up for being your best professional self).

It should be noted that this extends to lateral networking as well as vertical networking. Networking with your peers is just as important as networking with senior academics. After all, these are the people with whom you will be looking to collaborate on book projects, grant proposals, and conference panels. These are also the people with whom you will have the most personable war-stories to tell. Knowing who else is out there doing the kind of work you are interested in also involves getting to know those people; and when you get to know those people you want to be the kind of person they want to connect with. There’s no call or need for off-putting theatrics or peacocking in lateral networking; nobody wants to be around that guy who can’t stop telling you about his AWEEEESOME most recent GIANT fellowship or job opportunity. Yea, you’re great, but networking with your peers is less about impressing and more about impressioning. Let your work speak for itself whenever possible; be proud of it, but don’t flaunt it.

Find yourself some good attitude role-models. Think about people you’ve encountered in the field who you want to see again not just for networking-related items, but also for drinks at the conference bar. What kind of qualities do these people have? What makes you want to be around them? Like I tell my acting students, keen observation is the first step to replication. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve encountered good models in this regard, and I’ve encountered bad ones. The trick is not to let the bad ones ruffle you; the more people who choose grace under pressure, the better we can make the ivory tower of the future. Try to be like the ones who kept you going and lifted you up rather than the ones who pushed you down. Imagine what it would be like for our students if we all chose to be “lifters” rather than “pushers”. It may sound idealistic, but I do think that we grad students have the tremendous power to shape the future of academia. It’s up to us to determine what things will be like round these parts when we grow up to be the people in charge. If we start practicing the doctrine of kindness now, think about how much easier all of our lives will be.

This is not to say that we should all be pushovers; you can be firm without being unkind. But taking that extra moment to think about your actions may save some student years of class-induced angst, and will definitely improve your cosmic karma score. And it will make you look better to potential employers and colleagues.

It comes down to a few basic precepts: be kind without reason, be smart without arrogance, be helpful without patronization. These qualities, if followed, will definitely leave an impression (…and not the kind that will have folks running in the opposite direction).

At the Finish Line

One thing I have emphasized as we go along (and that I feel the need to reemphasize) is the importance of cross training.

Getting a PhD is insanely taxing mentally and emotionally. You spend all day every day working out your brain (so… basically you can ignore those luminosity commercials that pop up in Hulu when you’re trying to kick back a bit). Moreover, your work becomes something that you’re invested in; there are huge emotional stakes in turning in a paper, chapter, draft, or even research proposal. Getting a PhD is tough on the psyche. But like working any muscle, it’s important to rest and relax between sets.

This is part of why I’ve taken up so many physical hobbies over the course of getting my PhD. When I was studying for my German language proficiency, I taught myself to play the ukulele because it would relax me and help me unjam my mind from words too long to fit on one line. When I was studying for my written comprehensive exams, I taught myself to crack a six foot bullwhip and spin poi because taking ten minutes to just step outside and do something in my own body really helped me to de-stress and uncram my brain so that I might fit a bit more in with each study session.

Workouts have also been an important part of this cross training. While I’ve been a long-time gym bunny, over the last year I’ve gotten serious about one workout specifically which has really helped me in a lot of ways: running.

It sounds silly because it’s something we learn to do as children. Everybody, after all, can run. But let me tell you, before I started my C25K program last year, I was pretty hopeless at it. I set in hoping to just complete a 5K (because who wouldn’t want to cross that completely doable task off their bucket list?). One Spartan Sprint later and I was hooked.

I’ve had to be careful; running is tough on your body and if you have any particular injuries or quirks it will exacerbate them (I, for example, have knee issues that I have to keep a close eye on). Since I started running outside, I also have learned to wear highlighter-colored jackets to avoid being hit by less-than-careful Massachusetts drivers.

But I’ve found that it’s extremely satisfying to train up distances. Nothing can turn around a bad day with my books like setting a goal and doing it; and my running goals are something I keep very achievable just for this reason. I upped the stakes this winter by investing in some cold-weather running gear and, despite being a general wimp about the cold, I’ve never enjoyed working out more. Cold-weather workouts mean that once you get warmed up, you have a pleasant (natural) coolant to keep you from overheating (… unless you accidentally put on too many layers which is a learning curve all to itself). Let me tell you, I was the most astonished when I woke up the morning of my most recent race to nineteen degree weather and thought “It’s not that bad out!”

feeling pretty beast at the finish line!

feeling pretty beast at the finish line!

This year, I’ve decided that to celebrate my achievements by running twelve races; one race a month in 2015. The races can be of any length, they just need to be chip-timed events (and it is, of course, preferable that there’s some kind of cool race-sponsored after-party to attend). On this Saturday past, I ran my first race of 2015: the Resolution Run to Kick Cancer 5k. I set a personal best for chip time, and even overheated in the nineteen-degree weather. Not a bad way to start my year of races!

In a world of hazy deadlines and work that has seemingly no end and no beginning, running these races gives me something to work towards, something to look forward to, and something to feel accomplished about at the finish line. If you’re in your writing phase and haven’t found that for yourself yet, I highly recommend that you do. It doesn’t have to be running, but it should be something that you can accomplish and feel proud about (and, ideally, share with the wide world of the internet; because what’s achievement without facebook fame?).

Next up for me will be the Super Sunday 5M (followed by the Black Cat 10M in March). I am really excited about it!

Thanking You

What with finals around the corner and the end of the semester only kind of in sight, it can be tough for us grads to really enjoy what’s supposed to be a day off to reflect about all the things that make our lives pretty great.

While I can’t promise that I’ll refrain from opening a book until Campus opens again on Monday (our break is Wednesday – Sunday), I can honestly say that I’m going to take at least a moment to honor the spirit of the holiday.

To make sure I do, the following is a partial list of some of the things I am thankful for this year:

  • My incredible advisor who is a super hero, rock star, and academic pit bull all in one. Seriously, this lady is unbelievable. The fact that she does all of the things she does (president of this professional organization, top of that research field, leading expert in all kinds of things, teacher, mentor, philosopher…) is a feat of its own, but on top of everything she makes herself so available to her students. She has done more for me this year than I think I can possibly relate in words, and I am thankful every day for her guidance and wisdom.
  • For that matter; all of my mentors (past, present, and future). They let me ask potentially embarrassing questions without judging me (or at least without telling me that they’re judging me, which is really what counts), they even give me valuable answers despite their own packed research and travel schedules. Every day in dealing with my own students, I only hope to be as awesome to them students as my mentors have been to me.
  • The well-stocked school library with ILL privileges that will get me anything I need from anywhere in the world in a reasonable enough time. With a slight bit of forethought, I can have any book that I might want to put my hands on delivered to me so that I can read and love it. Hooray.
  • A supportive partner who knows when he needs to leave me alone so that I can deal with some red pen problems, when he needs to ask me questions about my work so that I can talk my way out of a funk, and when he just needs to let me cry at him about Edwin Booth.
  • Good smart friends and colleagues with sympathetic ears, appetites for good beer, and heads full of giant brains. As a note: should this year be the year of the inevitable zombie apocalypse, this item of gratitude to the universe would be written no differently. Brains.
  • Lots of tea. And espresso. Oh my espresso machine. And really anything that makes liquid caffeine. As a note: the rest of the world should also be thankful for this and the effect that it has on me. Nobody wants to deal with an uncaffeinated Dani. Trust me.
  •  All of the wonderful theatre companies who continue to include me in their creative plans. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a great many incredible theatre-makers this year, and I look forward to continued opportunities to come.

Alright folks, that’s that. Go eat some turkey and be thankful that you’re not on line at the grocery store. Unless you are in which case you might want to consider how planning impacts your life, stress, and happiness.

Have a great holiday!

Gimme S’More!

In keeping with my theme of stress baking, I made S’mores cookies this week!

As I mentioned, I started baking this semester because I wanted to learn how, but also because some things are just so much awesomer home-made. I’ve been using cookies as a morsel-of-sweet staple to get to know baking techniques, and at this point I have a pretty solid understanding of what goes into crafting a well-made cookie. Here is the recipe I used as the basis for my S’mores cookies.

I actually get a lot of my sweet tooth recipes from Averie Cooks. She knows how to make a good cookie, that’s for sure! I made a half batch of these cookies because I was trying to keep the amount of diet-breaking things in the pantry to a low. Despite the fact that Averie claims her recipe yields 26 cookies, my half-batch made 20! So either she makes HUGE confections, or mine are a bit on the small side for a standard cookie. Either way, the recipe below is how I made them…


3/8 cup (3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/8 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/8 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I actually used vanilla bean paste because I find that it packs more flavor than the extract)
7/8 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste
1/2 cup coarsely chopped graham crackers (I used fat free honey flavored graham crackers)
1 cup (half of a bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used the mini chips)
5/8 cups miniature marshmallows


  • Averie calls for a stand mixer to cream the butter, sugars, egg, and vanilla with, but I don’t have this piece of equipment in my kitchen. Instead, I use an immersion blender on high. I took the first five ingredients of this recipe, mixed them together in a tall measuring cup (actually the one which came with my immersion blender), and blended for about five minutes until the mixture became light and fluffy. I would highly recommend a stand mixer if you have one; my immersion blender requires you to hold the button down for the blender to work (which is actually really annoying for periods longer than a minute or two).
  • I moved my creamed ingredients from their tall measure into a mixing bowl at this point, scraping down the sides of the measure as I went. To them, I added the next four ingredients (flour, cornstarch, baking soda, and pinch of salt), and used a rubber spatula to fold them together until everything was combined.
  • I crumbled the graham crackers by chopping them with my kitchen knife. Because more problems should have “kitchen knife” as a viable solution. I then folded them into the mixture along with the mini chocolate chips and marshmallows until everything looked pretty evenly combined.
  • I have a cookie scoop (it’s a medium scoop) and I love it. I know that my ever-patient boyfriend was strongly adverse to my bringing this single-use kitchen implement into our already-packed kitchen, but trust me; this little baby has more than made up for the space it takes. If you don’t have a cookie scoop, use the old spoon and scrape method to make 2-inch balls of dough. Place dough balls on a plate (I set down parchment paper sprayed with nonstick spray for easy transfer later and covered with plastic wrap to ensure they didn’t get tough in the fridge). You’ll want to refrigerate them for at least two hours if not overnight before baking. Warm dough will spread in the oven while chilled dough gives you fluffy, thick cookies. DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP; trust me. I’m going to be a Doctor.
  • Preheat your oven to 350F. You’ll want to destickify your cookie sheet with spray, a silpat mat, or parchment paper (I tend to double-dip and use parchment sprayed with non-stick). Transfer chilled dough mounds to your baking sheet giving the cookies plenty of space to expand. Averie says you want at least 2 inches per cookie (I bake a bit closer together, but then again… I like to live dangerously). You want to bake the cookies until the tops are just golden brown (it took mine 8 minutes; though I checked them at 7 just in case). The cookies will firm as they cool, so keep that in mind when you’re checking on them. Because of this, you’ll want to you’re your cookies rest on their baking sheets for a bit before transferring them to a cooling rack to finish the cooling process (five minutes or so should do the trick).

I’m told that cookies will last at room temperature for up to one week if stored in an airtight container. Honestly, mine never last that long. You can also freeze them for “up to 3 months”, but I’ve not yet tested this theory.

Hope you’re having a nice week!

Back in the Game

Hello dear readers; long time, no write.

The thing is that this semester has been crushing me.  Between my teaching load, the dissertation stress, the extra side-jobs I do (I reviewed four shows in a week the other week… four…. Shows….), and a few personal/familial obligations, I’ve been slammed to the point of sheer exhaustion.  The funny thing about writing is that, while I don’t believe you always need a spark of creative genius to sit down and write, you do at least need a

dissertation work at its finest

dissertation work at its finest

tiny bit of energy.  While you can sometimes work a miracle and produce something from nothing, you can’t always write through the fatigue.

I’ve always considered this blog to be my stretching and training regime.  The dissertation is the marathon.  But if you want to successfully run a marathon, you need to train well, train smart, and train often.  If you hit burn out, taking a break is a necessity or you’re just going to strain something.

So I took a break.  Since this is a self-directed project designed to execute skills which I know serve me well in my career (self-discipline, a scheduled writing regime, and writing in general), I can also guide my time on/time off.

The time has come to be back.  So here I go; back in training.  But now, since I’m actually in the throws of writing the diss as we type, it’s serious.

That doesn’t mean I intend to get over-serious here.  I’ve done some thinking about how I want to reshape the blog as I move forward in my graduate and (knocking on wood) post-graduate career.  For a long time, this has been a sounding board where I am able to discuss issues/observations about the PhD process.  It will continue to be so, but since dissertation writing is mostly done in the isolation of my own tower, I need some further fuel to ensure that I can keep writing at a good clip.

So I’ll be expanding the content here slightly as my fingers wind up in more (and different) pies.  Yum.  Pie.

Thank you, friends, for continuing to stick with me through this process.  It’s been a long bumpy ride, and I have no delusions that it will become anything less as I move forward into the vast unknown of dissertation land.  What surprises await our hero beyond the horizon is yet unknown, but one thing is certain: she is eager to get started, excited to be traveling in the frontiers of human knowledge, and (so she thinks) prepared to engage with what’s to come.

To infinity and beyond!

I have had so much going on recently that it’s been tough to keep track of everything. I feel like this semester I’m being chased by an Indiana Jones style GIGANTIC CIRCULAR boulder and, the minute I get on top of it, it speeds up and I fall off and it threatens to squish me once more.

Every semester I think that I’ve hit my outer limit; this is the absolute most that I can handle and I need to cut back. Ever semester, I prove myself wrong and take on yet another responsibility.

I’ve spent a great many posts discussing techniques which I use to time manage and manage my anxiety levels, so I won’t go into another diatribe about that. Instead, I’d like to give you something inspired by the buzzfeed articles which circulate the internet. “Five things successful people do”; I’m sure you’re tired of reading them. I know that I am, despite being click-bated into them every second chance I get (I blame mental fatigue for this one; I’ll pretty much click on anything when my brain juices are running low).

Or find a llama to kiss like I did this weekend.  Kissing llamas will at least make you smile.

Or find a llama to kiss like I did this weekend. Kissing llamas will at least make you smile.

Here, for your reading pleasure, are five things that you should do if your semester is already running you ragged.

1) Make Lists

I know, I know, I said I wasn’t going to repeat myself: but this one is important. Making lists ensures that you don’t forget anything, that you can properly allocate time to your day, and that you can have a satisfying moment at the end of your day when you look at your checked off list and say “look how productive I was today!”. I have been known to use list-making as a cure for insomnia; when I simply can’t get to sleep because I’m anxious about all the things on my plate, I make a list of what I need to do and feel almost instantly better. It allows me to see, in a very tangible way, how much I need to do and how much time I can devote to these tasks. Lists save lives. Period.

2) Know when enough is enough

If you are already feeling overwhelmed by the semester (it’s only week four; you’ve got a long way to go), chances are you’ve got a lot of work on your plate. It’s tempting to work through everything just to get the piles cleared off your desk. But the reality is this: there will always be piles on your desk. You will always be managing a complicated balancing act. Working more will not mean that things get done faster; in fact it will probably just tire you out and make you make larger, more numerous mistakes with the work you do do. So know when you’ve hit your quota, and take a gorram break for heaven’s sakes.

3) Sleep Enough.  Eat well. Exercise.

All too often, these basic precepts of living as a healthy human being get left by the wayside in times of extreme business. The truth is that they are your best means of combatting the stress which you face. Make the time to take care of yourself; sleep eight hours, get your weekly dose of activity in, and eat your vegetables. This will keep your body healthy which will prevent you from having to take time off to be sick (possibly the worst thing that could happen when you’re under the gun). Take care of yourself; nobody else is going to.

4) Remember the Seesaw

One of my mentors refers to work/life balance as a seesaw: sometimes it will tip one way, sometimes it will tip the other. If you’re going through a heavy semester, then maybe you just need to go with it for a while and make work your priority. Your friends will understand when you resurface and won’t think the less of you for it. But if you do decide to allow yourself to see for a while, make sure that you make time to saw on the other end. You shouldn’t allow work to devour your life completely even if you do dive into the deep end for a time. In the end, you need to see as much as saw.

5) Find the Joy

 Presumably, at one time or another, you found incredible satisfaction in what you do.

This elephant, for instance, brought me great joy.  In my dissertation, I write a WHOLE CHAPTER on Barnum.  Elephants = happiness = dissertation?

This elephant, for instance, brought me great joy. In my dissertation, I write a WHOLE CHAPTER on Barnum. Elephants = happiness = dissertation?

Sometimes in the thick of things, it’s good to take a moment to recall why it is you do what you do. What drew you to this in the first place? What brought you here? What were some of the sacrifices you made and why were you willing to make them? Re-discovering what it is that you find positive about your chosen vocation will help you through the roughest bits, and keep your face in the sun even when the rest of you is in darkness.

Hang in there; it’s almost midterms!