How to Set Realistic New Year’s Resolutions as a Graduate Student

UChicago PhD Candidate Lauren Schachter shares tips on how to set practical goals for 2019.


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There is a rabbit hole’s worth of internet literature on New Year’s resolutions: it’s a rich archive that someone should definitely resolve to write a dissertation about in 2019. But seriously, it’s hard to know what to do on January 1st—especially if you are an overwhelmed graduate student, anxious about doing everything within your power to be ready for that job market moment, when it comes. How can we make useful resolutions (call them goals, if you prefer) when it all seems urgent?

Every year, the debate renews itself: are new year’s resolutions pointless and self-sabotaging? Or are they the useful nudges we need to live our best lives? Done right, they can be the latter. Here are some tips:

  • Break it down: Vague, baggy goals are near-impossible to achieve. Goals like: “Finish dissertation,” “Land job or post-doc,” and “Be healthier” are not good goals—at least not on their own. Try following up an intimidating goal with the question “and how will I do this?” until you’ve carved the goal into smaller, more realistic tasks. For example, with “Finish dissertation,” a ridiculous ask how will I do that? By writing the remaining two chapters. And how will I write those? By deciding which one I will write first. With that decision made, what do I need to do first in order to write this chapter? More reading – and how will I do this? And so on. The point is, never write “finish dissertation” or even “finish chapter” on your to-do list for a given day. Even if you are actually about to defend, finishing the dissertation should manifest as a more specific set of tasks: proofread Chapter 2, check footnotes for Chapter 2 and 3, write acknowledgments, etc.


  • Life Happens: “My schedule is completely clear for dissertation work,” said no one ever! So double check your lofty goals against what else you have going on. Are you teaching this quarter? Moving apartments? Is your sister having twins? Are youhaving twins? Etc. Setting hyper-rigorous goals will not, contrary to popular belief, push you to succeed. The surest way to achieving your bigger goals is through the little goals—incremental wins. Everyone works and writes differently, but generally we have in common the positive momentum that comes from checking off a box, even if that box is a seemingly small task.


  • Find Your Productivity App: How to ensure these incremental wins? Why not gameify your productivity? The original Pomodoro technique was developed in the 1980s, inspired by kitchen tomato timers, and you worked in 25 min. increments with 5 min. breaks, and a longer 15-20 min. break after completing four 25 min. increments. My personal favourite is Forest, available for iPhone or Android, in which you gain points for planting trees in order to buy adorably strange new trees, like the cat-, bread-, or candy-tree. You can even customize what the app says to gently scold you for trying to check something on your phone in the middle of growing a tree (distraction kills trees)! With Forest and most other Pomodoro-style apps, you can customize everything (work increment duration, break length, long break length). It’s silly but fun and might work for you. Finally, you don’t need an app to work in timed increments, just a timer with an alarm. Happy planting!


About the author
Lauren Schachter is completing her dissertation in eighteenth-century and Romantic British Literature, with many little goals to get her from here to a summer 2019 defense date.

5 Ways to Keep your Writing and Research Momentum going over Winter Break

Worried that vacation, travel, and shifts in your routine might hinder your productivity? Check out tips to keep your progress going while also accounting for your need to relax, rest, and reconnect with friends and family!

UChicagoGRAD Dissertation Write-In

You may have big writing or research project plans for Winter Break, so here are some tips for developing a realistic plan for your academic goals and a handful of strategies that can help you accomplish them.

Remember: Academic breaks can present dueling interests between self-care and what you need to accomplish as a researcher and writer. It’s key to realize that both are important, set realistic expectations, and plan for how you’ll negotiate the Winter Break’s particular challenges:  unstructured time, exhaustion at the end of an academic quarter, family and social commitments, and heightened expectations for “open” writing and research time.

Getting started:

  1. What are your needs as a person over Winter Break? [such as: time spent with family or friends, sleep, getting outside, or hobbies]
  2. How do you plan to address those personal needs?
  3. Outline the challenges Winter Break might pose for your writing and research. [such as: time away from campus resources, lack of quiet space, or social and familial commitments]
  4. How do you plan to address those challenges? What are some workarounds? How can you set up mechanisms for accountability? [see below for tips!]

Tips for addressing some of the challenges of Winter Break productivity:

  1. Kick start your momentum by registering for Mini Dissertation Write-Ins in the Graduate Writing Room (Sessions on December 17-18, 9am-1pm or December 19-21, 9am-1pm): these are intensive workshops designed to help you break through roadblocks and make progress.
  2. Develop a Writing Ritual: pick an easily repeatable activity that will mark a shift into work mode (such as lighting a candle, putting on a hat, or tidying up your work space). For more about this technique, claim your institutional membership to NCFDD and check out this webinar.
  3. Make it Social: create a Facebook group, Instagram chat, or a group text message with peers to set up accountability around writing time (for example, text your peers, “I’m going to write for 1.5 hours on Tuesday, starting at 10 AM, does anyone want to join?” and then check in once you’re done).
  4. Make a Co-working Date: meet a friend in a coffee shop or plan for a silent Skype writing session with a colleague.
  5. Partner with a peer for Weekly Check-ins: via a shared Google doc or a Skype session, check in about three things each week: updates on your weekly progress, your goals for the upcoming week, and requests for advice on one thing (if needed). If you’re using a Google doc, use the comments function to encourage one another and weigh in with advice.

** Content generously provided by the Writing Program, adapted from National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity resources.

UChicago Common Book Initiative: The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui

Join this campus-wide reading experience and pick up a copy of The Best We Could Do this week!

The UChicago Common Book Initiative strives to enhance campus climate and build community through a shared experience, bringing together undergraduate students, graduate students, postdocs, faculty, staff, alumni and local community members to read the same book and engage in dialogues across campus. Such experiences foster full participation of community members and encourage understanding diverse perspectives and experiences within UChicago.

The Common Book aims to:

  • Foster a sense of community by providing a common reading experience.
  • Examine current events and highlight diversity of lived experiences through discussions of the book and the major topics it addresses.
  • Engage all members of the campus community through a variety of academic and social programming.

Stop by a distribution location this week to pick up a free copy of The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui.

  • Thursday, December 6  at the UChicago Bookstore: 11:00am-1:00pm
  • Friday, December 7 at the Seminary Co-op: 11:00am-1:00pm

Learn more about the Common Book Initiative and upcoming Winter 2019 campus events and small group discussions on the main themes of The Best We Could Do at