Staying motivated.

Adam Rifkin (
Sat, 8 Jun 1996 20:46:52 -0700 (PDT)

This is taken from a paper on how to be a grad student,
but Rohit might find it helpful in another context...

At times, particularly in the ``middle years,'' it can be very hard to
maintain a positive attitude and stay motivated. Many graduate students
suffer from insecurity, anxiety, and even boredom. First of all, realize
that these are normal feelings. Try to find a sympathetic ear -- another
graduate student, your advisor, or a friend outside of school. Next, try
to identify why you're having trouble and identify concrete steps that
you can take to improve the situation. To stay focused and motivated, it
often helps to have organized activities to force you to manage your
time and to do something every day. Setting up regular meetings with
your advisor, attending seminars, or even extracurricular activities
such as sports or music can help you to maintain a regular schedule.

Chapman chapman enumerates a number of ``immobilizing shoulds'' that can
make you feel so guilty and unworthy that you stop making
progress. Telling yourself that you should have a great topic, that you
should finish in years, that you should work 4, or 8, or 12 hours a day
isn't helpful for most people. Be realistic about what you can
accomplish, and try to concentrate on giving yourself positive feedback
for tasks you do complete, instead of negative feedback for those you

Setting daily, weekly, and monthly goals is a good idea, and works even
better if you use a ``buddy system'' where you and another student meet
at regular intervals to review your progress. Try to find people to work
with: doing research is much easier if you have someone to bounce ideas
off of and to give you feedback.

Breaking down any project into smaller pieces is always a good tactic
when things seem unmanageable. At the highest level, doing a master's
project before diving into a Ph.D. dissertation is generally a good idea
(and is mandatory at some schools). A master's gives you a chance to
learn more about an area, do a smaller research project, and establish
working relationships with your advisor and fellow students.

The divide-and-conquer strategy works on a day-to-day level as
well. Instead of writing an entire thesis, focus on the goal of writing
a chapter, section, or outline. Instead of implementing a large system,
break off pieces and implement one module at a time. Identify tasks that
you can do in an hour or less; then you can come up with a realistic
daily schedule. If you have doubts, don't let them stop you from
accomplishing something -- take it one day at a time. Remember, every
task you complete gets you closer to finishing.