Courses are done and summer is here! For us, it’s a break from the classroom, but we have still so much to do – research assistantships, proposals, field work, thesis writing, comprehensive exam prep. The list goes on! But we made it. You made it. No matter how it went, we all did our best. This is sappy, I know, but it’s four little words that we don’t say enough to ourselves, and we should start because it feels amazing saying: “I did my best.” Now begins a new semester!

I have so much work to do this summer and it’s daunting to think about. My priority is drafting my research questions, writing my dissertation proposal, and preparing for comprehensive exams. I am so ecstatic to finally be immersed in my own research – this is why I am doing a PhD – yet I am nervous. Will my research in community sustainability fill any gaps in the existing literature? Will my work make a difference? Is it relevant? And after anxiously pondering these questions, I always go back to my first question: “what’s my research question, again?”

Something I have learned since my last post is the importance of having something else to escape to when we need a break; something to help us decompress. It can really help clear our minds and have us come back to our research with fresh eyes and an energized mind.

I am horrible at time management. Sometimes I get so deep into reading that hours pass without taking a break, sometimes missing meals because I can get so engulfed in an article or book on ecological economics (that’s my jam!). On the other side of things, when I do take breaks, they are probably a little longer than I would like to admit. Theoretically this should balance but it creates undue guilt that can spiral down into a dark place and make things like time management worse.

So, what has helped me? Taking another course!

Auditing a course is the best – learning without the weight of being graded and assessed. I audited visual arts 1000 this spring (with instructor approval, of course). My hobbies before university were drawing, painting, ceramics, and other experimentations with “art.” It is said having a hobby is a great way to decompress, relax, feel happy, and take away the guilt of break times. Having poor time management skills though means I am not the best at consistently taking time to escape with hobbies. This for me is the beauty of auditing a course!

I attended lectures and studio times to work alongside everyone during the drawing exercises. I made it my mission to attend all lectures and work periods even though I was not taking it for credit. The class times made it easier for me to block out those hours for something I enjoy. A big bonus too is that the guilt quickly washed away because I felt productive. I never got around to making a full piece of art, but I have several pages just like these exploring techniques and materials. It was fantastic. My pages I am sharing are definitely no piece of art, but I look at this and only feel good vibes about myself for finally making use of these breaks, exploring something I used to love, and having a schedule to go along with it. I feel wholly productive and energized to tackle the next steps in my PhD.

I am not saying to audit an art course or to audit a course at all, but I highly recommend looking at courses you may be interested in, even if they are totally out of your discipline. If you are like me and have sub-par time management skills with self-inflicted guilt, this is a great structure to help with self-care.

Hopefully by my next blog post I will have a real art piece to share, and a solid idea and plan for my dissertation!

Until next time, friends, stay safe and keep doing your best.