Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: Topic of the Day: The 5-Year Plan

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Topic of the Day: The 5-Year Plan

Hello Readers!
   I hope this Tuesday finds you well! I am actually blogging today from an airplane -- whoohoo! I love in-flight wifi!!
   Since I have recently been thinking a lot about my personal future and about how amazing and crazy life's twists and turns can be, I thought today would be a good day to broach the topic of how graduate school fits into one's life as a whole -- in other words, how it fits into, or doesn't fit into, your grand plan for life. If you are not familiar with graduate school life, or maybe if you are just starting out as a degree candidate, you should know that life does not stop for graduate school. Despite enrollment, courses, classes, papers, dissertations, comps, exams, and tuition, life, indeed, keeps occurring. I have known colleagues who have fallen in love, gotten married, bought houses, had children, gotten divorced, traveled, climbed mountains, ice-skated in national competitions, played in rock and roll bands, and achieved other typical and non-typical life milestones all while working towards their degrees. Life rolls on around us, and most of us treat graduate school just as if we would treat a regular job -- we work, we play, and we live our lives. The only thing that is different than being in the non-academic working world is that there is an ending to grad school. And even then, life doesn't really change that much.
   Immediately when I decided to write about this topic, I thought of Dr. Karen's 5 Year Plan. For those of you who don't know Dr. Karen, allow me to introduce you to her website, The Professor Is In. A colleague of mine had passed her site along to me a while back, and it provides a gold-mine of  information and anecdotes and advice that will give interesting and candid perspectives about the academic world. Dr. Karen's perspective on the 5 year plan is basically that while you can't expect to control everything in life, you can however take charge of your career and make choices based on your own personal goals. She writes, "I don’t think anybody should ever be in graduate school, or on the tenure-track, without a five-year plan," and continues:
"Some of my clients are masters of the five-year plan, and even have things like getting pregnant in there. I admire that, even while I know that 'the best laid plans…' You can’t plan for everything (or, you can, but your plans may not work out). But the core point of planning is this: that you’re taking control of your process into your own hands, and not leaving it out there somewhere, in the hands of your advisor, your department, or 'fate.' You decide when you’ll write, when you’ll defend, when you’ll publish, and so on. These are all your decisions to make."
   What Dr. Karen is sure to point out, though, is that a plan in and of itself is not going to get you anywhere. You have to stick to the plan. In other words, you have to meet deadlines. In a follow-up post, Dr. Karen asserts:
"Staying on top of deadlines is exactly what allows a person to achieve  huge life goals. Yes, I’m quoting Thomas Edison:  ”success is 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration.”  The people who succeed in getting into the national conference are, first and foremost, the ones who actually remember to submit the proposal to the national conference, by the deadline, properly formatted. One of the most important outcomes of the 5-year plan is that you never miss a submission deadline for a conference or a funding opportunity.  As you learn of new conferences and funding opportunities, you simply add them in, without losing track of the other deadlines. You also plan out a publication schedule, and put your own deadlines for submission to journals there in the plan.  And money racks up, and publications rack up, and networks rack up, and voila, the cumulative effect 5 years later is—an epic CV that gets you an epic job offer, or tenure."
    Ok, well, yes, but never miss a deadline? "Simply" add them in? It sounds great in theory, but I think the biggest problem most graduate students have is that meeting deadlines is not at all simple. Life sometimes tears you away, even if your academic work is your number one priority. It is not always so black and white.
    So what are your thoughts on the 5 year plan? Though I may have some theoretical questions about how the 5 Year Plan works, most of my questions about creating a 5 Year Plan are entirely logistical -- meaning, what does the plan actually LOOK like? By this I mean literally how does it look? What format does it take? Is in in calendar form? List form? Do you try for a month-by-month set of goals, or set up it up year by year? Or something in between? Do you work on multitple goals at a time, or try to nail one thing down before moving onto the next? I'm sure different solutions work for different people, but I am wondering what would work for me, and what has worked for you? I'm curious to hear your thoughts!
    And another thought I always have when I revisit the 5 year plan post: how do you know if your goals are realistic? Is there such a thing as shooting too high? Should your goals be based on practical things such as making money and attaining a job with benefits, or should the goals be focused on advancing the scholarly conversation? How do you set yourself up for success with the 5 Year Plan?
   Please share your thoughts about how grad life fits into your big picture!
Until next time, Liza


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