Surviving Summer: Try Something

As we’ve discussed earlier in our series on surviving summer, humanities PhDs often trade money for time. That is, summers for PhD students are often unpaid but full of “free” time.

Up to this point, we’ve covered a few ways to save money and reduce your cost of living over the summer (see here, here, and here). In this post, we want to switch gears a bit and focus on ways to maximize your time.

Summer is a great time to try out new routines and find new ways to be productive.

The important thing to remember is that, when the term starts, it will absolutely blow up even the best summer routine. That’s not the important thing. The important thing is to experiment with new routines to find what makes you feel your best and most productive. That way, when your semester starts to feel like it’s evening out, you can begin to incorporate some of the elements of your summer routine that you liked.

In particular, I like to try out new planners over the summer.

Two of my favorites are the Panda Planner and the Passion Planner.

(NOTE: THIS IS NOT A SPONSORED POST BUT IT COULD BE. PLEASE HIT ME UP PANDA PLANNER AND PASSION PLANNER.)

I like different things about each of them.

For day-to-day planning, the Panda Planner works best for my brain. I like that every day gets a full two-page spread with different sections including tasks, schedule, priorities, gratitude, and even exercise.

In the final semester of my dissertation, when I was teaching or TAing three classes and churning out chapter revisions a couple of times a month my Panda Planner kept me sane.

I would sit down with my Panda every evening and write out my tasks and schedule for the upcoming day with all of the things I knew had to get done. The next morning, when I got to the office, I would sit down with my coffee and decide on my five biggest priorities for the day as well as my focus for the day (e.g. productivity, self-care, patience, health, grading, and so on).

What I *love* about this system is that it scaffolds the day’s priorities in a way that helps me be gracious to myself. For instance, maybe I don’t get all of the things on my task list done on a day but I do accomplish my Big 5 Priorities. That’s still a win–I prioritized those things for a reason and got them done. Hooray!

By the same token, maybe there’s a day that I don’t get my tasks or my Big 5 accomplished but I stay true to my focus by making extra time for self-care or to meet with students outside of class. That still feels like a win because it reminds me that, while productivity ebbs and flows, I was true to my values that day.

If you want some sample pages to try a Panda Planner and see if it’s right for you then you can submit your email here.

The Passion Planner has a different daily/weekly schedule. One week is spread out over two pages with a schedule for each day as well as a separate section for top priorities, both personal and professional, and a dedicated space for creativity.

Personally, I like having a dedicated daily priorities section rather than a weekly one. My adhd brain often can’t see what the priorities will be at the end of the week. When I try to, I get lost in the weeds or overwhelmed, so the daily priorities works better for me.

For those of you with decent executive function, however, the Passion Planner is a wonderful option.

What I really, really love about the Passion Planner is the passion planning system it walks you through. The Passion Planning system helps you decide on what you want your long-term goals to be and make a plan to achieve them.

It’s particularly good, in my opinion, for multi-passionate entrepreneurs. If you haven’t heard that term “multi-passionate entrepreneurs” is a fancy term for people who are passionate about multiple simultaneous projects. This category fits most humanities graduate students I know who are passionate about at least one research project, a creative pursuit, teaching, and activism. Oh yeah, and on top of that most of us are trying to stay reasonably healthy.

The Passion Planner is dedicated to making space for all of those aspects of your life and has a great system for walking you through how to do it.

If you wanna try out a Passion Plan or a day or week of using the Passion Planner you can download pages here.

Both planners include dedicated spaces for gratitude which is excellent.

Both planners have blank pages to take notes though the Passion Planner has more and includes graph paper which makes my nerd heart happy.

If you’re into aesthetics the Panda Planner is minimalist. Different versions of the planner come in different colors but they’re all matte covers with the imprint of a panda.

The Passion Planner is beautiful and each week includes a different inspirational quote.

If neither of these planners feel right for you then I would recommend checking out Day Designer. Like the two above, Day Designer has a host of free printables so you can try before you buy. Day Designer planners are expensive but they’ve collaborated with Blue Sky to offer a modified Day Designer at Target for a much more affordable price.

Commit 30 is a planner specifically designed for academics (yay!) and you can print out a trial version here.

Do you have a favorite planner or planning method that’s helped you be productive?

Share it in the comments!

Surviving Summer: Eat Something

Welcome back to our series on surviving summer on the low or no income of a humanities graduate student. A lot of our previous posts have focused on food (here, here, and here). This probably isn’t surprising. You need to eat. I need to eat. We all need to eat. When we’re looking at cutting costs in a budget where all luxuries have been cut out long-ago we start trying to cut food costs. We can’t do much to change our rent or mortgage. We can try and cut utilities but food is our most constant cost and the one we are in the most control of.

The following is my Number 1 tip to grad students over the summer:

USE YOUR LOCAL FOOD PANTRIES.

Seriously.

Use them.

Find out where they are, when they are, and what you need to bring with you then go and get food.

I am passionate about this subject because during my PhD I helped establish a campus food pantry. I was a co-advisor to a group of students who was establishing the food pantry and, as the only grad student on the team, I was tasked with reaching out to graduate students to get them to use the food pantry.

All of the graduate students I reached out to said the same thing: I don’t want to use the food pantry because I don’t want to take food away from someone who needs it more. 

This view is a misunderstanding of how food pantries actually work.

This idea, that if you take food from a food pantry there will be less food for someone else, is based on the belief that food pantries are like pie: there is a finite amount of pie/pantry and if you take some then there is less pie/pantry for other people.

Food pantries don’t operate like pie. They operate like creativity. In the words of Dr. Angelou, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” 

The more you use a food pantry the more money that pantry is eligible to request in add from corporations or grants. The more aid they receive, the more food they can buy. The more food they have, the more people they can serve.

In actuality, the more you use a food pantry the more food they have. It is the exact opposite of pie. cake-food-fork-890574

Many colleges and universities have opened their own food pantries to server their students (this is the type of pantry I was a part of). These pantries are often open over the summer but see a sharp drop in clients because graduate students don’t want to use them and most undergraduates are gone.

This is particularly frustrating because a lot of charitable organizations give fresh food and vegetables over the summer and if no one comes to pick those perishable items up they go bad and get thrown out. This is particularly frustrating to those of us who have to cart the boxes of now-bad vegetables and fruits to the trash bin.

Please fight food waste and use your local food pantries.

Some of you may be wondering why I’ve used “pantries”, plural, throughout this post.

That’s because different food pantries specialize in different things. Many campus food pantries specialize in non-perishable items: Peanut butter, pancake mix, mac and cheese, canned veggies, ramen, tuna, and so on.

In contrast, community food pantries often have a broader selection that can include fresh eggs, meat, and dairy that needs to be used shortly after it’s donated.

Before you go to the pantry you’ll want to check them out online. Questions to ask are:

  1. What days are they open?
  2. What hours?
  3. Do they serve different populations or different food stuffs on different days?
  4. Do I need to bring my own bags?
  5. Do I need to bring anything with me? (Many food pantries operate on an honor system requiring you only to show up–some campus food pantries ask you to show a campus ID. This just helps the pantries compile the numbers for how many people they are serving which helps them apply for grants and things).

If you want to find out if your campus has a food pantry check out this map from the Colleges & Universities Food Bank Alliance. This map isn’t exhaustive. For instance, my current campus has a food pantry that is not on this list–but it can be a good place to start. If you don’t see your campus listed on this map you might want to check your campus website or email someone in student services. I know as grad students we often don’t interact with student services as they are more geared at undergraduates but they’ve got the hook-up on a lot of good stuff.

In conclusion, please, please, PLEASE, use your local food pantries over the summer to make your food budget more manageable and to help increase their ability to serve your community.

Surviving Summer: Share Something

One time, in another life, I was listening to a husband and wife missionary team talk about how they saved money to go on their mission trips and one of the things they said has always stayed with me as a very practical piece of life advice:

If I’ve got beans and you’ve got rice then we’ve got a meal.

I lived by this quote throughout my time in grad school. The year after my MA, when I was struggling to find work, I began hosting a weekly potluck. The potluck was a way for me to stay in touch with my grad school friends and to make food stretch. As a PhD student, over the long summers with no pay, I again held weekly potlucks as a way to stretch food and stay in touch with friends.

In a capitalist society there aren’t a lot of spaces where a body can just exist without spending money. When budgets are tight staying in touch with friends can seem daunting–do we go out for coffee? Seems like a luxury. Get breakfast? We can make breakfast at home. Go for a walk? Maybe, but it’s hot outside.

What I love about a summer potluck is that it provides a way to hang out and catch up with friends while helping, rather than hurting, your budget.

There are a lot of ways to do a summer potluck. You can take turns providing the protein (often the most expensive part of the meal) or hosting. You can do a brunch potluck or a dinner potluck.

For a brunch potluck I love this baked oatmeal from Budget Bytes. It’s delicious, filling, and super cheap. (If y’all aren’t following Budget Bytes you totally should–many of my favorite grad school recipes come from there.)

Last week I shared this recipe for homemade taco seasoning. If y’all can pool your spice collections or invest in a spice library then you can split the cost of a few cans of black beans, a bag of rice, some cheese, sour cream, tomatoes, onions–whatever you like. Individually the ingredients are cheap and you can make a huge portion to send some home with everyone. It’s also pretty delicious and filling.

I happen to be allergic to potatoes, but if you can eat them a baked potato bar is a great summer potluck. Potatoes, it turns out, have almost all the nutrients a human needs to survive and, of course, they’re super cheap. A 5lb bag of potatoes, with every guess bringing their favorite baked potato toppings, is a lot of food and a good time.

If you eat meat, a hot dog bar can be fun as well. They’re normally cheap but they tend to go on sale in summer so they’re even cheaper. Again, one or two people split the cost for the hot dogs and everyone else brings their favorite toppings.

Let us know in the comments if you have a favorite potluck or big batch item to help make your food budget stretch over the summer!

 

Surviving Summer: Make Things

Welcome back to our series on surviving summer poverty as a humanities PhD student. You can see the previous installment in this series here.

One of the perks of a humanities PhD is that you have a lot of control over your time. On paper, most humanities grad students don’t work anything near a 40 hour week. During my final year in grad school I was teaching 3 classes. This meant I had 9 teaching hours a week and 6 office hours for a total of 15 hours. I was also taking a class through the university’s entrepreneurial incubator (which was awesome and probably the only thing from that university I would think about promoting) which was seminar style so I had about 3 hours a week of class time. That’s a total of 18 hours a week that I actually had to be at a certain place at a certain time.

Obviously, I worked waaaaaay more than that. The prep and grading for 3 classes, the homework for 1 seminar, and, oh yeah, writing a dissertation was immense. I would estimate that I actually worked about 60-70 hours a week, but a lot of the when and how I worked was up to me. Want to work from my laptop in bed? Sure. Want to put on pants and work from my office? Sure.

Humanities PhD students work hard–and I will fight anyone who says otherwise–but we do have the benefit of very flexible schedules. In fact, the flexible schedule of academia is often touted as one of the reasons why academics are supposedly so happy to make significantly less than they would in other industries.

“Sure, the pay isn’t the best, but at least we aren’t shackled to a 9 to 5, amiright?” That’s not just something I’ve heard academics say it’s something I have said many times when I was in academia.

Essentially, academics bank on trading a little bit of money in what we could make for a flexible schedule that allows us to do something we love (in theory). That trade-off between money and time is even more pronounced for humanities PhDs in the summer. Unlike our colleagues in STEM we are often not funded through year-round grants and many of our professors do not have the funds for RAs over the summer. Some lucky folks get to teach summer classes but many don’t. This can leave PhD students with a lot of summer time and no income.

Luckily, there are some ways that you can trade your time for significant cost savings over the summer and one of the absolute best is by making things you used to buy. Here are some of my favorites!

Goop. Okay, this is my own recipe and I don’t really have a name for it so goop is good enough (no association with any other goop you may have heard of). Take about 3/4 a cup of baking soda and mix it with 1 cup of coconut oil. That’s it.

I like to add a little bit of turmeric because it’s supposed to be good for the skin but it also makes it a beautiful, sunny yellow.

If you fancy then you can add a bit of peppermint essential oil.

The actual ratio isn’t too important–just mix it until you find the texture/color/flavor you like. I find a 1/1 ratio of baking soda to coconut oil to be a bit too gritty for my taste, but you do you.

What is goop good for? A lot of personal hygiene, actually. It’s a great toothpaste (especially with a bit of cinnamon or peppermint mixed in). It’s the best make-up remover I’ve found. It’s a great bodywash replacement that both exfoliates (gently!) and moisturizes. It also works as a nice shaving cream replacement (at least for legs–idk about folks with facial hair).

Between one box of baking soda and one jar of coconut oil you will be set for the whole summer. You can keep it in a fancy glass jar on your bathroom counter top, in a Country Crock container, whatever works for you. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated and I’ve never seen it go bad.

Detergent. Yup, you can make your own laundry detergent and while it takes some time, particularly if you don’t have a food processor, it is bananas cheap. Here is a great tutorial which I like because it tells you how to make your own washing soda from regular baking soda which takes about two hours but makes the whole thing even cheaper. If you don’t have a food processor you can use a cheese grater to grate the bar of soap. It takes some time, but you can do it while watching a movie on your couch.

Salad Dressing. There are a lot of salad dressings you can make from home for pretty cheap but my absolute favorite is this one (which actually is associated with that other Goop). I use the cheap version of all of these ingredients–regular mayo, regular salt, dried herbs, and it is delicious. It’s delicious on salads. It’s delicious to dip veggies in. It’s great on chips. It is just so, so good. There is an upfront cost with purchasing the dried herbs but one bottle of each, along with a jar of mayo, will give you delicious dressing all summer long for the price of a fresh avocado every time need to make a new batch.

BONUS: If you have friends who are in town over the summer ask them if they wanna split the cost for the herbs so you can make big batches and split it up.

Bread. This is another one that can have a large outset cost if you need to buy bread pans or other baking tools but will save you soooo much money in the long run. Plus, you get to smell fresh bread baking which improves quality of life immensely. The only time I wouldn’t recommend making your own bread as a money saver is if, like me, you are gluten free. Unless you are already an accomplished baker making GF bread requires a lot of start-up cost (where the fuck does someone even by xantham gum?!), storage space, and doesn’t save you a significant amount of money.

Taco Seasoning. Again, like all the recipes, this is gonna have a initial cost but you can make huge batches that last forever. Pair this taco seasoning with some black beans and you can have some awesome black bean tacos/burritos/taco salads/quesadillas/rice bowls. The cheapest summer meal is rice with black beans and taco seasoning. It’s pretty good for you. If you have the cash you can add some cheddar and sour cream. If you were able to plant some tomatoes you can throw those in as well and by then you have a pretty great meal for almost nothing.

These are the recipes I used to survive grad school summers. If you have your own for DIY solutions to summer living problems share them in the comments!

Surviving Summer: Grow Things

Let me start with something we all know to be true: Graduate students in the humanities are not paid well.

While everyone who has ever talked to a graduate student in the humanities knows that this is true finding the data to back this up is incredibly difficult for a lot of reasons. To get a qualitative sense of how little humanities students are paid check out the comments on this unbearable piece from Chronicle Vitae.

While not paid well at the best of times, many graduate students aren’t paid at all over the summer. Summers in grad school can be hard to survive leaving PhD students with a range of options from ok to awful. I was always very lucky in that I could count on family support in a real pinch. Many people don’t have this option. Some PhD students take out student loans to cover the summer. Still other students take summer jobs to make ends meet. However, these summer jobs often cut into critical research and writing time extending one’s overall time in grad school.

In this series, I’m going to focus on the things that helped make summers as a PhD student better. I had a lot of privileges as a PhD student (I’m white, I’m cis, I was able to buy a house and I had recourse to some family financial support for starters). While I can share a few limited tips I would be grateful to readers who contribute their own tips in the comments!

Finally, I’ll posting a summer survival tip the day after I post something in our ongoing series about abusive advisors. Let’s begin!

Summer Survival Tip 1: Grow Something

Grow whatever you can. Maybe you have the money to invest in a raised bed (if you live near an Aldi they sell a great raised bed kit for $40). Maybe you can put a few containers on your apartment balcony. Maybe you can put a basil plant in a window.

Whatever you can grow, grow it.

It will make a huge difference to your quality of life over the summer. In the beginning of August, when you haven’t been paid in a month or two and you’re living on ramen adding a little fresh basil in there will make your life feel better.

Community gardens have gotten increasingly popular so if you don’t have the space or resources to grow something yourself check the internet to see what churches or community centers have gardens where you can put in a little bit of work to get some fresh produce. No one wants that grad school scurvy.

The town I did my PhD in usually planted edible plants in the decorative planters around downtown. In the middle of summer they would have these huge kale plants and you could steal a few leaves as long as you didn’t decimate one plant–you gotta hit up different planters for your salad. I mean it’s kale, but desperate times and all that.

I’ll just end with this tidbit–all parts of a dandelion are edible and those things are everywhere. Just make sure you wash it thoroughly if you get it from someone else’s property since you don’t know what chemicals they used in their lawn or if their dog peed on it yesterday.