The Importance of Consistency in Research and Life During Grad School

Dave discusses the topic of having consistency as a grad/doctoral student in one of his older videos, (and there is a goldmine of advice and information in his videos dating back 3 or 4 years, so check them out at —- keep clicking page down until you get to the bottom of the page). In his vlog Dave talks a bit about the importance of being consistent when you are a PhD student. This involves not only consistency in terms of your research focus, theoretical framework, and research methods, but also in other areas of your life. As Dave says, “consistency during a graduate or PhD program is one of the largest predictors of student success.”

In his vlog, Dave talks how in the first couple of years as a student you have so many different ideas and are around so many smart people. You will want to tackle so many different things. But you cannot do everything at once or you will burn yourself out in the beginning phases of your program. As Dave puts it, getting a PhD requires a marathon runner’s mindset. It is going to take you at least three years full time, or six or more years part-time to complete your degree. You have to pace yourself and not get burned out before you even make it to the exam or dissertation stages.  

This post was written by Dr. Stephanie A. Bosco-Ruggiero (PhD in Social Work from Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service) on behalf of Dr. Dave Maslach for the R3ciprocity project (check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback software). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and researchers by providing an authentic look into PhD and academic life and how to be a successful researcher. For over four years, the project has been offering advice, hope, and encouragement to students and researchers around the world.

Here are some of my ideas, building on Dave’s thoughts, about how consistency can help you succeed as a doctoral student.

1. Consistency in your research focus

Yes, you can study and work on many different topics during the coursework phase of your doctoral program, but it is helpful to develop a consistent focus in a particular area of study. This does not mean you have to focus all of your papers and projects in this one area but if there is a common theme or two (or three) running through your doctoral work, before long you will realize you are building expertise in an area, building on the knowledge base in that field, and creating an academic niche for yourself. In this blog post, Dave talks a bit more in this blog about being a persistent researcher.

It is not too early during the coursework phase to figure out what you are really interested in and want to focus on in your post-doctoral life. The more consistency you have the better. It will make completing course assignments easier and building a knowledge base in preparation for the dissertation phase easier. You do want to use the coursework phase to explore different subfields or areas of your academic field because you may discover a passion for something that was not there before. But try not to be all over the place with your interests, papers, and project. You will serve yourself by not having to constantly start new literature reviews and databases, and just having a consistent path in your research that keeps you focused, and to a certain extent, keeps things more simple.

2. Consistency in theory

You will want to explore different theoretical foundations as a graduate or doctoral student, but you do not want to explore them all – there are too many. Of course you need to learn the core theoretical models in your field, but choose a few to become really familiar with and use as the theoretical foundation for your research papers and proposals. You will become more interested in several that make sense to you, and which have been used as the foundation for research projects and studies similar to what you are interested in doing. Do not ignore other theories but rather become immersed in a few key theories that you develop an expertise in. You can always adopt other theories down the line, but it will help you to study several theories  in depth during your time as a student.

3. Consistency in research methods

You will learn several different research methods as a doctoral student including quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods (a combination of both) research. It is important that you learn about them all, but why not become a specialist in one or the other, even as a graduate student. If you like numbers and statistics, learn all you can about quantitative methods and then run with this method. For any coursework project or research proposal you have to complete, propose a quantitative research study. Then, once you get to the dissertation phase you will feel comfortable with this method. Take all the courses you can on this method and even try to tutor or teach this method.

4. Consistency in data analysis methods

Then there are different methods of analyzing data. If you prefer qualitative research become an expert in ethnographic studies or in conducting focus groups and performing content analysis. If you are a quantitative researcher learn all you can about a more advanced (multivariate) data analysis method such as a specific type of regression analysis or cluster analysis. Research methods and methods of analyzing data can be intimidating for some students. Repeating and really getting to know certain statistical tests or qualitative methods can help you become expert in that method and do better research during your program and after graduation.

5. Keep a consistent sleeping and eating schedule

You will also want to be consistent in your eating and sleeping schedule. It is imperative for adults (except for a few outliers) to get 7-8 hours of sleep. Depriving yourself of sleep regularly can have negative repercussion for your heart and mental health. If you need to ask for an extension on occasion, do it. Also, try to eat regularly even if it means snacking on protein rich food throughout the day. Do not go a half day or more without eating (unless you’re on a medically approved fasting diet). You will get irritable and will not think clearly. You also will get snappy with your family or whoever you live with.

Check out this blog post on sleeping and eating during your doctorate!

6. Keep a consistent study/writing schedule

If you are doing a program part-time while working full-time try to set aside a certain amount of time each day to read and complete coursework or work on your dissertation. Try 7 to 8 pm each night if you work full-time (or 7 to 8 pm in the morning, if you’re an early riser). If you work part-time or stay home with your kids, get at least one hour of study time in at a consistent time each day. Now this can be difficult with very young children, but if they nap for two hours each day in the late morning, for example, make that your designated study time. Parents may have to do a lot of their work after kids go to bed at night. That is what I did, but it will get easier to find time during the day as they get older. As you progress through your program you will also be expected to publish. Here are a few pointers I put together for another blog about becoming a productive researcher.

7. Stay in consistent touch with a few close friends

This is very hard to do as an adult with a job, let alone a student and raising kids at the same time. As life gets busier and you move into a new phase of your career and life as a doctoral student and academic you will not have much free time for friends. It is sad but true; however, keep those really close and consistent friends you’ve had for years, and nurture those few relationships. They know you are busy and are probably in the same life phase as you and have their own challenges keeping up with friends.

Be in touch consistently with these two or three close friends throughout your time as a PhD student. Do not neglect those friends who are like family. Prioritize some time for connecting with them and staying current with what is going on in their lives. Without this support and sense of a connection that you derive from friendship you may end up feeling very isolated. You may make some new friends from your program, but do not forget the people who supported you and were always there for you up to this point, including close friends and family.

8. Exercise and engage in self-care regularly

You will notice that Dave talks about this consistently throughout his vlogs. Check out the following vlog for some advice from Dave about how walks can clear your head, help you connect with nature and your loved ones, make better decisions, and engage in problem solving.

What I suggest you do to integrate physical activity into your daily schedule is identify modes of exercise that do not require you to go far, such as a gym, and fit in neatly with your other scheduled activities. For example, if you are on campus a designated number of hours a day, do a daily walk around campus for at least 15 minutes around lunchtime, while running errands, or between classes. But be consistent about it. If you do a lot of work from home, get an under the desk exercise bike and use it during your daily scheduled academic study time. If you take online classes, use it during class. Just make sure you do not bounce around on camera – that is distracting for the instructor and your classmates.

Engaging in regular spiritual, religious, or meditative practice when you have such a busy life is important as well. Take five minutes each morning, or when the kids are sleeping, to ground yourself and do some breathing exercises. There a million meditation apps you can choose from. Or maybe you want to do some grounding meditation before bed at the end of the day. Here is another blog that discussed other ways to be engaged in self care as a student.

9. Enjoy holidays and breaks

When holidays and academic breaks come around, take some time for yourself. Do not let all of your academic work pile up to the point that you have to get it done during spring or winter breaks. You need that time to look forward to and recharge. If you must do some academic work during breaks, do some reading and try not to work on a paper. You need regular breaks throughout the year to spend with friends, family, children, and to just do the things you enjoy that make you feel human again.

10. Consistently celebrate accomplishments and progress

You juggle a lot and you should regularly take time to reflect on and celebrate your accomplishments. Do this with friends in the program. You might develop a regularly scheduled night out that celebrates milestones achieved in the program. For example, celebrate with fellow students at the end of each semester with drink or dinner. Make it a consistent get together and do not let it fall by the wayside. Schedule a date a few weeks in advance to celebrate and get together and make it a priority to do so. Send out evites, put up a flyer, organize a doctoral program event – anything to mark the end of a semester, an academic year, or celebrate a milestone in the exam or dissertation process. You have done a lot to get to that point so do not neglect to celebrate! You might also treat yourself to dinner or buy something nice at each milestone.  

Consistency as an academic

It is important to develop consistent routines and rituals as a grad or doctoral student. This will help you stay on track, mark progress, set goals, celebrate accomplishment, and keep everything in perspective. This consistency will also serve you as you move into life as a post-doctoral academic, consultant, manager, or whatever you choose to do. Dave said he had to learn how to be consistent with his research agenda, theoretical foundation, and goals and priorities as a university professor. As a young professor he had several different projects going on and settled on R3ciprocity as a major focus. This is an example of prioritizing a project and consistently working toward making it a success.

Again, you will want to tackle all of your great project and research ideas after you get your masters or doctoral degree, but you can’t do it all at once because you will be at risk of burning out. Your career will be a marathon, so set goals and look forward to all of the new adventures that lie ahead. You can do research, academic work, or consulting for 30 or 40 years. As the years go by it will be so rewarding to see the knowledge you have created and built upon.

If you enjoyed this blog post about maintaining consistency in your life as a student and academic, these other posts may also be of interest to you!

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