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Advice

Time is (Not) On My Side: Time Management for Graduate Teaching Assistants

The demands of graduate school have increased my appreciation for Immanuel Kant. However, the appreciation I’m referencing here doesn’t necessarily concern the content of any the Critiques (although I am a fan). Rather, after five years in the PhD program, I have a great appreciation for Kant’s (in)famous schedule. As the story goes, Kant’s daily walks were so punctual the residents of his hometown of Könisberg were able to set their watches simply by waiting for Kant’s head to pass by their windows. While this may appear overly regimented, predictable, and, quite frankly, boring, his works did drastically change the way we think about judgment, reason, and knowledge. And for those of us who wish to follow-suit and shake the foundations of humanity with our scholarship and teaching, we might be better served by recognizing that our quest might begin by developing and adhering to a schedule. That is, we must recognize that being effective teachers and writers means setting-up certain spatial and temporal parameters that allow us to maximize the time we spend reading, writing, and teaching. In short, we might try to be as Kantian as possible.

While for some this may go without saying, for others, myself included, developing a reasonable and effective schedule is and has been a work in progress. Indeed, early in my graduate career the shifting seasons, semesters, and family demands left me working in conditions that seemed to maximize frustration and fatigue. Moreover, this fatigue and frustration extended beyond reading, writing, and teaching. Time with family and friends was compromised as well. The unpredictability of my schedule, something I had cherished since the days of my undergrad, had become more and more of a hurdle, especially as I moved into studying for exams. Without a schedule, I found myself reading too long into the night, planning at the last minute, or missing out all-together on participating in readings groups or get-togethers.

These limits, however, prompted a refiguring of my daily practices, and, in doing so, I came to recognize the value of scheduling myself. As a result, I was not only a more productive and effective teacher, reader, and writer, I was also more serious. Whereas my unpredictable schedule meant that friends and family were more often than not able count on my availability, developing and sticking to a schedule meant that I was no longer able to drop my book or stop grading papers on a whim. I had started “working.” In one sense, I was “working” at my desk in order to complete certain tasks within certain timelines. Yet, as I began to make more effective use of my time, I began “working” like a finely-tuned teaching and reading machine.

While you might not be able to set your watch by reference to my “work” schedule, I assure you that I have a regular schedule that resembles a 9am-5pm work schedule. Are there days I veer from this schedule? You bet’cha. Even Kant himself once missed a walk because he was busy reading Rousseau for the first time. The point here is that by giving ourselves certain spatial (work at a place where you are most productive) and temporal (give yourself deadlines and stick to them) parameters we will improve our understanding of ourselves as scholars and teachers, as well as the important “work” we do in these positions.

Mike Ristich is a PhD candidate in the department whose research interests are at the intersection of rhetorical and critical theory, particularly as they relate to the study of radical political movements. He currently serves as the Graduate Student Tutor GSA in the Writing Center.

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