Category Archives: Grad Life

How to Connect to the Cornell Servers for Ubuntu Users

As travelling graduate student, I often find myself needing to access Cornell’s servers from my personal laptop. The Cornell IT site has helpful instructions for Windows users and Mac users but nothing for Ubuntu users like me. After tinkering around a bit, here’s how I got things to work.

For Ubuntu users:

Search for “remote desktop client”. My version of Ubuntu already had Remmina Remote Desktop Client installed. If yours does not, you can find it here. Open the application.


Click on the “Create a new remote desktop file” icon. Type in the name for your profile. I connect to the Cornell servers, so I named mine “Cornell”.  Leave Group blank. Protocol should be “RDP-Remote Desktop Protocol”.


Under the Basic settings, type in your server name. Here is a list of the Cornell research servers if you are a student.

The rest of the fields can be left blank. If you want to share a folder (this prevents you from having to email yourself all of your files), check the “Share folder” box and choose which folder you want shared.

Click Save. The server should now appear in the Remmina Remote Desktop Client window.

Double click on the server name. This will take you to the log in screen. Enter your user name and password (I’m not sure why, but you must add “_RS” to your Cornell ID to log in), and you should be good to go.

It’s not science until you write it down: Starting the New Year with Clarity

Happy New Year from one of the most beautiful countries in the world!

I’m starting off the new year back in Rwanda. For those of you who have been following along, I travelled to Rwanda last January as well to begin a project related to my research. For lots of reasons that can be summed up as “international research” the project was delayed for a year, and now I’m back to try again.

Many things have changed over the last year regarding this project. Simply put, I have more responsibility this time. I am thrilled to be trusted with so much and terrified of messing things up.

I remember the following quote:

You never rise to the occasion. You sink to your lowest level of training.

With that in mind, I’ve been training like crazy getting the procedures and equipment ready. Though I’ve worked with this equipment previously (in India) and been trained since undergrad, I’ve come to realize something important: none of that matters unless it’s written down.

It doesn’t matter that I can do all of the procedures. What matters is that I train others to do them just as well. What matters is creating standards and references and training materials. What matters is passing my knowledge along so that others can achieve results. This is called reproducibility, and clear writing is key.

One of my perpetual goals is to communicate more clearly in writing and when speaking. This trip to Rwanda will force me to communicate in plain English (and perhaps garbled French) what I want and need. It also strengthens my written communication with friends and family back home since I cannot call them.

Happy New Year everyone. The ball is about to drop in NYC. Here is to a clear 2013!

In a Slump? Here are Two Things That Will Make Your Life Easier

I’m going to be really honest. This week was rough. I’m sure you can relate to feeling overwhelmed and underproductive (I just made that word up). Some days, you just wonder what you’re really doing in grad school in the first place.

Well that was me this week. You see, I am preparing for my A exam, and in my lab that means that I have to have a comprehensive proposal written in about 10 weeks. I’m also in the midst of writing two manuscripts and searching for grants.

Stressed. Worried. Curled up in my bed not wanting to move.

That’s pretty much how I spent yesterday. But then I found two resources that turned my week around.

Take Control with Productive Flourishing

If you need something to challenge you to get moving, look no further than Charlie Gilkey’s post that poses 50 relevant questions about your productivity. This post helped me define what I was trying to accomplish and what I needed to prioritize. Then I used their free planners to map out the next 10 weeks.

Accomplish More with the Pomodoro Technique

Once I had my plan, I was ready to take action.

The Pomodoro technique in it’s simplest expression is working with razor sharp focus on one task for 25 minutes and then taking a 5 minute break. Once the 5 minutes are up, you start up at your task again. Every 4 “pomodoro” cycles, you take a 15-30 minute break to rest and recharge. (If you want to learn more, read this.)

My application of this technique had been spotty at best, but then I found a free online Pomodoro timer that made it much easier to take this method wherever I work. On a campus computer? No problem. In my office? Yep, still on Pomodoro cycles.

With these two new tools, I overcame my slump funk.

Bad days happen. Bad weeks happen, too. You’re allowed to feel overwhelmed when things get tough, but there are always tools, methods, and most importantly people who are there to help you get through it.

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Remember: Even If You Feel Behind, You’re Not Losing

Sometimes grad school can be a little intimidating. You’re surrounded by brilliant people all the time, and you might start wondering how you fit in.

Especially during the first weeks of a new semester, it seems like everyone has something exciting to report, and you begin to feel stuck and small.

It can be hard to remember that you’re brilliant, too.  That’s why they picked you.

Here are some ways to get you out of your funk and back into the game.

Think about it for a minute

Someone somewhere in your department had faith in your ideas. They read what you wrote, looked at what you’ve done, and decided to train you. You are worth their time (and their grant money). Your adviser, your mentors, and your entire university is vested in your advancement. They care about you.

Talk to another (more experienced) grad student

The more advanced grad students have done it all. Seriously, go find one and pick their brains. Vent to them about your coursework, your ideas, your IRB troubles…whatever. They will likely have ideas or tips from their own experiences. Or at the very least be able to lend a sympathetic ear.

Talk to Your Adviser

And make the most of it. Remember, if you’re the Olympic athlete, your adviser is your coach. Listen and learn.

Get Organized

It’s incredible how much information is out there. I use Evernote to keep track of articles and classnotes that I find helpful. That way they are neat and searchable for when I need them.

Make a (Minimalist) Game Plan

Leo Babauta calls it his three Most Important Tasks. Before you go to bed, list out the three most important things on your to-do list for the next day. When you wake up, address these three tasks first. That way, if nothing else, you accomplish something related to your goals.

Make a (Complex) Game Plan

Maybe you want more than Leo’s method. You like big checklists and huge plans. You want to plan out your time for the entire month.  Look no further than Productive Flourishing’s free planners.  These things are amazing because they encourage objective-based planning. Set goals, and define your path towards them.

Most importantly…

Remember that you’re not losing. Graduate endeavors are individualistic affairs. For the most part, you set your own path and determine how far you go. 

Look at others around you for inspiration and encouragement. Collaborate and commiserate when you need help. But ultimately, you will look forward to focus on your own goals and cross your own finish line.

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6 Savvy Ways to Help Your Adviser Help You

You’ve just started graduate school, and now you’re completely lost.

Or maybe you’ve realized that this is your third or fourth (or nth) year. And you’re completely lost.

“What did I get myself into?”

But wait. Before you panic, there is one person who has been chosen as your superhero. Your adviser.

If you’ve chosen to study under this person, chances are your goals are similar to their accomplishments. They can be a gold mine of information if you only know how to ask. But how do you even ask for help when you’re still learning the language?  How do you get their valuable feedback and time when you have a very important person with very important things to do as an adviser?

Here are 6 ways to make it easy for them to help you. The first three are for before you meet with your adviser, and the last three are for meetings with them.

Before the meeting…

1. Start with structure.

You didn’t just come to graduate school on a whim. You have a mission. Take a look at your personal statement. This is the piece of you that convinced your department to take you on as a graduate student. What made you the compelling choice? Write down 3 goals you have for your graduate career. This focuses your mind and nips panic mode.

2. Make a Master Task List

Take those 3 goals you came up with and list everything you need to do to accomplish them. Split the list into immediate (1-2 weeks), short term (3-6 months), and long term tasks (years). This list will get longer as you progress (and certainly after you meet with your adviser).

3. Know what You Want to Know

Your adviser isn’t a mind reader. They don’t know what you don’t know. Their minds are occupied by numerous projects and duties and classes. You have to do the active thinking about what you need to know.  Keep a running list of questions to ask them, and keep it current. Evernote is a wonderful tool for this.

During the meeting…

4. Don’t Waste Their Time

Outline your expectations early. If you called this meeting for a purpose, tell them exactly what that purpose is and what you hope to get out of talking with them. It’s their job to help you (and most are eager to do so). Tell them what you need. Hint: refer back to your Master Task List and Question List.

5. Agree on Deliverables (and then provide them on time)

Advisers are great at providing feedback on something tangible. Agree on a deliverable to have by your next meeting. This does two things: 1) It keeps you on track and focused, and 2) It gives your adviser a way to appraise your work and offer suggestions.

6. Don’t be Afraid to Look Stupid. Just Ask.

You will look stupid at some point. Get over it, and ask your question.

Remember, you are not alone in this journey. Your adviser is there to, well, advise you. Take advantage of their experience and expertise to get unstuck and get going.

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11 Inspirational Quotes for First Year Graduate Students

First of all, congratulations on starting your first year of graduate school!

You are embarking on a wild, whirlwind adventure that will push your mind and your will (and maybe even your body) further than you have ever gone before. You are on a noble quest to extend the boundary of human knowledge.

I salute you.

After two full years of graduate school, I can tell you that the first few months are the hardest. Here are 11 of my favorite inspirational quotes to get you started.


“There has been an alarming increase in the number of things I know nothing about” – Winnie the Pooh

“Whatever you can do, or dream, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”~Goethe

“In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.” – Miguel de Cervantes

“Only those who risk going too far will see how far they can go.” T.S. Elliott

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’ ” – Mary Anne Radmacher

 “It is not by accident that the happiest people are those who make a conscious effort to live useful lives. Their happiness, of course, is not a shallow exhilaration where life is one continuous intoxicating party. Rather, their happiness is a deep sense of inner peace that comes when they believe their lives have meaning and that they are making a difference for good in the world.” – Ernest A. Fitzgerald

“Whatever you do today do it better tomorrow.” ~Robert Shuler

“Its not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.” ~Sir Edmund Hillary

“There is a way to do it better. Find it”. ~Thomas Edison

“Only those who risk going too far will see how far they can go.” – T.S. Elliott

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.” – Helen Keller

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin


Good luck this year, and check back for helpful tips!


Future Fun Facts

Remember when I said that my life is so much more than the pursuit of a PhD?

I’ve been keeping a “bucket list” now for a couple of years. It’s helped me defined what I truly want to do and see and become in my life. After finding Joel Runyon’s Blog of Impossible Things, I was inspired to refashion my list because my bucket list just wasn’t aiming high enough.

This list is designed to evoke statements like Girl, you crazy. You can’t do all that. That’s impossible.

But as I’ve mentioned before, now is the time to be outrageous.

Even more than that, though, putting this list together forced me to define an ideal future filled with possibility.

So without further ado, I present…

My Future Fun Facts


PhD Stuff

  • Publish a paper
  • and another one
  • and another one
  • give a lecture at Cornell (as a TA, as a guest lecturer)
  • Become a walking reference manual for SAS, SPSS, R, Evernote, Refworks
  • design a full semester course
  • design an online course


  • Complete 50 push ups in a row
  • Handstand or any inverted yoga pose
  • 200 consecutive squats
  • Complete one unassisted pull up (then five)
  • learn Parkour
  • Become proficient in four styles of martial arts (Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Jujitsu, Kung Fu)


  • Visit every continent (North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Antarctica)
  • Macchu Picchu
  • Hagia Sophia
  • Camino de Santiago (Camino Frances)
  • Pilgrimage to Rome
  • Great Wall of China

Confronting Fears

  • Learn to surf
  • Learn to hang glide
  • Scuba dive
  • Do an unassisted back flip
  • Ride a bike in a foreign country


  • Earn $5,000/year freelancing
  • Make a full time second income online (~$30,000 per year)
  • Write an e-book (besides my Evernote guide)
  • save $100,000

Renaissance Woman

  • Design a Tiny House
  • Build a Tiny House
  • Speak four languages besides English (Spanish, French, German, Esperanto)
  • Compete at Pre-Champ Level in two of four ballroom styles (Smooth, Standard, Rhythm, Latin)
  • Sing part of the Hallelujah Chorus

And that’s it for now! Do you have an “impossible” goal or list of goals?

Why Do I Do This?

I saw that secret in my first year of grad school.

It shook me to my core. It’s one of those I could at and say: “What if that’s me?” It could easily become my secret in 10 years if I let it.

I found that it was easy to get overwhelmed by the endless reading, writing, and thinking. It was exhausting to feel like I wasn’t making progress. But my life is so much more than a PhD.

I want an incredible life, too, and I don’t want to wait 10 years for it.

And so I live now. I make the conscious choice to enjoy every single day. To do fun things. To step out of my comfort zone.

Since starting my PhD program, I have:

  • started playing ukulele
  • joined a competitive ballroom dance team
  • lived in Rwanda and India
  • learned to use a DSLR
  • begun learning Spanish and French

How do I do this?

Since I don’t intend to do cool stuff at the expense of my academic training, I have to be incredibly purposeful about the way I structure my life.

I create systems to enhance my productivity without driving myself insane.

I don’t complain about how difficult my work is.   This is my challenge, and I embrace it.

No matter what your specific grad program is like, we all have five tasks in common:

  • Idea Generation
  • Idea Organization
  • Idea Presentation
  • Self-Promotion
  • Self-Funding
I’ve learned quite a bit about these five tasks over my past two years as a graduate student at Cornell. Most of the things I learned I had to figure out on my own. Now I am going to share what I know and what I discover.

I am here to encourage you.

Grad school is difficult and misunderstood. How many times did people question your decision to go to grad school? Or poke fun at you? Or tell you that you’ll always be poor and overworked?

How many of your peers endlessly bemoan the amount of work they have to do?  Every day, they work and work but they never seem to feel better!

There is a better way. Optimize the Five Tasks. Work hard on stuff that matters. Then stop and go play for a bit.

I will show you ways to work smarter so you can live the life you want now.

Thanks for reading along!


The Graduate Manifesto

There will always be work.

Over the past two years as a grad student, I’ve learned that I’ll often have 25 hours of work a day. Between the readings, the conceptual frameworks, the classwork, and the teaching, it’s a wonder that my mind doesn’t explode. At some point, I have to stop and accept the fact that there will always be something left undone. There will always be work left to do.

The world will not end when I don’t finish everything on time.

Even though it’s flattering to believe that the entire world depends on my work, most people function perfectly fine without it. Obviously there are times when others depend on me, but for the most part everyone else is too caught up in their own work to notice mine. This is a merciful reality.

Productivity = working hard and stopping

Keeping sane in this world requires that I focus on the most important tasks as hard as I can for as long as I can with absolutely no distractions and then stop and do something fun. Scheduling fixed periods of work and play is critical for both getting things done and getting much needed play and rest.

Sometimes creating a balanced life means adding something you love.

Most of the time when I hear people talking about living a balanced life, they talk about taking things away. During my first weeks of grad school, I felt completely overwhelmed by work. I had taken away everything else. Since work was my entire life, when it wasn’t going well I felt like my life was a mess. Then I added ballroom dance. Immediately the quality of my life (and work) improved.

It is possible to be an effective grad student and have an outside life.

I have other goals in my life besides getting a PhD, and I refuse to put my life on hold. I want to travel, to dance, to play the ukulele, to learn languages, to take care of my body, to meet interesting people, and to enjoy life. I also want to make an impact in my chosen field by producing meaningful work. I believe I can do this by focusing my effort on the most meaningful tasks and by eliminating distractions.

Follow along as I share my experiences and experimentations in pursuit of a balanced yet effective graduate career.