The importance of setting outrageous goals in grad school

Summer can be a wonderful time in the life of a grad student. The weather is lovely, the library is empty, everyone seems more relaxed.

But after a week or so, I find myself growing restless. I’m the kind of person who thrives on activity. I need hurdles to jump and goals to strive for.

This makes summer the perfect time for analyzing my personal and professional goals. Instead of making New Year’s Resolutions, I make One Year Goals from summer to summer.

Sometimes I have a hard time drawing up a list of goals because I tend to play it safe. I keep making baby goals–ones I know I can achieve. But now is not the time to be safe!

Now is the time to be bold.

What do you want to do this year? Suspend reality for a moment and consider everything.

Do you want to learn a language?
Do you want to travel?
Do you want to organize an event for your peers?
Do you want to make a serious dent in your proposal/grant application/dissertation?
Do you want to become an authority among your peers?
Do you want to buckle down and pay off student loans?

Think back before you came to grad school. What did you think it would be like? Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing?

Here’s the list that I made back in July 2011:

travel to two foreign countries (fully funded of course)
travel to two nutrition conferences
become independent of my car
register a domain name
dance three nights a week

I traveled to Rwanda and India this year for part of my research. Here I am celebrating Holi in India.

I presented at the Experimental Biology conference this year. I registered this domain name (and one other). And I dance three nights a week (publicly during the year, privately during the summer). I even competed!

When I wrote down my goals, I had no idea how I would accomplish them. (I mean, really, who in grad school has time to dance three nights a week??) And really, if you already know how you will accomplish a certain goal, that goal is TOO EASY. 

I didn’t reach all of my goals. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed with work. I get that; I worked hard this past year, too. But having concrete goals in mind (and on paper) primed me to take advantage of opportunities that I might have otherwise dismissed. 

Action Steps:

  1. Set a timer for 30 minutes.
  2. Get out a pen and paper and brainstorm ideas.
  3. Pick 3 crazy goals for this year.
  4. Put them somewhere you can see them.
Remember, now is the time to be bold. You might be surprised what can happen in a year!




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