Name One Thing with Alex MacDonald | Advice on self-care in graduate school

Banner image for the Name One Thing Series of Exclusive Interviews, providing sage advice for graduate student success. Image shows a graduate student in cap and gown, back to the camera, facing a blackboard and making a triumphant pose.

Name One Thing: Advice for graduate students from those who’ve been there.

Welcome to Name One Thing the interview series where I ask academics, researchers, postdocs, and other professionals what they wished they’d known when they were in in graduate school. Today’s guest is Dr. Alex MacDonald, a recent graduate student and postdoctoral researcher, who shares his perspective on toxic productivity, maintaining balance and well-being, and gaining perspective in graduate school.

About Today’s Guest

Photo stand in for Dr. Alex MacDonald shows a line drawing of a student in a cap and gown with a diploma in front.

Name: Dr. Alexander MacDonald
Degree: Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering
Current role: Postdoctoral Researcher

1) Name one thing you wish someone had told you when you were a graduate student.

Graduate school can be a very lonely and stressful place, and the loneliness and stress can make the mind develop some pretty weird beliefs that are out of touch with reality. Keep an eye out for these beliefs and nip them in the bud when they show up. They share the common architecture of having unrealistic and contradictory standards that stack the deck against you. Beliefs like “if you are not exhausted, it means you are not working hard enough”, or “a career in academia is the only form of success there is”. I think the worst of these beliefs is “your entire self-worth as an individual resides solely on your performance as a researcher”. Don’t believe this garbage. If you made it as far as graduate school, it means that you are a passionate, intelligent, driven, resourceful individual who has a lot more going for them besides just being good at school. Even if you think you are underperforming as a researcher in graduate school—which you are most likely not—remember that you are a valuable multifaceted individual with a lot of good to offer those around you.

2) Hindsight is 20/20, name one thing you would do differently in graduate school.

As trite as it might sound, I would have taken better care of my physical health. Time does not stand still in graduate school, and if you don’t take care of your physical health, no one else will do it for you. I have learned the hard way that with physical fitness comes emotional fitness, and I definitely needed more of that in graduate school. A little bit of exercise goes a long way. Find some sort of physical activity that makes you feel good and is good for you. Your body and your mind will thank you for it.

3) You are a big proponent of coaching and, in fact, have coaches for other areas of your life. Name one thing coaching has helped you with.

I think what coaching has helped me the most is to gain perspective. Oftentimes, I will stress about something, and after talking about it with my coach, they make me realize I am making a storm in a teacup just because of the way I am looking at the situation. Gaining perspective often comes in the form of getting clarity on my real goals and priorities. It makes a huge difference to be able to get guidance from a professional who has been through what you are going through, who has helped others in a similar situation, and who can give you perspective on what the road ahead looks like.

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, Dr. MacDonald! Toxic productivity saturates graduate school and self-care is so often sacrificed in the name of productivity. Your reminder of the importance of keeping in balance is a vital nudge in our hectic world! Thanks also for sharing the benefits you receive from coaching. I may be biased but I wholeheartedly agree. Even coaches have coaches!

Wishing You All the Best in Your Academic Success.
Dr. Cristie Glasheen, Your Graduate Student Success Coach.

Interview Disclaimer

We aim to share diverse perspectives and experiences. The views, opinions, and experiences shared by our guests in this interview series are solely their own. Their participation is not an endorsement of our services, products, or views, nor does it imply an endorsement of their services, products, or views by us.