To The 40% of Team Practical In Grad School…

… a question. Because god knows, *I* am not in grad school. Everyone around me is or has, but somehow… not me. So, please discuss:

Hi Meg,

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about something and it seems like its probably close to the hearts of many of those on your blog so I wondered if others had thoughts…

My boyfriend (I can’t say fiancee with a straight face even 6 months later) and I got engaged last August after mulling it over for awhile. We met while I was starting the fieldwork for my PhD in London, and got engaged about halfway through my writing up — which has been a somewhat fraught process (isn’t it always?). When we decided to get engaged we toyed with the idea of waiting to plan until after I’d submitted so that I wouldn’t get distracted… But as soon as the words were out of my mouth I sort of knew it was ridiculous, I’m an organizer and a researcher through and through and whether we were engaged for 10 months or 100 months I knew I’d start thinking about it straightaway (somewhat obsessively I admit).

That was last August. It’s now almost springtime and I’m still writing. He has a ‘real job’ with normal hours, accountability, and colleagues. Plus, even if he did have more flexibility I know he wouldn’t spent the time making bunting and tin-can lanterns as I have (though he does like the lanterns as they involve baked bean tins and a hammer and nail). On the other hand, I have basically nothing to structure my time, other than my own (very weak) willpower. I’m continuing to write but I fear I’ve already lost weeks if not months faffing around with wedding stuff while still in my PJs, promising myself I’d finish a chapter this week, no this week, no definitely THIS week. It’s not about making the wedding ‘perfect,’ we both have a very DIY/rough around the edges aesthetic anyways, but all the personal crafty touches actually seem to take up so much more time than the corporate ‘wedding B’ choices. The other day someone called me ‘the future Mrs. S’ and I responded, ‘I think you mean the future Dr. B’ – but in all honesty its seeming farther and farther away. I’m supposed to submit at the end of April and get married in June… I just wondered if others had advice and how they managed to rein themselves in to do good academic work and have fun with the wedding planning – because to be honest I do actually find it pretty fun, and a lot more fun than writing my doctorate!

It’s weird, this wedding thing. Do we like it? Do we like it TOO much? What does that mean? Or…. should we just enjoy it (while finishing our dissertations)?

All I can really offer is my firm conviction that you WILL get your dissertation done. And get married. And it will all be wonderful.

But you other actual grad students (or freelancers) discuss!

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  • Oh this strikes a chord for me.

    Replace writing a dissertation with studying for the MCAT and I could have written your post.

    Then I start thinking about what the first year of marriage will be like while still studying and then applying to schools.

    Then I wonder how I'll have kids in all of that.

    It's easy to see how you can get off a career track.

    I know how badly I want to be a doctor, and I think I need to work on being more committed in my actual actions.

    I'm also giving myself permission to take longer to study, for a variety of reasons, the wedding being no small factor.

    It's a toughie.

  • Well. Boy do I hear ya on this one. Sometimes I wish I was in a freaking bride/student support group. I graduate medical school in 3 months…four days after our wedding :-)

    I'm in my academic home stretch…after 10 years…and just happen to have the schedule of hell upon me…with my medical boards in two weeks (wha???) and a slew of oral exams (noooooo!!!) my residency interviews, and my general surgery rotations (which is the worst thing in my whole life ohmygod). Planning has been interesting.

    I'm not going to lie, when we first got engaged, I sprinted from project to project! Eager to explore my creativity once again (nothing like med school to suck the artistic juices from a person's soul…do I sound bitter??) The big things are done: like photographer, DJ, food, blah blah. The little things like programs, and handmade decor, and the quilt I've been working on for my husband's wedding gift are far far away from being accomplished. And you know what…they pry won't get done. And at this point…I'm OK with that.

    I have probably put a tad too much time thinking/blogging (?) about our wedding. For me, our wedding is a stress reliever…and how I adore relieving stress. But sometimes it's tricky to balance. I give myself daily/weekly/monthly real life tasks that I have to accomplish before I'd get to play with wedding projects. Because really, the wedding is going to happen with pretty decor or not…but the real life stuff wouldn't happen without big effort behind it.

    As the wedding approaches, I find myself caring less and less about the details…I don't know why that is…but I'm awfully happy it's turning out that way.

    One of my fave bloggers gets married this weekend and wrote a GREAT today:

    Good luck!!

  • Writing is hard. I wasted the first two months of writing my masters doing what, well I can't remember, but I procrastinated a ton. And wedding blogs are the best procrastinating tool in the world. I can't imagine how bad my procrastination would have been if I was writing while planning.

    I had my wedding last month and started planning while studying for my PhD qualifying exams (I still have two years left in my program). You cannot study or write all the time, so first things first, do not beat yourself up over not getting in 10 hour days. Seriously, a good day for you might be 4 solid hours of writing. (Mine is usually 4-6). Second, what time of day do you write best? I wrote best from 4pm to 6pm and 10 pm to 2 am. I did not try to force myself to write at other times (especially mornings). Use the times you know you are distracted easily to wedding plan. Find your body and mind's natural writing rhythm and work with it instead of fighting it. Third, a chapter is a huge goal. You need to break your goals down to smaller, more manageable ones, like a single section, some figures, two pages. That way you will know you are making progress even if a chapter is not complete. Lastly, if all else fails, go to a coffee shop that charges for internet use to work and don't pay for the internet.

    Good luck! It will get done!

  • Oh and I second A.Mountain.Bride. All your wedding projects will not get done and that is absolutely fine. Letting go of some of mine felt really good.

  • I completely relate to this! I'm studying postgrad at the moment (letters after the name, but not a Dr before!), and became engaged about a month before my first exam. I think the approach seems to be that, whichever one you are worried about, distract youself from it with working hard on the other one – that way, you keep your mind off things and keep busy, but with minimal procrastination. In practice, it works somewhat less smoothly and with a fair bit of pootling still in there, but as a born worrier, I have always found that finding something smaller to worry about is a huge help in taking my mind off the bigger things (clearly I can worry, but not prioritise). Good luck with both :)

  • Forcing myself to study/work in a library and using their computers (instead of bringing my laptop) has always helped me avoid distractions. I remember my final term paper was the hardest thing to finish, especially given the flexible deadline, but I told myself if I finish by ____ date, then I could indulge in all the things that I've been feeling guilty about doing instead of writing. Carbon Girl said it best though: start by breaking it down into smaller goals. You can reward yourself with little wedding projects after finishing smaller goals of your dissertation. Good luck!

  • I totally agree with Carbon girl- only write your dissertation when you know you write best. Not quantity but quality! Then you'll have a lot of spare time for wedding stuff but try to have a maximum time limit like 2-3 hrs a day.

    I finished my masters and got married last year- If I can do it- you can so do it! Good luck!

  • Ohh man I feel you on this one. I am currently working on my masters in mech engineering, in the thesis writing stage, preparing to defend in the next few months and then getting married this summer.

    This is silly, but I get emails announcing whenever someone has scheduled their defense.. and so when I see that, I imagine how badly I want an email sent out with my name on it. I think if you can imagine something tangible that will occur (ex, seeing your name as Dr.) then you can trick yourself into reminding how much you care about it (?) I am actually planning to write a mock email announcing mine and tape it to my desk with a big red question mark over the date.. I feel that when I glance up when I'm distracted, I will be able to keep working. I'm also in a lab, not at home, which helps. Good luck!

  • I am in law school – teh third year in a clinical program. I am getting married 7 days after graduation and then for 2 months after the wedding I am disappearing to study for the bar.

    I often have the choice between choosing wedding crap or reading and briefing my cases and I choose wedding crap. So my wedding stuff will get done… but I may be redoing my third year in lawschool. Stupid girl.

    Its so hard but others who have done it. I think we can all do it.

  • I'm in agreement with Carbon Girl too. I finished my PhD last year and am now in a postdoc revising the diss for a manuscript. I too think about how much more work I could get done if I wasn't distracted by the wedding. Every evening, as I go through wedding blogs and other nonsense, I look at my stack of books by my bedside with guilt.

    But the fact of the matter is that you can't write all day long. It's intellectually draining, and thinking about wedding planning is simply a legitimate way to turn off your brain at the end of the day. If it wasn't wedding stuff, it would be something else. Last year for instance– before I was engaged but still writing my dissertation– I was obsessed with watching HGTV and TLC. So don't beat yourself up! Everyone needs a daily (if not hourly) break from the special hell that is dissertation writing. Good luck!

    (PS. I also agree with Carbon Girl that thinking in terms of chapters is too daunting. Just set realistic goals for yourself–2 pages a day, 5 pages a day. Whatever.)

  • Carbon Girl has great writing advice. Follow that, but also set the date for your wedding so you can finish making THOSE decisions and they can stop interfering with dissertation work. We got engaged about 6 months into my PhD program, and (eventually) set the date for two years later, after my classwork should be complete. We made the major decisions, and then took a "wedding planning sabbatical" to get real-life things accomplished (sleeping, eating, writing my proposal, etc). Your situation is clearly different since you're close to the end of both (fingers crossed) but having made decisions definitely frees up psychic space to concentrate on dissertating. If that doesn't work, put aside the first 2/3 of the day for writing, the last 1/3 for wedding stuff, so it becomes a reward. Just don't get sucked in early in the day (as I am doing right now) because the whole day can evaporate.

  • I feel your pain, sista. I'm not even in grad school and I'm struggling to balance my undergrad degree and the wedding. Like you, from the moment we were engaged, I started planning and even though I'm in school now, the wedding still overtakes my brain a lot of the time. The best strategy that I've found is allowing a certain amount of time per day to focus on wedding stuff. I do my work in the morning, afternoon and in the evening I allow myself to spend some time with wedding stuff. I'm still finding even that difficult though, because my mind always seems to sway more towards thinking about the wedding than focusing on school. Because, you're right, the wedding stuff is WAY more fun. Letting go of some really time consuming or bothersome wedding projects is probably another good idea. You'll enjoy your wedding with or without bunting and tin can lanterns, but like Mountain Bride said, your dissertation won't get done unless you put the work behind it so it should probably take priority.

  • I too am studying for my Ph.D., and honestly the only way I was able to keep up with my writing and research while also pouring what seemed like 100% of my effort in to my wedding was to have regular meetings with my advisor. He held me accountable for doing a certain amount between the meetings, and his passion for the subject also kept reminding me why I am doing this. Without those tangible deadlines for my doctoral work, I'd probably have let it slide a lot, or completely during our 6 month engagement.

  • Carbon Girl was right on with her suggestion that you figure out what times of day you write best, and make sure nothing else interferes with those times.

    I got engaged in late October, and scheduled my wedding for early June. I finished teaching a course in December, and wrote about half of my dissertation between then and the end of April, when it was due to my committee. I didn't defend until 10 days before the wedding, but I had almost nothing left to do on the project once it was handed off to the committee. (It also helped that they were understanding, and knew my timeline: they turned things around quickly when I needed them to, and resisted asking for yet more revisions. It's not a perfect project–it's the first draft of a book manuscript.)

    For things that could not wait until the last month, I set myself task-oriented deadlines. "I will go wedding dress shopping after I have turned in the final grades for this course." I am also deeply indebted to my mother, who took over certain tasks like Save the Dates and invitations. I picked out the paper, and let her do he wording. Not what I would have selected, but it was fine, and once a task is delegated, let it go. (And before this feels too gender-stereotyped, my father selected the florist. My fiancee had his own reasons for not being able to help a lot.)

    For everything crafty, I simply told myself, "You can do that in May." And boy, did I look forward to May. I did my best to avoid procrastination by 1. a healthy measure of panic over how much I had left to write, and 2. keeping a focus on why I wanted to complete this. I was really looking forward to having it off my plate and being fully present for the honeymoon. But honestly, the thing that really impelled me forward was the way I felt sick to my stomach when I heard other couples introduced as "Dr. and Mrs." We were going to be "Dr. and Dr.," darn it. Shallow, perhaps, but it was really really important to me.

    So, why do you want this done before the wedding? What's your motivator?

  • I'll third or fourth Carbon Girl's excellent writing advice — "finish a chapter" is a good goal, but it's also a big one, and a lot of people (myself included) find that it's hard to be motivated day-to-day when your goal seems so far away. I'm planning to defend my PhD in August, and for me, the personal rule that keeps me productive when I'm in the writing phase is "write 500 words per day." Footnotes count. Taking notes on a book or article also counts. That doesn't sound like a lot, but on good days, those 500 words turn into 800 or 1000 words. And on bad days, well, even on bad days I can usually get through the 500 words.

    And don't beat yourself up for enjoying your DIY more than your diss right now! It's totally understandable. But I think that if you tackle bite-sized dissertation goals every day, you'll find yourself making progress on the wedding and on your degree.

  • I went to the library and treated it as my office. I worked my 9-5 job, went to the library from 7-11 and wedding stuff could be dealt with on the weekends. I made time lines and To Do lists that spelled out how I could accomplish wedding stuff AFTER I completed my school work. I set my priorities and pushed through. The wedding is a nice one day celebration, the education is the important rest of my life stuff (I mean, the marriage is the rest of my life stuff too, just not the wedding itself).

  • I have been there! I think it's tough to balance the healthy "wedding planning is a nice distraction/reward/hobby/etc." that helps me balance the very thankless job of writing up, with "wedding planning is taking up too much time and I am using it as an excuse to avoid work". All grad students need diversions to keep them sane, and if your wedding can be a healthy, not taking over-y one, then that's great! It's about finding that balance.

    I was working full-time in the lead-up to the wedding as well as working on my diss and wedding planning. I would say my diss definitely suffered from that overload. I was realistic about it and put myself on a timeline that made sense. We'll see if it works out.

    It is worth remembering, as Olivia pointed out, that there will be other things in our lives that get us off track! Maybe balancing wedding planning and diss writing is good practice. :)

  • I actually got engaged just as I finished grad school, but I was in early wedding planning stages just as I was working freelance and job hunting, so I know all about the wedding/work/life balance issues.

    This is going to go against what everyone else seems to be saying, but for me the best strategy was just to do what I was in the mood to do, when I was in the mood to do it. You’re not going to write your dissertation (or cover letter, or whatever) if you’re looking longingly at your tin cans every 15 seconds, so don’t bother trying – it’ll just frustrate you. Give yourself permission to do wedding stuff, because God knows that there’s enough to do, so why not take advantage of your moods? You’ll be surprised at how quickly you get sick of wedding planning, or, at the very least, it’ll stop being this forbidden fruit of procrastination. And then, you’ll be able to do better work on your dissertation.

    Plus, never underestimate the power of crossing a small, easily-accomplished (wedding) project off your list to inspire you to tackle the big (work/life) ones. Doing things when I’m in the mood to do things has been my secret weapon of wedding planning, and now I’m 4 months out, not stressed, and yes, I finished that freelance project and found a real job.

  • I hear you lady! I was SO close to finishing up my thesis when I got engaged to my man-friend, and suddenly it was 1239847 times easier to spend hours daydreaming about wedding stuff than to crank out three more sentences of the thesis. The only way I got through it was by setting writing goals (i.e. 5 more pages!) and only submitting to the pull of wedding fun once I had reached that milestone. (My self-control isn't THAT good, sadly … but it helped to at least set myself guidelines). The feeling of finally finishing my degree and no longer having that work looming over me was the most liberating, refreshing thing ever, and allowed me to jump into wedding projects with a smile and a clear mind. It was easier for me, though, since my thesis due date and wedding date were not as close together as yours – perhaps you could divvy up your week into x hours of writing and y hours of planning. The only problem is enforcing it when you're the only one around … gar! :)

  • oh my gosh – i completely understand. i got married A WEEK after law school finals. I used the two to balance each other out. Like, "who cares if this detail is completely figured out? the C on my final will be on my record forever if i don't study!" and when i got super stressed by finals i thought, "okay calm down about figuring out this law concept, you're going to take the biggest step in your personal life next week!" it worked for me!

  • Well… my grad school program didn't require a thesis, but when I was doing my senior thesis in undergrad, I blocked out a few hours every single Thursday afternoon. I loaded up my laptop and primary texts and drove across town to a coffee shop where nobody I knew ever went. WiFi was pretty much unheard of, so that helped avoid procrastination, but you can always not connect to a signal and pretend you don't have internet. :) It helps to structure some time in JUST for writing and nothing else.

  • I can totally relate to many of these posts. I am working full time (way more actually) and going to grad school part time.

    I got engaged about six weeks ago and we are aiming for an August wedding. Work and school are plenty. Wedding planning is almost too much.

    But my real struggle is to spend quality, non-wedding planning related time with my partner with all of this other craziness. It may be cliche, but there just are not enough hours in the day. Any advice?

  • GF

    We got engaged just before I started a masters program and my fiance started law school. we put off any real planning for 6 months because we were both busy with school, but over winter break we finally broke down and realized that we needed to just start working on stuff or we could put it off forever on other pretenses.

    I've found that making tons of to-do lists and keeping a detailed planner with structured schedules helps me stay on track with school and with planning. I try to keep my google reader subscriptions pared down to only those blogs i actually value and want to read all the time, and read it once a day so i stay on top of it.

    My best friend just got engaged, too, and they're getting married before us, so now I have another wedding to help plan, and frankly I am not sure how this is all going to pan out, because she's getting married right around when I should kick planning stuff into high gear. We're getting married in January, so I don't have to worry too much about it, but I am trying to keep a balanced timeline since I know I'm not really oging to be able to just drop everythign I'm doing to work on wedding stuff in the fall.

  • I had to clear my google reader. Seriously. it was hard, but in the end looking at bazillions of pretty wedding pictures is probably not the best use of my time.

    Now if only I could get off grad cafe, PhD acceptances would hurry up, and my mother would stop bringing up wedding tasks that i hadn't thought of yet…. i'm sure that my unstructured work would suddenly become very compelling,

  • I think that Chelsea has some great advice.

    I started wedding planning admist a Ph.D. program and felt the same way. And then I allowed myself to do my projects and stopped beating myself up. Both got done.

    But I learned, as Chelsea did that if I really wanted to do xyz for the wedding then I wouldn't get my work done, no matter what.

    On the other hand, I try not to work from home so that helped some. I'd write on school computers where it wasn't so easy to distract myself with my bookmarks.

    Ultimately, you will get both done. And, you can't work on both all the time. The writing can be so draining, and the wedding stuff can get daunting.

    You can do it! Good luck!

  • Oh you all are lovely… I sort of *knew* I wasn't the only loopy person doing everything at the same time, but then it still is so comforting to hear everyone's experiences.

    I love all the advice about keeping to schedules and working a certain number of hours but I also know from much experience that I just do not do it. Don't know why, I am clearly not good at being my own boss.

    That said I am ridiculously motivated by to-do lists, so I've taken advice and have a very detailed to do list by section including fairly tiny tasks.

    I wish I could turn to my supervisors for some help but they are very British, very male and very hands-off. So anything that indicates you aren't just an intellect walking around with some typing fingers attached is not a good topic of conversation.

    But you know what, since I originally wrote this email I've written about 2000 words (!) AND emailed with my sis and mom about liberty style flower girl dresses and ordered cheap sample wooden berry baskets etc etc.

    (PS, Natalya, you and I are on sort of the same schedule – I'm aiming for April 23rd, so good luck to you! welcome, in advance, to the UK)

  • This resonates so well with me. We both struggled to finish our theses during the engagement. Earl grey tea, hours of nondescript Pandora stations, and dedicating every single Sunday to writing was how I did it. I worked during the week and would write on weekday evenings when I could. I absolutely took every Saturday off, used Shabbat to focus on taking care of myself. Then Sunday became my full work day. I removed myself from home, went to the library, and did not let myself leave until I met my goal for the day.

  • OMG! So many smartie pants on Team Practical!!

    (Duh…) ;)

  • It is so refreshing to me to get to hear from other students/grad students about how you all have worked out dissertating (or otherwise studying) and wedding planning.

    I agree with all the seconds on Carbon Girl's post. Excellent writing advice.

    I got married last August, in the midst of writing my dissertation (which I am still working on–I plan to finish in June 2011). For me, it was really important to give my wedding the focus it deserved as a major life event–in that it was the beginning of my marriage, not just a single day in my life. I finished a major research trip about 6 weeks before the wedding, and my choice was to put the dissertation writing on the back burner for those 6 weeks. When I got home, I took notes on and organized the research I'd done and then I basically gave myself a month off from the diss. That may sound extreme, but for me it was feasible in terms of my dissertation timeline. Knowing that I was going to have that time also helped me feel more comfortable delaying the wedding tasks that I could delay until then. When the wedding finally came, I felt rested and healthy and able to focus fully on the joy of that day. I realize this is not for everyone: if I had been closer to finishing and under the pressure of a close deadline, I don't think this would have worked.

    For me, what it came down to was resisting the message that we so often get from peers and faculty in academia that our intellectual work IS our life. I needed to stake out a space for myself in order to say that my personal life, my relationship life, and for me, my spiritual life, are just as important. We don't, or I think we shouldn't, put off the rest of our lives just because we're in grad school–easier said than done, but that, at least, is the ideal I try to go by. It helps me feel happier and more sane, even if it might mean that I take longer to finish my degree.

  • Meg

    I want to echo the 9-5 advice. David was/ is in Law school, and was during our planning (which he was very involved in). Because he'd worked quite a few years before going back, he just tackled law school as a 9-5 (well, with my hours more like a 7-5, but whatever). He got up, went to the library worked, came home. That made it far harder to get distracted…

    So. Who knows if that will work for you or if picking good writing times will work for you, but I'm all about giving myself structure – now I'm doing this, then I get to do that.

  • I'm a med student, graduating May 2010, getting married one week later. Two things have helped me with balancing wedding planning, school, and still having a "life". Knowing I can delegate, and intentionally taking time away from the wedding.

    It won't all fall to pieces if you procrastinate on the planning. Promise. We're 3 months out, and still have no reception tent rented, no cake contract, no invitations ordered. But I've taken the last few weeks completely off wedding planning because there's been school stuff that NEEDED immediate attention.

    I'm not worried about it. My friends and family are an incredible resource who are ready the moment we say "go". It'll all get done! Use the planning for balance, but do remember that you don't have to do it alone, and that you shouldn't lose your goals because of it.

  • Oh man, story of my wedding-planning life. We got engaged shortly after we had both started grad school, he was working on his MBA and I'm finishing up my MA thesis. We got married ten months later, and it was a bit of a multi-tasking challenge, to say the least.

    We also struggled with the fact that our programs are 150 miles apart, and I basically split my time between my campus (Sacramento area) and home (Bay Area) and wasn't home with my sweetie four days a week. That was the really hard part.

    Oh, and in my wee little circle of academia, people are not particularly concerned or impressed with marriage. So besides the fact that I was on my own in terms of balancing the two, people would also look at me strangely if I talked about all the goings-on of grad school and wedding planning. It was like, "why waste your time on a socially constructed institution that has only been perverted by capitalism and mass media?" As if that's the only way to look at it. And grrr, the way some academics (at least in my program) treat marriage and family life like it's some sort of cute past time, like needlework or crochet, really gets me.

    Anyway. I certainly did waste time on wedding blogs. But before we were engaged, I also wasted time on Facebook, on cooking blogs, on design sponge… you get the idea. I like to think I swapped one form of procrastination for another, though I'm not sure it was as clean cut as that. I did make a chart on the fridge, and I moved my little magnet across for each page that I wrote… at the end of the week, I needed to have 18 good pages. And I left Wednesdays completely unscheduled, open to either wedding stuff, school stuff, or by-myself stuff, or family/friends stuff, because I'm the type of person that screams if every moment of my day is planned out weeks in advance. But that's just me.

    Ultimately, both my academic and family lives are very important to me, and I tried to treat them accordingly. I'm sure you'll figure out a way to manage your time. The time thing, for me, was less of an issue than the identity-weirdness, the "can-I-really-be-a-serious-writer/academic-and-a-wife-and-plan-to-have-glamorous-things-like-potty-training-and-breast-feeding-in-my-distant-future" dilemma. Which threw me for a while. But I realized, screw it, I CAN, and I'm doing it right now, thankyouverymuch.

    Good luck with your yin/yang balancing act! I'm sure it will all work out.

  • Thank you for this post!

    I'm writing my masters thesis right now and planning a wedding for June. In fact, I'm graduating the DAY BEFORE THE WEDDING…so, you can imagine.

    It's been quite the struggle balancing finishing my program and planning the wedding, and I work a full time job! So I have to be extra diligent in keeping things balanced.

    It's particularly hard coming home after a long day at work and trying to sit at my computer and write, but sometimes, you have to give yourself a pass. Sometimes, I just want to watch Say Yes to the Dress instead. And that's okay, as long as I find some way to get some work done. Usually for me, that has to be on the weekends, so I plan my weekends very carefully now; if I have wedding errands, I make sure I set time aside for myself to work too. It's all about balance.

    Also I keep telling myself, "the sooner you get your thesis done, the more time you'll have to dedicate to enjoying the experience of planning this wedding" It keeps me motivated.

    I want to wish the best of luck to everyone trying to plan a wedding while in grad school! Ladies, we should all give ourselves a big pat on the back!

  • Like many have said before me, this sounds so familiar. I am finishing my Masters this semester and getting married in June. Added to that we live two hours apart currently (he has a full time job in the next state). So not only am I trying to fulfill school and internship obligations, and plan a wedding, but to see him I have to travel at least 4 hours total and definitely don't want to do schoolwork when we're together.

    Everyone's advice has been great and are things I've been doing myself to work on my thesis. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got on completing a thesis (and this was given before I even got engaged) was:

    The person who writes one page a day will finish their thesis.

    So whether you translate literally into writing one page a day, or do like I am and set up small goals – 4 pages every second or third day – you will eventually be done.

    I've recently (as in this week) been frustrated because my weekends have lately and will continue to be for a bit overcome by premarital counseling (Pre-Cana for my fellow Catholics). And just last night was telling my roommate, it's hard to put this before school, but ultimately, in the grandest scheme of life, I'd rather have a healthy marriage then finish my master's on time. Not that I think it will come to that, but it helps me justify taking such breaks on my writing.

    So good luck, and keep thinking about when this will all be over. That helps me out too – just a couple months and I'll be done with school forever (I've put in near 20 years straight.. can't wait for life without homework!)

    Good luck, I'm positive it will work out in the end. It's a balancing act, just like the rest of life.

  • Can I just say this topic:

    "It's not about making the wedding 'perfect,' we both have a very DIY/rough around the edges aesthetic anyways, but all the personal crafty touches actually seem to take up so much more time than the corporate 'wedding B' choices."

    … has become rather central in my own wedding planning?

    I'm not in grad school, but am facing some of the same freedom of scheduling that makes it so easy to sacrifice otherwise productive time for wedding planning goodness. And I've started to think that sometimes a compromise with some of the WIC BS is OK, as long as it's corporate wedding BS that solves a problem for us and still leaves us happy on our wedding day with clear minds/heads/hearts.

    And I've consoled myself by thinking, yes, I think this falls within Practical Wedding OK-ness (which is kind of ridiculous in its own right. I mean "What Would PW Meg Do?" Yes, I get it, the whole point is what would WE do… ugh). Just sayin'

  • Hey Future Dr. B.

    First, CONGRATS! That is a huge step, to be ABD. You should be very, very proud of yourself.

    I too am in grad school, but I kinda took a different route than you. I decided that I couldn't handle the stress of school + a part-time (that feels like a full-time) office job + wedding planning + crafty stuff, so I opted out of crafty stuff. My mom is really disappointed (and has told me she considers this to be very out of character for me, which is true), but I'm the one that has to live in this brain and I needed brain space.

    Add to all that, my FI is also in grad school (JD/MBA) and thinks his workload is just the absolute heaviest load imaginable. I really wanted to include him actively in the planning, but it's been a source of stress for us. He's a champion procrastinator and school always seems to make its way to the top of his list. It's been like pulling teeth to get him to hire a photographer, and I had to take invitations away from him (even though he's a design freek) because he just kept not doing them.

    So here we are 4 months to go with no rings, no invitation, half a photographer, and no wedding transport. I don't even want to think about what it's going to be like when he realizes that he has to do our reception playlist in one week because he's put it off for so long.

    So I guess my point is: you know your FI. Don't expect him to do what you know he won't do. And don't force yourself to do stuff that stresses you out and takes away from your real life. Because let's be honest, wedding planning (and crafting) is not our real life. I look at all the cute stuff that all the lovely wedding people share, but all I can think is, "HOW do they have time for that??" Because I sure don't.

    Maybe you could nominate a very stern friend and have them set up deadlines for you. You know, 1 chapter by March 3, 1 chapter by April 3, etc. Do you think you could stick to it if they did that?

  • Kat

    I am in grad school for Art History and got engaged recently. Because of our schedules it will be another year and a half before we can get married. Let's just be honest…it's not the greatest situation ever. But it sure isn't the worst, so I count myself lucky that at the end of all this craziness I will have a degree I am proud of and the start of a marriage to my favorite person.

    I totally understand the writing thing. Some days it feels good. Other days it is an awful, awful pressure that just sits in your brain and on your chest when you feel like you actually have a life to lead (one that involves pretty stuff and not research all the time!!)

    I set timers. I can look at wedding blogs for 15, 30, 45 minutes. Then I write however much I set a goal for (a few pages sometimes). And I don't allow myself to click to my google reader until that timer goes off again and I give myself another free time period.

    This is quite a structured practice and I usually hate structure…but when I desperately need to focus and am having one of those days where my brain is all over the place, this is the best thing for me.

    Good luck! You will be so proud of yourself when this is over!! And know that there are (apparently) lots of us out there that feel your pain!

  • Kim

    To my fellow grad school bride: I have good news and bad news.

    The bad news is that I do not have any practical advice about how to be a better student. The good news is that despite the anxiety you have, I KNOW you are already doing fine and that you will finish strong. How do I know this? Because you've made it to the home stretch of your doctoral program, which means that you've probably had a long history of doing strong academic work despite all of the distractions and/ or procrastination in your life. Basically, the cards are in your favor.

    I don't think that wedding planning necessarily makes people more likely to produce worse writing or earn lower grades. Maybe all of the time, fun, and creativity that go into the planning should simply be seen as a warmly welcomed saving grace during an academic sh*t storm. I say embrace any coping mechanism or healthy distraction that you've got! You'll need it. Ain't no shame in that.

    As a psychotherapist-in-training, I'd like to share a bit of theoretical stuff as it applies to your situation: PROCRASTINATION GETS A BAD REP FOR NO GOOD REASON! It's true – my professor said so! To the surprise of many, procrastinators are often straight A students despite their "poor" time management. Unfortunately, they are made to feel guilty because the world labels procrastination as "bad". Type-A people use organizing and over-preparation as their own coping mechanism for school anxiety, only their way of handling it is labeled "good". Either way, both types get the job done using whichever coping mechanism they prefer.

    I don't know exactly how many hours of school work vs. wedding planning feel right for you. But it boils down to this: you will feel joyful, accomplished, grateful, and beautiful in both your wedding AND graduation gowns. And trust me, you WILL get to wear both!

    Stay awesome, my fellow grad school bride. Peace.

  • No idea how I did it. But then I say that about most things I do.

    Keeping organized definitely helped. I had Google spreadsheets for everything, to-do lists broken down by month so I only had a few things to do each month of our engagement. And I worked out my big school projects so they were a few weeks before and a few weeks after the wedding (got married mid-semester).

    And then I also decided that as long as I passed my semester and got married, then things were good. Several projects I'd originally thought of for the wedding ended up falling by the side. But the things that mattered, happened.

    I also made sure I stayed healthy. I exercised not to lose weight but to stay sane and keep calm and sleep better. And I got full support in that from my husband. He even let me train for a marathon that I ran a month after our wedding.

    Seriously, what was I thinking that semester?

  • I'm a postdoc who recently finished my PhD. We got engaged after I finished my dissertation, but postdoc life is pretty much just like grad school life except that you have that one document off of your stack.

    I think that many people here have hit the first point I thought of when I read your post. You definitely do need something other than your dissertation consuming your life.

    The second point I want to make is something that I've only just really been living lately. You're getting married because you and your partner want to be just that partners. Similarly, you are getting your PhD for a reason. I realized that in my relationship doing the best I can at my job is more important to our future. Right now my work is too time consuming for lots of DIY thus DIY is not in the best long term interest of our partnership. It took me awhile to get to the point where I really stopped feeling guilty. I have other hobbies that I am more invested in and while I am very excited for our wedding I no longer feel guilty when I decide to buy something and save some time rather than doing it myself.

    So I guess my take home advice is to do what is best for the both of you for your long term happiness. Also good luck you can definitely finish!

  • You are sooo not alone! I am currently writing up my dissertation as well. I had to chuckle but then almost start to cry when I read "I'll finish a chapter this week, no this week, no THIS week". OH WOW can I relate! My fiancee and I got engaged last summer as well, he with one of those normal jobs 9-5, and me finishing up my last year of PhD-dumb (I mean PhD-dom of course). We are tight on money and I have all these DREAMS of making all this diy stuff for the wedding but have yet to be able to materialize anything due to this big lump of thesis I have to write. My poor fiancee who cant' be creative unless it has something to do with music, can't really help and has been dealing with my stress levels like a trooper. He does not even flinch anymore when he asks about something relevant to the wedding (and something we really should have done by now) and I scream back in the massively-stressed, overwhelmed, and almost defeated voice…. "THESIS!" It is tough, but the good thing (I hope anyway) is there will be one day in the future where you (and I, and all the others dealing with this) can say… "Hey, I got my PhD AND I got married..I am pretty much totally awesome now." :) GOOD LUCK with ALL of it! I know what you feel like!

  • Natalya

    Wow, I can SO relate!! I am also writing my thesis, which must be complete and ready for revisions from the grad school by April 15. I'm presenting at several conferences and I am helping edit a book for a professor. On top of everything else my sister is expecting her first child and so there are baby showers and such to help plan.

    I'm graduating May 9, then getting married and becoming a stepmom May 30. Our engagement is rather short so I have to step up the planning for our very budget, DIY backyard wedding.

    I'm mostly on track with writing my thesis but spend way too much time cruising etsy and ebay for vintage tablecloths or beaded clutches. It's so much more fun. Sometimes I wonder if I am crazy for trying to do both but it sounds like I'm not the only one.

    The other issue is that my boyfriend lives in London and I live in North Carolina (which is where we are having the wedding) so there isn't much he can do from afar. It also means that I am preparing to move to the UK and that is a really daunting application process. I just try to take things one step at a time, and often that means turning off the internet so I HAVE to write the next chapter.

    Luckily my mom, sister and best friends are supportive, creative people and I try to delegate some tasks to them. Yet I know that as both deadlines approach I'll only get more stressed out.

    Best of luck to all and hopefully we can try and provide some sanity and perspective to one another!

  • Oh my goodness, this post should have been written by me!

    I was in the shower this morning thinking that perhaps a nearly-10 month engagement was too short; perhaps we should postpone the wedding until next year so I could have more "real" time to enjoy being engaged! I am three years into a 5.5 year (average, but which I am not, so it may take 7 years) research-based PhD program. All I do is stress about my experiments! Perhaps if I had more time *engaged*, I could in fact enjoy a few moments of it.

    All I can say is that having a list helps. So far, I try to put my 9-to-5-ish hours into science thinking, and the remainder into wedding-thinking. Honestly, I've even had to play hookie a few days, just to get a whole day of wedding work done. It's a balancing act which I don't think anyone really knows the perfect equation for. Good luck, write that thesis and be done and be married!!

  • Natalya

    Cheers Alicia!

    I'm so glad to hear you gals are in the same boat and have given me a good laugh about it all.

    It also makes me thankful that I chose a great thesis advisor – not only is she supportive of my research and career goals, she understands there is more to life than academia. And this is coming from someone recently named assistant dean of the coll. of arts & sciences!

    Now if only my boyfriend, who is an independently employed mechanic (not that there is anything wrong with it) but has never been to university could understand my world. He didn't know what a Masters was when I applied! As much as I try to explain he has no frame of reference for it…

  • Sarah

    i got engaged last may, started grad school this august, and am getting married in june. prior to starting school i worked full-time, now that i'm in school full-time, i'm working part-time, and then the wedding is probably another part-time job in itself!

    when we got engaged my dad actually told me that he thought it was really dumb to be planning a wedding while in school, and wouldn't i rather wait until after school was over (2 years). i told him that no, i wouldn't rather wait and i was going to do it anyway.

    honestly, i am SO glad that i did NOT take his advice. managing everything can be tough at times, but overall it's been fun. i like being busy, and as a type-A personality, i seem to be able to stay organized in all aspects.

    mainly i also stay sane by not being afraid to make a command decision (i believe a ship can only have one true captain), ruling out the things i deem unnecessary/silly, keeping near me the people that keep me from going crazy, and keeping at at least an arm's length the people who tend to drive me crazy! hopefully, at the end of this, i'll be able to emerge a successful wedding graduate extraordinaire!

  • Wedding graduate here (see Nicole and Andy, posted Jan 5).

    Here's a nerd thought. Why is it that so many fans of the indie/practical wedding thing are so well educated? I mean, 46 comments (and counting) on this post, all of which start out with some version of "oh my god I know exactly what you mean." Thoughts on why there is such a correlation between education level and wedding style?

    And oh my god I know exactly what you mean. My dissertation was due in March of last year. We started planning an August wedding in January. AND I was on the job market and all my interviews were stacked in January. Friggin insane. Literally, sitting on planes in my interview suit, writing a dissertation chapter and taking phone calls from caterers. In. Sane.

    But I absolutely needed that wedding planning. As an academic, I live in my head all the time. Planning a wedding meant living in the world. I got to sit and spend time looking at pretty things. Pretty things! Enjoy that. Embrace it. Your writing will be better if you've had the mental break of thinking about pretty things and fun parties and love.

    And I have to remind you of something one of the brilliant posters here said: if you've made it this far on a PhD, you are totally capable of closing the deal. Seriously. You've got this. There will be days when you don't think you can handle it, and you stare at page 167 and cry because you don't think it will all come together, and what about that caterer who called this morning? But you've got this.

    Oh, and yes. I got a tenure track job. I graduated in May. I had a lovely, lovely wedding in August. I am Dr/Mrs, hear me roar.

  • Meg

    I'll preface by saying that though I'm old enough to be in grad school, I'm doing the last year of my undergrad. That said, I can totally relate.

    Wedding blogs are a great distraction from academic jargon sometimes. The thing is, for me, thinking about the wedding and actually working on wedding planning are two entirely different beasts.

    I have a list of DIY projects that I hope to accomplish (stifled creativity due to writing too many papers), but most of the time I'm only able to flip through a few blogs, daydream a bit about my dress, maybe work out so I'll fit into said dress, smile at my ring, and get back to work.

    And gosh, good luck to all of us in all our endeavours!

  • This may sound obvious or make me sound like a crazy person, but for me it was all about scheduling. When I was writing my dissertation I had a block of time in the morning (the time of day when my brain works best) in which I would sit down with a cup of coffee and write and research and edit for about 3 hours. Then I would reward myself with a tour des wedding blogs. I have wedding blogs bookmarked in a folder called "ridiculous" (no offense ladies, ridiculousness is good) and I get to read all of them once a task is complete. I also have a folder called "friends" that can be another good enticement if you have still more editing to do.

    It also sounds like you can work this experience into your applications somehow. Like how you are a master of the work-life balance and have a bunch of lanterns and a doctorate to prove it! Good luck!

  • Natalya


    Congrats on everything! In response to your suggestion, there does seem to be a connection. I assume if we are reading this blog to begin with we are trying to avoid the dreaded wedding industry. I don't know about everyone else, it may be different if you are getting funding but frankly my income is rather limited, hence the DIY budget aesthetic. I've always been a thrift shop/antique store junkie anyway.

    Because my research focuses on women's home-sewn dresses in the 1930s, 40s and 50s I do spend a lot of time looking at and collecting pretty things. Luckily I am able to incorporate some of that into my wedding decor. For example I recently purchased an embroidered tablecloth made from an old soap sack (I am most interested in items made from feed and flour sacks). Not only am I going to use it as decor, but because it was research related the grad school reimbursed me for it! My love of history and objects is now organized around the tasks of wedding planning.

    Have any of you been able to incorporate your research into the wedding style or decor?

  • thanks again for all the words of encouragement… I have to say the comment about 'if you've made it this far you're probably okay' has made my week! Reading it I did have one of those moments of thinking, gosh, its true… It did take a lot of work to get here and I've done it and its not all just about the end product (maybe a bit like relationships leading up to weddings perhaps?) It really is incredible how many of you have shared the same experience – and made it to the other side – of both…

    It's an interesting idea to think about how your actual studies relate to wedding planning. Obv this isn't as true for the scientists or lawyers out there but as a social scientist (media/visual anthropology) I actually am finding reading wedding blogs completely fascinating, in terms of planning and in terms of content. Plus, teaching undergraduate anthro and topics like 'rites of passage,' 'kinship' or 'gift giving' while wedding planning really does lend a new perspective onto the whole thing.

    Once my thesis is submitted I fantasize about writing an article about wedding blogs from a (new) media anthro perspective. we'll see how that goes.

  • I am definitely in the same boat! I submitted by PhD thesis to my external examiner three weeks ago, just waiting for my defense. We are getting married in July.

    What saved me was a longer engagement (1.5 years) and being very decisive. My mother, who is wedding crazy, lives out of town so we planned the majority of the wedding during one of her visits. It was important not to second guess those decisions. I also said "NO" to crafting until after my defense.

    I worked full time while writing my thesis. I stayed after work every day working on my thesis; this kept me from procrastinating and reading wedding blogs (bad form to read wedding blogs on work network). I rewarded myself at the end of those long days and on the weekends with drinks with friends, cable television, cuddles on the couch with my fiance and, of course, wedding blogs.

    I also had a supervisor who was very strict about deadlines. Her tough love definitely kept me on track. I kept myself on track by writing my table of contents first, then crossing off sections as I completed them. I also didn't write my thesis in order; I wrote the parts I liked best first, which gave me a good momentum.

    I have put my thesis and career first, wedding planning second. Not that I don't care about the wedding, I just have a lot of people around me to help out and have definitely taken them up on their offers to help. Good luck – you'll get it done!

  • one really important way to get yourself away from crafting & into the dissertation work is to get out of the house. while planning our wedding, i was teaching full time at a university and my husband was working on his PhD. we often found crafting garlands & gocco-ing invitations more exciting than grading or writing or plugging into the aspects of our lives which felt hard to schedule with all these new (sometimes more fun) wedding responsibilities. the key is to just make the spaces that you are working different–separate them as much as possible.

    while i hate writing/grading out of the house (i like my desk and it's inspiration boards and my books on hand) i found that if i was home–i was tempted to just take a break and string a few more coffee filters onto twine. or check a few blogs. but Z (my husband) and i agreed that we'd go crazy if we had a "perfect" wedding and felt our careers were particle-ing afterward.try taking yourself out to a great coffee shop or a library or some place you start to think of as productive dissertationland. and write there. because for real, it's a bit harder to craft in public spaces :) (and if you are an internet-fiend, choose someplace where you can't get online). the hours you spend working towards the future you want *after* the wedding is really what counts in the end–that you and your husband have the life and the careers and the passion that you want/have/will have when that one day is over.

  • i am (for the most part) in your exact shoes – i'm getting married in early july and have exams in june..(also work 4 days a week…) I'm doing my MPH online and boy! is it harder than actually going to school! i'm a girl who needs structures and mini deadlines so this is hard, but i realise that i'll feel terrible if i slip up @ exams because of wedding planning, so this is the game plan:
    -organize the big things – place, date, food details early on
    -i take a two/3 days off to just contratrate on crafting/planning details and set deadlines of schoolwork to accomplish in the interim so i don't feel guilty
    -i figure push come to shove i'll have at least 3 weeks to get things done after exams, and if i can't – so what? no use stressing over small details – it'll come to prioritizing then
    -after all – the small craft projects/details can still be used at other kick-ass parties we'll throw as a couple :)
    good luck my dear and know you're not alone!

  • I posted earlier but wanted to add one more thought on creating a writing schedule in order to stay on track. Like many of you, I have found that leaving the house to write really helps. I'm in a writing group with three other dissertators, and for the last month, we've been meeting virtually every weekday at one of the smaller, quieter libraries on campus. It has these big, long tables, and we all sit together and write. We take a lunch break together, and then go back and write some more. When my friend suggested this idea, I thought he was crazy and that it would never work–that we would just end up talking to each other and goofing up. But it really does work–there's sort of a pressure to keep writing and not get up and wonder off to do other things when you're sitting there with other people. The other plus is that we've been sharing little bits of our writing with each other more frequently, and we get support and encouragement from each other every day. It relieves the isolation AND helps with the focus. I definitely recommend trying it out with your writing group or group of core friends in your program.

  • An interesting article in the New York Times that relates:

  • Just adding to the chorus–I know what it's like too!

    I think that there's been a lot of great advice on here. I'd back up ones that support weekly writing goals in terms of pages or small sections (instead of entire chapters).

    I also find that the sort of crafty projects I'm doing for the wedding (primarily making felt flowers) is a nice release from academic work. It's kind of like vacuuming or washing the dishes but more fulfilling. I am allowed to make something that is pretty and simple and fun. It actually helps motivate me to do other work.

    Keep on keeping on! We all have to find a work-life balance :)

  • I'm not in grad school at the moment (currently waiting for my fiancee to finish her degree so we can relocate to a city where I can study – which is a discussion for another day of comments) but I am working fulltime while planning a wedding and taking on freelance projects. The projects are usually brain-intensive research work and require me to be at my best, so I can't slip them in late at night or early in the morning.

    Things that have helped:

    1) Make a schedule and stick to it. We both wake up at 6:15 and start work at 8 (me at my job and her at school studying). I give myself Monday night and Friday night off, but put in a minimum of 1 hour of freelance work Tues to Thurs and three hours each on Saturday and Sunday.

    2) Turn the internet off. I purposely don't have an internet connection at home and turn my airport off when working at the library or a cafe.

    3) Set goals. For me, I figure out exactly how much time a project will take, add 1/4 extra leeway and divide it by the number of weeks til its due. Right now I have to put in 8-10 a week. So if don't get enough done during the week I put in extra time on the weekends.

    4) Track your work. I keep a time sheet of my freelance work, only counting time actually spent working. So every time I take a 10 minute break to make tea I make a note of it. This is especially useful because it can often feel like you are not getting much done, when in reality you are checking your email only once an hour and working a solid 50 minutes in between.

  • I feel your pain. I'm post-doc'ing at the moment, writing up the Ph.D and getting started on a new project and wedding blogs (along with all other types of blogs, I think) are a prime source of procrastination. Writing is hard. It hurts my brain. And my will-power and self-discipline is on the wane.

    But, here's the thing. I think procrastination is underrated. The key, I think, is to re-frame it as thinking time – when I'm writing, how often do I finish a sentence, then open a blog, and two minutes later flick back over to write a new sentence? It's when the front of your brain is distracted that the back can get on with the creative stuff.

    Also, I believe in goals and rewards. I write 1000 words a day. Then I stop and I do something else. (In theory, 1000 words are followed by a gin and tonic.) Finally, I think that when we grow up and get proper teaching jobs, we will always be splitting out time and trying to cram in the research (esp. in the UK, where we're judged on our research for our departmental funding, but the government is pressing for increased teaching hours – because, of course, contact time is a replacement for work in the library… ahem, I digress). So, anyhoo, I try to think of it as a learning curve – and I've not reached the peak of the curve yet – because that makes it something positive rather than negative.

    Good luck and have a fab wedding! And try to remember, the Ph.D. is an emotionally fraught and isolating experience, but it passes and it gets better and then you put on rose tinted glasses about it all! xxx

  • I love this entry. I’m a 2nd year medical student, and this is the first mention (pretty much anywhere) regarding wedding planning and graduate school. Hooray!

  • Kristin

    I wish I had seen this post a few months ago when I got engaged. I second all of the “wedding planning is WAY more fun than thesis writing” sentiments. Why wouldn’t I want to scour the internet for fun shoes, wedding bands and bridesmaid dresses? Much more applicable than the DIY painted dresser I am not going to do on Apartment Therapy…
    There should be a link on the top of APW that says something like “This is not a scholarly journal, have you worked on your paper today?”

    That said, these comments did inspire me to get on the ball and finish up my MS, bc honestly I am really sick of staring at the icon on my computer and folders on my desk!

  • EF

    excited to come across this post. I’m in the same boat, glad to see all these responses though they’re from a couple of years ago…man, grad school and wedding planning together are non-ideal. My dissertation is due end-of-September, wedding is the beginning of January (a year away! ah!) so post-dissertation will be too late to plan the big stuff, particularly because this an international bi-nationality couple wedding. SO. Doing it now ahead of time, because right now is when I have time!

    So solidarity with you all who are dealing with school and plans. It’ll all work out, distinctions/high honours and great weddings all around!