Productivity and Self-Care: An Unlikely Pair

My first year in grad school I remember walking into Dr. Kertz's office and declaring that there were simply not enough hours in the day to do everything that I needed to do. I had forgone all self-care and to say I was frazzled and trying to keep my head above water is an understatement...

Entering grad school, I thought I had good time management skills. I thought that I was an efficient worker. I always maintained a crazy schedule in undergrad filled with work, double majoring, lab work, and social activities. I managed my insane schedule without hesitation. My college roommate frequently laughed and told me I was crazy for joining so many groups and bouncing meeting to meeting. But I enjoyed it. I prided myself on maintaining a social life and keeping up with school and work. I lived by my planner and my google calendar.

However, it wasn't until I began 1st year and found myself frazzled in Dr. Kertz's office that I realized that my system was flawed.  I was "working" all the time. I always had school materials by my side, and would turn down invitations with friends to stay home and work. I thought surely with the number of hours I was putting in that I should be able to keep up! Dr. Kertz asked me about my time management. I was surprised... My time management? Well I thought I was the queen of time management! I never considered that I wasn't using my time efficiently. After some self reflection,  I decided that I was going to need to change how I do things if I was ever going to make it through grad school.

This meeting was a turning point for me. Here are some of the things that I have tried to implement in my life to be more successful (disclaimer: this is still a work in progress!). Hopefully some of these tips can help you!

1. Self-care is important:

The higher level students were always talking about this self-care thing... My first reaction was that there just isn't enough time! Spoiler alert! I was dead wrong. My lack of self-care was actually making me less productive when I was working. You have to find ways to incorporate the things you love into your life during grad school. I know that for me, I need to hang out with other people and have a good social support system. In the clinical program at SIU we have a bunch of really friendly really cool grad students (I'm not biased at all). We are all very hardworking, and we push each other to work harder and achieve more, but we are not competitive in a cut-throat way. There is always someone around who is willing to relax and hang out, work on stuff at a coffee shop, or just lend a listening ear.

2. Another shocker: you can't survive without sleep:

 You will get sick. And die. It's also not possible to replace all of your sleep with massive amounts of coffee. We need 6-8 hours of sleep to function normally. I have learned that in order to be productive during the day, I have to sleep at night. This is not a groundbreaking tip, but it is really essential. Does this mean that there aren't times when I have to stay up extra late studying or work on a paper really late? No, of course not. But I do make a point to go to sleep around the same time every night so that I get the sleep I need. I have found that I am much more productive during the day and get more done if I set aside that time to sleep. 

3. Remember what made you come to grad school in the first place. 

When you are in the middle of the semester it is easy to lose sight of why you are here. I find it incredibly motivating to think back to the fall and spring when I was applying and interviewing for grad school. I remember just how bad I wanted to be here. I wanted this more than I have wanted anything in my life. Reflecting back on that feeling motivates me to keep going. Also, I find it very exciting to be able to do exactly what I want to do each day. I get to be a clinician, a researcher, a teacher, and a student all at the same time. People keep telling me that in the real world (outside of grad school) it is incredibly difficult to maintain a clinical and research 50/50 split. In grad school it is required that you do at least some research (in our lab, lots of research!) and a lot of clinical work. I love the mixture, so it is great that grad school forces (errr... encourages) me to do both!

4. When you set aside time to work- actually work. 

This tip sounds easy, but is surprisingly difficult for me. The first couple months in grad school I spent a lot of time "working", but it was not very productive work time. Now I try to set small 15 minute goals. After the 15 minutes, I take a short 2 minute break to check my email. Stand up and walk around (get coffee, water, etc.). Then I get right back to work on the next goal.

To keep myself organized I make tons of lists. I still live by my planner and my google calendar, but instead of writing giant items on my to do list (i.e., thesis lit review, study for prelims, etc.) I break it up into very small manageable goals. In fact, my goals are split up so that I can accomplish them in 15-30 minutes. I find that it is motivating to cross things off of a list, and extra motivating when you get to cross off multiple things each day. 


These are a few of the things that I have tried to implement in order to increase my quality of life. I have gone from a frazzled first year trying to stay afloat to a much more confident third year by using these tips. I truly enjoy grad school. I have no doubt that I have made the right decision to come to SIU to work with Dr. Kertz. Having a good support system through your fellow grad students and mentor makes a huge difference! I hope you find some of these tips helpful for your own lives!


The Certain Uncertainty of Graduate School

This is a new space for me and a new writing medium. On mention of my scheduled blog debut, admittedly I found myself a bit stumped on the lack of parameters for the assignment. “No word count? No APA Formatting? I’ve never done this before.” My experience writing this assignment is a rather benign, but still demonstrative example of the broader topic I’d like to highlight in today’s blog post. Graduate school in clinical psychology is characterized by a high degree of uncertainty, a state that may seem daunting at times, but when tolerated, can be quite rewarding.

To fully appreciate the amount of uncertainty, we must start a year prior to the program’s start date: the application process. Applicants must navigate diligently through countless school websites, and decide upon a limited few to which they’d like to apply. In many cases, applicants have never set foot on the campuses of these schools or even been in the state wherein they reside. Applicants then must write personal statements that are unique (but not too unique), demonstrative of ability (but not conceited), and personable (but not oversharing) all in the hopes of piquing an unknown application reviewer’s interest. Countless hours of work conclude with a surprisingly anticlimactic push of the submit button.

Once applications are submitted, it’s not until several months later that applicants hear whether or not they’ll be invited for an interview. The timing of invitations is unclear, so students will frequently check forums like the Student Doctor Network or Grad Cafe to see if others have received an invitation. I recall some interview invitations matching up well with the dates listed on the forums and others not aligning with the dates.

Once interviews are completed, and offers are extended, applicants must then decide where to live for the next five to seven years of their life. Moving away from family, friends, and significant others to somewhere foreign to them is difficult, and at times, may seem nonsensical. However, graduate school is what applicants have wanted to do for quite some time. It’s what they’ve been working toward for several years. Historically, it holds more personal weight than the alternatives. Once applicants are able to remind themselves of these beliefs, and their reasons for applying in the first place, the decision to attend becomes easier.

The start of graduate school—my current status—is equally uncertain. I’m three weeks into the program, and still orienting to the research-practice-teach life. Faculty and students around me continue checking in to see how I’m doing, which I appreciate on its own, and also find reaffirming of my school decision. So far, I’ve delivered my largest lecture to date, read about complex statistical methods that sound just short of magic, and started learning very detailed assessment protocols with rigid grading rubrics. Most of the tasks I’m doing are unfamiliar, leading me to wonder if I’m doing them correctly (or at least incorrectly in an understandable fashion).

Uncertainty has been present during all of the major transitions in my life, during my application process to graduate school, and during my start of graduate school. Although my experiences are unfamiliar, my feeling of uncertainty isn’t.

At times, I feel apprehensive and uneasy, but as a whole, I feel content. Content knowing that graduate school has been my trajectory for quite a while. Content knowing that my concerns will resolve themselves in time. Content knowing that not yet knowing is okay. 

-Mac Kelly

Applying to Graduate School in Psychology

For some, graduate school is no more than an escape from the so called "real world", where disappointed and discontent college grads seek to prolong their dreams in the institutionalized college life, For others, grad school is the ivory tower with shimmering light of knowledge and scholarship. Then again, grad school is also just a stretch down the road called "career" that is in a sense similar to a internship, or entry level position. But no matter how you perceive graduate school, every year there are many of us stepping down the path with anxiety, and hoping to one day open a letter with "acceptance" written in bold prints. Now the summer is over, and it is that time of the year once again. For those who are applying to graduate school in psychology, this is going to be a stressful autumn. I empathize with your stress, and hope that I can give you a little help.

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Kimmy's Poster at ABCT

Congratulations to Kimberly Stevens, whose poster was accepted to the Clinical Research Methods and Statistics Special Interest Group at the November ABCT Conference in Philadelphia!  Kimmy's poster, Examining the Latent Structure of Distress Intolerance, presents the results of a taxometric study of Distress Intolerance.  We happy that Kimmy has another poster to put on her CV and another fun conference to look forward to!

Interning at the Houston OCD Program

This summer I have had the opportunity to work at the Houston OCD Program (HOP) as a graduate student intern. The HOP provides residential, intensive outpatient (IOP), and outpatient level services for patients with OCD and other anxiety disorders. Most interns at the HOP work a couple days a week for an entire year. Because I relocated to Houston, TX only for the summer months, I work Monday-Friday 8:30-5ish.

Throughout the day I mostly work as a "RC" or residential counselor. RCs work as the primary support system for the patients

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Lessons Learned from Dissertation Writing

Since the end of spring semester, I've been actively trying to spend time daily writing my dissertation.  From day one, I decided I will either (a) write 3 pages a day or (b) spend 3 hours writing/reading articles for my dissertation each day.  I will stop working for the day as soon as option (a) or (b) comes up first.  I've found that some days this is easier than others (i.e., depending on my mood and general hourly commitments those days).  Some days I'm exhausted and other days I'm out and about from 8 am to 8 pm with clinical work.  

Importantly, I've learned a few lessons from this progress.  I've previously had the mentality of working all available productive hours and then sometimes falling asleep on my laptop in bed.  After completing (a) or (b), I've been able to relax to go to sleep and/or watch television since I've felt that I've accomplished my goal for that particular day.  I've also learned that dividing a large project like this into small steps make it seem more manageable and accomplishing on a daily basis, which prevents an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and procrastination in general.  Although these lessons seem obvious, it is still hard to remind myself to relax and take small steps.  However, I need to remind myself of the success I've made with this thus far to continue the progress.



“Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time. Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines.”  Time – Pink Floyd

Time. The older I get the more precious it is. If I were to make a list of grad school difficulties I would have to put time (or more accurately, the lack of time) at the top of the list. Of course this is hardly unique to graduate school. We often hear our friends and relatives reminisce and say, “Where has the time gone?” or “I didn’t have enough time to (insert activity here).” It seems to be a constant struggle and a balancing act to manage tasks and obligations with self-care and things that bring joy. So what are we to do? Well I’m hardly one to give advice on time management but I can tell you what I attempt to do to find balance. First,

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Lab Manager Farewell

Almost two years ago, I began working with Dr. Kertz. During my time as lab manager, I helped her setup the lab and figure out the ins and outs of the department. We started with only two students and have grown to six graduate and eight undergraduates students (and counting...). I have had the pleasure of seeing several different projects in various stages along the way. We have accomplished so much in the past few years! It has been quite an adventure from figuring out what to call ourselves to how to write and submit research applications to moving lab space across the building. I have really enjoyed my time with the lab and look forward to watching it continue to grow and expand over the coming years. I want to wish all the best to our new lab manager, Kimberly Stevens, as she takes over in the next few weeks. Thanks to all those who helped make our lab what it is today! And of course, congrats to those who graduated! ~Alana

5 Tips for Applying to Graduate School in Clinical Psychology

Applying to graduate school can be stressful. Hopefully these 5 tips can demystify the process and make your experience easier!

1. Start early! Work on your list and finalize it the summer before your applications are due! Also, meet with your advisor so they can look at your list with you. When I was applying to schools, my advisor told me which schools on my list were out of my reach, and which ones were safer prospects. Although this feedback was not easy to hear, it saved me money and helped ensure that I would find a good fit in the end. 

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Kristin, Rinad, and Sam at MPA in Chicago

We're hoping our 3rd year GAs, Kristin Wiggs and Sam Kramer, and our 1st year GA, Rinad Bakhti, are enjoying themselves and making us proud at the Midwestern Psychological Association Conference today in Chicago.  If you're in town and get a chance, you can find them and their presentations at the Palmer House Hotel at 1:30.  Have fun, guys!

A Day in the Life of Dagong Ran

A Day in the Life of Dagong Ran

When I went to sleep last night, thunder was rolling endlessly in the Southern Illinois sky. I sought out comfort under my sheets, and for a few seconds, or maybe longer, I sympathized with those who have a particular case of Astraphobia (fear of thunder storms). A lab mate of mine instantly came to mind, who sees tornados as her ultimate nemesis. Evidently, these were the thoughts of a clinical psychology graduate student (who specifically studies anxiety disorders) before he goes to sleep on a given Sunday night. How predictable.

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Travis Rogers presented with REACH award

From left to right: Travis Rogers,  Dr. Sarah Kertz, Devon Ruhde, and Kelsey Cruse, who presented a poster at the REACH Awards Ceremony

From left to right: Travis Rogers,  Dr. Sarah Kertz, Devon Ruhde, and Kelsey Cruse, who presented a poster at the REACH Awards Ceremony

Congrats to Travis Rogers, who was presented with a REACH award April 7th, 2014. This competitive, campus wide program offers awards to only 20 undergraduate students each year in support of an independent project, under the guidance of a research mentor. Travis was awarded $1500 for research related expenses and is also provided with a funded, ten hour per week assistantship in the lab for the 2014-2015 academic year. Travis will get started on his project "Testing a Theoretical Model of Child Anxiety" in July. Well deserved, Travis! We're proud of you!

And great work, team! 

Hey there, Mac!

Welcome to our new adult clinical student, Mac Kelly!

We are very pleased to share that Mac Kelly will be joining our lab in the fall! Mac will be coming to us from his research assistant position at the Yale OCD Research Clinic. Mac has interests in integrating technology into treatment interventions, treatment outcome, and plans to continue his work on OCD. through our collaboration with the Houston OCD Program. We very much look forward to Mac's arrival and working together over the next several years! Welcome, Mac! 

ADAA 2014

Jan 20, 2014

Several students from our lab will be presenting their work at the upcoming ADAA conference in Chicago. 

  • Dagong Ran will be presenting his poster Intolerance of Uncertainty Across Emotional Disorders.
  • Megan Kloep will be presenting some very exciting preliminary data examining the effectiveness of adjunct treatment based on service dogs and stress management skills for PTSD in military service dogs. These data are from our collaboration with This Able Veteran, an outstanding local group. Check them out!
  • Last but certainly not least, our undergraduate student Devon Ruhde will be presenting data from a review paper examining app content in iPhone apps for anxiety. Her poster is titled A Review of Empirically Supported Components in iPhone Apps for Anxiety. Watch out for Devon, folks--she's only a sophomore!

If you're headed to conference, please stop by and chat with these students about their work!

ABCT 2013

Nov 27, 2013

Another conference is behind us! We enjoyed ourselves, saw old friends and met new colleagues, and presented some of our latest work. Taylor presented some of her work at her first (of many!) ABCT meeting. Alana presented data on worry models in different ethnic and racial groups. Kristin presented some very exciting eye tracking data. Kimberly was very exited to present some work on distress intolerance and worry. To see our photo gallery from this conference, click here.

A new semester


We're all looking forward to the fall semester and are excited to welcome several new students to the lab. Dagong Ran and Rinad Bakhti are new students in the clinical psychology PhD program. Dagnong is enrolled in in the child track and Rinad in the adult track. We also have two new undergraduate research assistants, Bryony Mueller and Devon Ruhde, who will be helping out with several projects in the lab. In addition, Kelsey Cruse will be collaborating with our lab on her undergraduate honors thesis. And last but certainly not least, Taylor Medernach will be joining us for another year in a paid project coordinator position. Check out our "People" page for more information on these fine students. Welcome back, everyone! :)