Joan Bolker, my dissertation-writing guru, says in Writing Your Dissertation in 15 Minutes a Day that you should reward yourself each time you reach a milestone. You reward youself in a small way at the end of each day that you’ve reached your goal ( in my case, with an episode of Northern Exposure). You reward yourself in a bigger way each time you finish a chapter (with an expensive dinner, maybe, or a weekend trip to see a friend). And you reward yourself in a big, big way when you finish your dissertation. You plan out your reward early so that you can look forward to it the entire time you’re writing.
After I read that book, I decided that I wanted to go to Japan after graduation. I want to see some of the most seriously awesome aquariums in the world.
But recently, I changed my mind. I’m going to Alaska. Partly because Northern Exposure has been such a pleasant part of my last year of grad school. Partly because I want to rest, and the small towns of Alaska seem less challenging than Tokyo. Partly because there’s not a single thing related to poetry or art that I want to see there (please don’t mistake me: I’m sure there are things of that sort to experience. They are just not the reason I’m going). Partly because I have developed, in the last few weeks of writing the dissertation, an obsession with what my niece Cate calls “bearses.” I don’t know why, but all the sudden, I need to see bearses for myself.
By the way, you don’t have to leave bear-sightings to chance in Alaska. There are small planes that take you to places where bears are guaranteed to be hanging out. In June, they’ll be taking advantage of the salmon run.
I also considered buying a fancy new bed, getting a massage for seven days in a row, and going to a fancy pants spa in Palm Springs for a weekend.
You’d think graduating would be it’s own reward, but the celebration is a nice thing to look forward to, and surprisingly comforting when the work is not going well. No matter where you are in grad school, I encourage you to make some plans.