When I trained my own Ph.D. students, I always urged them to create a 5-year plan. Some did it as a list, and some as a grid. Either way, the plan laid out a month-by-month schedule of plans and goals and deadlines for the next five years.
Things that were on it included:
- Specific writing projects with deadlines for completion, submission, and revision
- Graduate program deadlines for exams, proposals, and defense
- Major conferences with deadlines for submission of abstracts and proposals
- Job market deadlines
- Major funding deadlines, including both small grants to support short research trips, and large grants to fund dissertation fieldwork.
- Networking goals, including reminders to get in touch with certain individuals related to emerging new research or writing projects
- Teaching dates
- Submission dates for awards and honors
This week I recommended that a client create a five year plan, as part of our work on CV-building, and when she sent back her first draft, she remarked, “Once I began drafting them, I realized how vague and perhaps unrealistic my goals may be – especially in terms of landing a tenure-track job. (Yikes!) Thinking long term has been so useful, if not startling; I only wish I had thought to map out the next few years sooner!”
I don’t think anybody should ever be in graduate school, or on the tenure-track, without a five-year plan. The proper stance to these endeavors is: look up, evaluate, and adjust, look up, evaluate, and adjust. Spend too much time looking down, at the minutiae of your project, and you’ll find that critical opportunities have passed you by, opportunities to publish, get funding, attend meetings, make connections…
Some of my clients are masters of the five-year plan, and even have things like getting pregnant in there. I admire that, even while I know that “the best laid plans…” You can’t plan for everything (or, you can, but your plans may not work out). But the core point of planning is this: that you’re taking control of your process into your own hands, and not leaving it out there somewhere, in the hands of your advisor, your department, or “fate.” You decide when you’ll write, when you’ll defend, when you’ll publish, and so on. These are all your decisions to make.
Addendum: please see more on the 5-year plan, with an example, in this follow-up post.