“Procrastibaking”

No, this is not a stock photo. Yes, I made these. No, the bottoms are not even remotely brown. Yes, they are super chewy and indulgent. As if that wasn't enough, these delightful little cookies double as a sanity-preservation device!.

No, this is not a stock photo. Yes, I made these. No, the bottoms are not even remotely brown. Yes, they are super chewy and indulgent. As if that wasn’t enough, these delightful little cookies double as a sanity-preservation device!.

My name is Andrea, and I am a “procrastibaker.”

I wasn’t always this way. There was a time, long ago, when I didn’t particularly care for cookies, when Pillsbury did the trick, when baking happened… for a reason. Those were dark times, friend.

Then, during my second year of graduate school something happened, something that—as I understand it—happens to many a young graduate student: I discovered that cooking yielded not only a concrete product (well, not concrete… my food is almost always digestible), but also yielded a feeling of accomplishment. That feeling only multiplied when giving the aforementioned food to other people. Shockingly, folks tended to appreciate my Thai food then more than my academic output. I can’t imagine why.

I caught the cooking bug in a big way. I started inventing reasons to cook. Feeding myself wasn’t enough—in fact, most of the time cooking killed my appetite. No, other people needed to see that I was capable of producing a quality meal, they needed to eat and enjoy it. That year, there was a dinner party almost every week. It was both enjoyable and fulfilling, but my wallet got so light it came darned close to floating out the door. INSERT FOOD PORN HERE:

By my third year of graduate school—not coincidentally, the same year I took my oral exams and advanced to candidacy—I had really honed my new addiction. Instead of big dinner parties, I returned to my first love, baking, and restricted myself to one or two projects a week. I spent significantly less money, and instead of feeding five to ten people to the point of bursting, everybody in my classes got a cookie (or two, or three). This was my calling.

These days, I bake at least once a week. I almost always make cookies, not because cookies are my favorite thing to make so much as they are the most space, time, and cost-efficient of the options available to me. When I’m done baking, everything goes straight into the freezer, and then gets doled out to my fellow grad students throughout the week. I’m the cookie fairy.

My kitchen counter at least one night a week. The cookie flavors may change, but the weird foil runner remains the same.

My kitchen counter at least one night a week. The cookie flavors may change, but the weird foil runner remains the same.

While I’m the only person I know who distributes baked goods on an almost daily basis, cooking is one of the stress relievers of choice for grad students. I know folks with cooking blogs, Instagram and Facebook chefs, and elaborate-party havers. By far the most impressive academic foodie I’ve encountered was my undergraduate thesis adviser: she was in her first year of teaching… she actually made her own sausage. 

I’ve long assumed that academics weren’t the only people who turned to the kitchen for validation, but I didn’t realize the extent to which that was true until last month, when I read a Wall Street Journal article about therapists using cooking classes to treat anxiety and depression.

It makes all the sense in the world: cooking forces one to disconnect from stress, focus on something else, and (if you do it right) leaves you with something to be proud of, and share with people you might not engage otherwise. To quote the article at length:

Psychologists say cooking and baking are pursuits that fit a type of therapy known as behavioral activation. The goal is to alleviate depression by boosting positive activity, increasing goal-oriented behavior and curbing procrastination and passivity.

“If the activity is defined as personally rewarding or giving a sense of accomplishment or pleasure, or even seeing the pleasure of that pumpkin bread with chocolate chips making someone else happy, then it could improve a sense of well-being,” says Jacqueline Gollan, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Clinical studies on cooking’s therapeutic effects are hard to come by. But occupational therapists say cooking classes are particularly widely used in their profession, which seeks to help people with mental or physical disorders maintain their daily living and working skills.

I used to think of my cooking as a symptom of a problem: the self-esteem issues that often result from spending the majority of one’s twenties in graduate school. Now, I see my procrastibaking as a solution, as one of the things that’s keeping me going during the long hard slog to the PhD. My only regret? They REALLY should have mentioned this at my orientation!

That would be orange glazed chickpeas and tofu, nestled of-so-comfortably on a bed of sesame-soy grilled zucchini and basmati. BOOM.

That would be orange glazed chickpeas and tofu, nestled of-so-comfortably on a bed of sesame-roasted zucchini and basmati. BOOM.

Here’s a few quick tips to optimize your cooking experience:

  • Cook healthy foods, or cook for somebody else. I cook healthy meals for myself, but the vast majority of my baked goods end up in other people’s stomachs. Grad students, as a general rule, are too poor and too stressed out to turn down free food, so get rid of the stuff you make as quickly as necessary to avoid binging.
  • Mix it up. If you always cook the same three things, you’re eventually going to go on autopilot, which effectively eliminates the benefit of the activity. Sometimes zoning out is a good thing, but make sure you’re trying new recipes on a regular basis. Just don’t put yourself in a situation where the success or failure of a kitchen experiment is going to really upset you.
  • Make the time productive. Just because this is your time to de-stress doesn’t mean you can’t also use it to get important stuff done. I study HIV/AIDS, in addition to other things, so I listened to an audiobook of And The Band Played On while cooking over the summer; it was more relaxing than close-reading the ginormous text, and—since the book is well-written and engaging—pretty fun. Other times, I’ll listen to NPR, put on the news, or listen to a podcast that I would otherwise have to carve out time for.
  • Track your spending. How much is that recipe going to run you, exactly? Cooking is great fun, and I am not an advocate of eating super cheap, but be aware of what you spend. The time and enjoyment I get out of baking cookies is worth the investment in ingredients; the same cannot be said of cupcakes, which is the reason I don’t make them on a regular basis. The last thing you want is to turn procrastibaking into a source of stress, and that’s what will happen if you don’t occasionally do the math.
Definitely the least productive use of my culinary skills so far, but also the most fun.

Definitely the least productive use of my culinary skills so far, but also the most fun.

Are you a procrastibaker? Share your culinary accomplishments with us in the comments!

 

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

A Bedtime Story for Adults

Sleep like a baby

Last night, I read Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life before 8 AM (review to come), and it got me thinking about the importance of routine in my life. Specifically, it got me thinking about how much happier I’ve become since developing a nighttime routine.

If there is one thing that graduate students need, and almost ever have, it’s stability. Uncertainty is built into our lives: classes and teaching schedules change, funding fluctuates (or disappears entirely), deadlines come and go, and few people hold us accountable for our use of time. Being your own boss is as liberating as it is frustrating, and academics rarely walk away from a hard day’s work with something tangible to show for their day. My nighttime routine adds a little structure to my life, gives me the opportunity to reflect as I wind down for the evening, and—perhaps most important—instructs my stress-addled brain that it is officially okay to be tired.

So what does a nighttime routine look like? It looks however you want it to look, though I’ve found that I get the greatest satisfaction from combining activities that involve different kinds of sensory stimulation. Basically, it’s a grown-up version of the routine my parents shepherded me through as a child.

Here’s what my night looks like:

  • Mood lighting. I have a very bright floor lamp on one side of my room, and a much dimmer lamp on each bedside table. During the day, the floor lamp is on. When I’m ready to wind down, the bedside lamps go on.
  • Scented candles. A bajillion years ago, I read that one of the most addictive parts of smoking (besides the whole nicotine thing) is the act of lighting a cigarette. Staring into a flame is that fun. It’s not news that fire is a fantastic meditative aid, but I think we underestimate how helpful it can be outside of standard-issue mindfulness practices. I don’t have a fireplace, so instead I light two scented candles on either side of my bed. The light bouncing off the walls and the aroma of “midnight orchid” is a quick signal to my brain that it’s time to get sleepy.
  • Pre-beauty rest beauty routine. A couple years ago, I discovered—to my horror—that lines had begun to appear on my face. I’m told that this is part of a larger process called “aging,” and that it’s something of a human universal. Well, it sucks. On the bright side, my new-found anxiety about the youthfulness of my complexion has led me to adopt a fairly rigorous face cleansing routine in the evenings. This is, of course, great news for my skin, but it’s also super helpful as part of my larger power-down process. The combination of cold water, and (the texture and smell of) the various lotions and potions I apply to my face, are great signposts for the end of my day.
  • Pro-level oral hygiene. This past summer, I found out I had a cavity. Three cavities, actually. The first twenty-seven years of my life were cavity-free, so this news was very upsetting, and the subject of another post, which you can read here. I used to brush my teeth before bed. Now I brush, floss (most of the time), and rinse with mouthwash… like an adult. My next visit to the dentist is going to be awesome.
  • Podcast-induced giggling. While all of this is going on, I’m usually listening to a podcast. They aren’t as all-consuming as television, they’re portable, and—if you listen to the right shows—they are tremendously entertaining. I normally listen to comedy podcasts while I wind down at night; “My Brother My Brother and Me,” “Throwing Shade,” “Sawbones,” and “The Adventure Zone” are among my favorite end-of-day jams.
  • Journaling. A daily writing practice is incredibly rewarding, and a surprisingly easy habit to pick up (I did it in August—you can read about it here). I usually only devote about ten minutes to journaling each night, but it’s enough to get me reflecting on my day, and thinking about the kind of tomorrow I want to have.
  • Body lotion marathon. I know, I know. All I can say is that I live in the desert, and I have really dry skin. I also hate this kind of maintenance unless I see it as part of a larger production.
  • Reading or Knitting. More often than not I finish my nighttime routine by curling up in bed with a good book, or a pair of knitting needles. Sometimes the rest of my routine is a little too effective, and I’m officially too tired to make this last step happen, but it hardly feels like a sacrifice, since I know I’m making the time to indulge my hobbies on a regular basis.

I’m hoping to make one addition to my nighttime routine in the near future: a to-do list for the following day. I used to write up lists and schedules every evening, but fell out of the practice for reasons that, honestly, aren’t entirely clear to me.

I realize that my nighttime routine is time-consuming, and (correctly) implies that I spend very few evenings out late with friends. Certainly that isn’t going to work for everyone. Maybe your routine can be counted in minutes, not hours. That’s fine, as long as you treasure that time. Make it non-negotiable. Your body, mind, and spirit will thank you.

It’s your turn. What’s your nighttime routine? If you don’t have one, are you down to give it a try? I’d love to hear if it works out!

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

Happy Academic New Year!


I don’t normally take such a long break from blogging, but my oh my, has the past week been busy. I completed and turned in my dissertation prospectus (more on that in another post), started physical therapy, cleaned my house to a degree that’s genuinely unnerving, and started filling my freezer with enough home-cooked meals to last me a couple months. We’re talking at least twenty four hours, probably more, devoted exclusively to cooking and cleaning.

Suddenly, I see a number of parallels between my back-to-school fussing and doomsday prep. But it’s not doomsday I’m prepping for, it’s Academic New Year!

Tomorrow our (read: grad students’) first day back in the saddle. The undergrads will return days later, in—and this is patently absurd—October. “First Day” is putting it strongly. We’re having a meeting, taking professional photos for our department’s website, and enjoying a potluck at the park. Doesn’t matter. The first day of school is always light. It still counts.

As far as I’m concerned, starting the school year this late is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, EVERYTHING ABOUT IT IS TERRIBLE. On the other hand, I’m more desperate to get back than I’ve ever been. I’ve been holed up in my apartment by myself for two long. I think I may actually be paler now than I was when summer started. I’ve been productive, yes, but it’s time to return to polite society.

This impulse is comical at best, and pity-inspiring at worst. Because I’m on a research fellowship this year. I am not taking classes or teaching… in fact, I’m not required to be on campus at all.

To be clear: I am excited to go back to school even though I’m not really going back to school. Cue the sad trombone.

This isn’t quite as pathetic as it seems. Despite being one of the most disciplined people I know (not so humblebrag), even I occasionally need a little support. I’ve managed to not goof off for the past three months, but the impulse to work when nobody’s watching, well, it’s fading. Packing up my silly little lunchbox and going into the office every couple days is going to force me to engage with busy people, thereby shaming me into work.

You bet it is.

At least that’s the plan. I’ve never had this kind of freedom before, and I’m more-than-a-little afraid of it. I’m hoping to mitigate my freedom, somewhat, by forcing myself to show up for the next few weeks, until I have established a schedule. I want to wake up in morning knowing that my peers expect to see me in the dissertation research room, empty lunchbox in hand, with something accomplished at the end of the day.

This little mind game appear to be working, because my back to school butterflies are as alive now as they were when I was in grade school. The primary difference is that now, instead of getting stoked over the prospect of a new Lisa Frank trapper keeper, I’m daydreaming about resolutions.

The start of the academic year is my New Year’s Day. Yes, I celebrate the traditional holiday, but this is when the big changes happen. And happen they do.

Last year’s resolution was to develop an online presence. It was an aweosme resolution because it was broad enough that failure was unlikely, and the possibilities for improvement limitless. The only thing I knew for sure was that I REALLY needed to update my LinkedIn profile, which I’m pretty sure had gone completely untouched for a good four years at that point.

Tah dah! One year later I’ve put together a halfway decent website, started a blog, chaired a panel on public history and digital humanities, edited an online journal, celebrated my one year Twitterversary, AND—perhaps most shocking of all—finally updated my LinkedIn profile. Basically, I own the Internet now. I’m swimming in this space, and the floaties are off!

Academic New Year is real, and if you harness its power for good, the rewards will be bountiful.

When I think of the word “power,” I think of Terry Crews. Because duh.

Given how successful last year’s resolution was, I’ve been wracking my brain for months trying to figure out the perfect goal is for this academic year. This entire blog is a resolution, so—with all these ideas circulating—it’s hard to pin down an individual goal to focus on. But, of course, if you set too many goals for the Academic New Year, you’re more likely to be unsuccessful. I needed one good goal… anything else I improve in my life is gravy.

I’ve decided that this year’s goal is to cultivate a daily writing practice beyond the journaling I already do. I see this goal potentially manifesting in several ways: maintaining my blog, devoting more time to freelance work, finally submitting those journal articles I’ve been sitting on for years, and, of course, dissertating like there’s no tomorrow. Those are the possibilities that I see now, but if the last year has taught me anything, it’s to wed oneself to processes, not their outcomes.

Tomorrow morning, when I get up unnecessarily early to iron a skirt that will most certainly   be visible in my picture day photo, I’ll be doing so with a little extra spring in my step, because I know I have succeeded at changing my lifestyle, and will yet again. I hope that you all of you start thinking about one goal you can devote yourself to this year—wherever your calendar year begins—and know that you will achieve it, because you will.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m  pretty sure there’s a floor that needs mopping… somewhere.

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here. You can join the SMDS community on Facebook by clicking here and liking the page!

The SMDS “Suggested Reading” List

I have to apologize to those of you who’ve joined the SMDS RSS feed over the past week or so, because your (much-appreciated) interest in my blog happens to coincide with my needing to step away. A dissertation deadline beckons, so I need to hoard all of my creative juices, gremlin style, until Tuesday, October 23.

Until then, dear reader, I thought I would pass along a “Suggested Reading” list for those of you who are new to the website. These are some of my favorite posts so far, and hopefully offer a little insight into what The Six Million Dollar Scholar is all about.

My grandmother being nutty as she was wont to do.

Nude Models, Pot Brownies, and Frankenfoot: A Tribute to My Grandmother

I wrote this post on what would have been my grandmother’s eighty first birthday. It’s my favorite post because it’s about one of my favorite people; you’ll enjoy it because it’s a reminder that sometimes we don’t need to look very far to find a hero. In my case, I realized I grew up with a brilliant, hardcore feminist in my basement, a woman whose improbable life deserves to be the stuff of books.

Vito Russo, about whom an entire post is coming very soon. Born July 11, 1946, died November 7, 1990. His is one of the many faces I can't get out of my head. Click image to see the website this image came from.

What I’m Learning from A Giant Stack of Obituaries

I came home from my most recent research trip with literally hundreds of obituaries, and no immediate use for them. I’ve since discovered that they may indeed have a home in my dissertation. Even if that turns out not to be the case, they were worth the money I spent printing them, because they taught me a lot about myself, about the research process, and about the fiction that is the personal/professional binary.

Dear Diary

This post has a special place in my heart, because it’s probably the single most effective life hack I’ve implemented since starting The Six Million Dollar Scholar. At the time I wrote the post, I’d only been journaling for six days, but today I can report that, for the first time in my life, I have a daily journaling practice. it’s now been almost two months, and I’m still going strong. It’s incredibly rewarding, and—for an historian, anyway—a great reminder that not all archives are brick and mortar.

Taken yesterday.

The Human Thundershirt

Quite possibly the strangest proof-of-concept blog post ever, I demonstrate that my newfound ability to calm the world’s most disturbed canine is a sign that the world needs more blogs like mine. Plus, there’s an abundance of pictures of a sweet baby puppy dog face girl.

When One Door Closes, Make Lemonade

My summer session course ended up being cancelled, a highly improbable scenario realized by a perfect storm of utter lameitude. When I wrote this post, I thought I’d done a pretty great job polishing a gnarly turd of a moment in my teaching career. In hindsight though, it’s nothing short of amazing how everything worked out. After all, while I didn’t anticipate being out of a teaching job, I neither did I anticipate running into medical problems this summer that would have made teaching a damned-near Herculean task. Maybe, just maybe, the universe was looking out for me?

That oughta keep you busy! See y’all again soon!

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

Six Million Dollar Smoothies: Smoothie Hacks

I had my appointment with the surgeon today to discuss my MRI Arthrogram, and walked away less than thrilled with the results. I wrote about what I was hoping would happen yesterday—you can read that post here if you’re curious.

I’m going to post about the result within the next day or so, but I want to get my head screwed on straight first, and restore the positive attitude that’s so important to getting and staying well. I’m also holding off on another more important post that I have in the pipeline, just because I want to make sure the quality doesn’t suffer because I’m a little down.

Smoothie stuff is basically becoming my filler content, but it’s quality filler, since I know at least a few of you are actually making and enjoying these recipes. Filing my filler as a win!

Today’s smoothie post is going to be a little bit different. I’m going to share a couple of “smoothie hacks” I’ve learned over the past several weeks. Some of them I came up with on my own, others come from awesome websites, all of which I will link to.

First things first, let’s talk smoothie prep. I’m proud to say I thought this little gem up on my own. A lot of people will tell you to fill ice cube trays with coconut water, fruit juices, coffee, tea, etcetera, so you have a quick and smart alternative to ice for your morning smoothie. This is very smart, but I realized I could take this idea a step further.

TripleS3CUCUMBER ICE CUBES

That’s right people. I made cucumber ice cubes!

Cucumbers are mostly water, so it make sense that they’d cube-ify easily. If you’re like me, you love fresh produce, but also end up throwing a lot of it out because of poor planning. Never again shall I toss out a cucumber! I have seen the light!

As soon as I got home from the store on Sunday, I sliced up my gigantamous hothouse cucumber and processed the living daylight out of it. I own an itsy bitsy, teeny weeny, cheap but effective food processor, so processing was, in fact a process… but it was totally worth the extra prep time!

So, when—in future Six Million Dollar Smoothie Recipes—you see “Cucumber ice cubes,” this is what I’m talking about!  You can always use your regular, old, boring cucumber if you want… but know that somewhere out there, a grad student with no money and a less than active social life is judging your life choices.

Borrowed this image from The Diva Dish, one of my favorite recipe blogs. At least SOMEBODY understands the basics of food photography. Click the image to check out the website.

Borrowed this image from The Diva Dish, one of my favorite recipe blogs. It’s SUPER vegetarian and vegan friendly, and the recipes are proof that health food can taste great. I’m showing my appreciation through photo thievery. It’s you’re own darned fault, Arielle, for understanding the basics of food photography. Click the image to check out the website.

SMOOTHIE CUBES

I’m not the only person who’s taking smoothie prep to the next level. Over at The Diva Dish, I learned a tip that probably should have been intuitive, but nevertheless struck me as freakin’ miraculous.

Make your smoothies in advance, stick ‘em in an ice tray, and then throw in a blender with your milk or dairy-free product of your choice! Insta-smoothie for the days when you’re teaching, need to be on campus early, or just… can’t.

I’m actually planning to invest in a bunch of ice trays. My freezer is going to look utterly ridiculous, stacked to the brim with run-of-the-mill ice, smoothie prep stuff, and pre-made smoothie trays.

A BETTER WAY TO CLEAN YOUR BLENDER

This one is courtesy of Pinterest. Here’s the thing, I don’t actually use Pinterest… I honestly don’t even understand how I was able to grab the image. Needless to say, I can’t give this tip proper attribution, which—given that citing sources is in my job description—makes me feel a bit squicky. Realistically though, you can totally find this if you need it. I believe in you.

Smoothie hack

The picture pretty much speaks for itself. Realistically, I think the “rinse part of the equation should also include at least a quick swipe of the sponge (especially if you’re making smoothies with spinach or chia seeds or whatever), but the principle is definitely sound, and beats my “soak the thing in soapy water until you want to use it again” technique. A domestic goddess I am not.

I hope that some of these tips prove helpful to those of you out there who are joining me on the quest to get healthy and save money with smoothies! If you have other tips to share, PLEASE share them. I’ll pass said tips along (with attribution, of course) and actually use them myself!

If you’re catching the smoothie bug and want another recipe to tide you over until my next post, check out The Bluth Banana!

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.

Grading Hacks, Or, Unleashing Your Inner “Continental”

Christopher Walken has a famous recurring skit on SNL called “The Continental.” If you haven’t seen it, you need to take care of that right now.

GIANT DISCLAIMER: As somebody who studies gender and sexuality, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the very premise of the skit is indeed disturbing. Walken is, after all, portraying a physical manifestation of all things rapey. In 2012, “comedian” Daniel Tosh got in trouble for telling a “joke” about raping a woman who walked out in the middle of his show. His (utterly unacceptable) rape joke prompted a larger much larger conversation, centered around a difficult question: can you tell a funny rape joke? Personally, I think “The Continental” suggests that it is indeed possible to tell a funny rape joke. The comedy in this skit does not exploit the various women that The Continental attempts to victimize. Christopher Walken’s character—and his creepy, inappropriate behavior—IS the joke, and the joke is only funny because the women he tries to coerce always get away (humiliating him in the process).

Nothing better than a blog post that starts with a tangent… sorry folks.

Back to the subject at hand. I bring up “The Continental” because I feel like that skit captures my relationship with one of the most basic elements of my job as a teaching assistant and occasional course instructor: grading.

I hate grading with a passion. I love teaching, I love my students, and I even love reading their writing, but grading is awful. I almost always leave it to the last minute, which means hours of torture.

At least, that’s how it used to be.

I think I’ve finally found a hack for grading dread, and that hack is mood setting. When I sit down to grade these days, I hear Christopher Walken’s voice in my head saying his famous line from “The Continental”:

“Sit back. Relax. Champagne.”

Now, the fact that I have Christopher Walken’s voice in my head may be a problem, but it’s not one I plan on doing anything about any time soon, because over the course of the past year mood setting has helped become a more efficient AND a happier TA.

So how do you set the mood?

  1. Location, Location, Location. I’m going against conventional wisdom in several ways with this piece of advice, so bear with me. I am most comfortable in my bed, so I grade there, snuggled up in my comforter. We’ve all heard it said that you’ll sleep better if you make your bed a space reserved for sleep and sex; similarly, a lot of grad students feel it’s important to do all their work in their office, so that home is an exclusively personal space. These are both valid pieces of advice, but they don’t work for me. Sitting at a desk hunched over papers makes my back and neck ache. This makes me cranky. When I’m sitting in my bed, I have more support, and—as a result—fewer “physiological distractions” from the task at hand. 

    Okay, maybe cowbell isn't the best choice, but I wouldn't be me if I let the opportunity to include a Christopher Walken gif pass me by.

    Okay, maybe cowbell isn’t the best musical choice for grading, but I wouldn’t be me if I let the opportunity to include a Christopher Walken gif pass me by.

  2. Seductive tunes, baby. If I’m listening to classical music (or instrumental jazz, if I’m feeling crazy), whatever I’m doing becomes automatically classier. It borders on Pavlovian: as soon as I hear these genres of music, I know that I need to calm down and get to work. This only works, of course, because I don’t listen to classical music when I’m punking around on Facebook
  3. FIRE! I’m a bit of a pyromaniac, but this is actually a trick that I think will work for everybody. It’s common for meditative types to stare into a flame when meditating, because it calms you down. I heard about a study a million years ago (which I, naturally, can’t find now) that suggested that this is yet another reason why smokers sometimes find it hard to quit… the act of lighting a lighter is and of of itself calming. I light scented candles when I’m grading, and make a point of looking at them from time to time. Because I associate candles with calm and quiet, having them around is great for the moment when you stumble onto an essay or exam that’s truly rage inducing (it happens… trust me). Now that I know how to chill myself out, the red ink I spill all over my student’s work are consistently less destructive, and more constructive. I’ve never been a mean grader, but I’m sure adjusting my attitude impacts the tone of my comments.
  4. Timing, Part One: I am at my best grading in the evenings before bed, or right after I wake up in the morning. The rest of the time I’m more likely to lose focus, get annoyed, or spend an hour staring slack-jawed at the same two sentences over and over again. Find the time that works best for you and stick with it.
  5. Timing, Part Deux: Before I do any grading, I decide exactly how much time I’m going to spend on each exam/essay/assignment, and what kind of comments I’m going to provide. I then set a timer, and stick to it. For example, I’m currently grading a short essay assignment. I’m not supposed to grade on composition, so I decided in advance that I am not doing line edits. Accordingly, it makes more sense to type out substantive comments, print them, and attach them to the student’s paper. I wrote out a series of questions that I have to answer for each student (re: the quality of the thesis, evidence selection, etc.), and determined that—since I have that template pre-made, I should be able to give each student about ¾ page worth of typed comments on their assignment… in ten minutes. It’s cut my stress in half, and I think the student will be pretty happy to see the amount of feedback they’re receiving.

Walken2So there you have it. Find the mood that works for you, set it, and then unleash your inner Continental. Every time you feel like getting up and running away, lure yourself back to the task at hand. Be as creepy as you need to be. After all, the only person you’re coercing into grading… is you!

Sit back. Relax. Champagne.

“The Six Million Dollar Scholar” is the personal blog of Andrea Milne, a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. History at the University of California, Irvine. To get the story behind the blog’s name, click here.