Battling Time? An Emerging Leaders Institute Team has a Solution

 September 12, 2018

Image of clock

Do you feel 24 hours a day is never enough? Do you often miss or extend deadlines? Do you struggle to set your career goals? Do you have an unhealthy work/life balance? If you answered ”yes,” keep reading for help! Even if you haven’t experienced these issues yet, this post might help you prevent these problems in the future.

Most graduate students and postdocs have experienced a time crunch at some point, which can often turn into a vicious cycle. Trying to marry the time spent on academic endeavors with personal time can be challenging. Furthermore, time management within the PhD or postdoc (attending courses and seminars, teaching, conducting research, writing papers, etc.) is not straightforward. Therefore, our team from the Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI) sought to help graduate students and postdocs with time management challenges.


PhD Comics cycle

Before starting the ELI program, all participants were asked to conduct a series of interviews with stakeholders at Duke. We aimed to identify insights from a diverse group of people, which would be later used to conduct a group project that could benefit graduate students and postdocs. We learned that we were not the only ones who found scarcity of time to be an issue; the issue was pointed out by the stakeholders that we interviewed (and implicitly, by the stakeholders who did not have time to meet for an interview)!

After identifying time management issues suffered by both graduate students and postdocs, we focused on how to solve the problem. We considered multiple strategies: making days 30 hours long, creating weeks of 8 days, or providing tools to improve their time management skills. Only one of those seemed feasible! We set three goals we wanted to achieve through the ELI project: 1) provide a set of tools to improve time management, 2) cluster all the resources in a unique website and 3) customize the resources to the particular needs of each individual.

To achieve our goals, we sought to compile a list of resources on time management and tailor this list to the specific needs of graduate students and postdocs. By leveraging our expertise as researchers, we were able to form a comprehensive list of time management resources available on the web or in paperback on several time management topics relevant to graduate students and postdocs: practical tips for daily time management, knowing your mission, prioritizing, fighting off procrastination, work-life balance, managing career development, using technology productively, reading and writing efficiently, and planning/writing the dissertation. We developed a website that includes a summary on each of these topics as well as a corresponding list of resources for further information.

While this comprehensive list of resources should be useful to many, we realized that those who are struggling with time management will probably have difficulty finding time to go through this massive list! Therefore, we developed a time management diagnostic tool to help graduate students and postdocs identify their areas of greatest challenge in time management and save them time by sending them straight to the resources most relevant to them.


Time is an asset



The time management diagnostic can be completed in a few minutes in a Qualtrics survey and it provides three key benefits:

  • Tailored resources for Duke graduate students and postdocs: The Qualtrics survey is designed to identify top priorities for improving time management, and match graduate student and postdoc users at Duke with the resources that can meet their greatest needs right now.
  • Anonymized data collection and analysis of general trends and needs: The data collected by the survey allows us to better understand the time management and general wellness needs of Duke students and postdocs. As more Blue Devils take the survey, we get a better picture of the general time management challenges faced by these groups and any differences in the challenges for grad students vs. postdocs.
  • Scalability: The current assessment questions and website content focus on time management needs, but they could be expanded in the future. For example, the diagnostic tool could include questions about the health and mental wellness needs of the graduate community at Duke, an underserved area in graduate education which has received increased attention in recent years. Due to the flexibility of the diagnostic framework developed by our team, it is well suited to serve the needs of other stakeholder groups within and beyond Duke.

In order to promote our website, our team has put together a flyer to introduce the diagnostic tool and tailored resources in a nutshell. Share these resources widely by posting it in your department. Your friends and colleagues will thank you! We hope our website will serve as a great asset for graduate students and postdocs to master critical time-management skills.

Our team is very grateful to Dr. Melissa Bostrom for her guidance throughout the genesis and development of our team project. We would also like to express our gratitude to Dr. Peter Ubel, who kindly allowed us to adapt part of the resources from his time management workshop for members of the School of Medicine. We would further thank all the ELI program facilitators as well as our fellow 2018 participants in the ELI program.





Headshot of Grace Beggs
Grace Beggs

Ph.D. candidate, Biochemistry

Grace is a third-year Ph.D. candidate in Biochemistry. Her current research focuses on the structure and function of proteins that contribute to antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria.


Headshot of Oriol Colomés
Oriol Colomés, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral associate, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Oriol Colomés, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral associate in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department at Duke. He earned a PhD in Civil Engineering at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Spain.


Headshot of David Kearney
David Kearney

Ph.D. candidate, Political Science

David Kearney is a 5th year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Political Science at Duke University. His present research is in the field of international relations. He was a translator and doctoral fellow at Zhejiang University and spent a summer at National Taiwan University on a Foreign Language and Areas Studies Grant. He developed his doctoral fieldwork on a James B. Duke International Research Travel Fellowship and is a member of the Society of Duke Fellows.


Headshot of Yanzhen Jasmine Li
Yanzhen (Jasmine) Li

Ph.D. candidate, Biomedical Engineering

Yanzhen (Jasmine) Li is a Ph.D. candidate in Biomedical Engineering. Her research aims to elucidate how the miscommunication between cells in the heart affect cardiac function and thus lead to the progression of heart failure.