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From the Scholar – Organization

One of the most important things I have learned about being a successful graduate student is getting organized.  As a new grad student I got really overwhelmed with all of the articles for different classes, articles for my own work, notes from classes, notes from my own work, notes from meetings, papers that needed to be graded, papers that had been graded but not picked up…The list goes on and on.

When I started to think about getting ready for my comprehensive exam, I realized that organizing all of these notes and articles and ideas was half the battle.

I know that there are an infinite number of ways to organize, but I’d like to show you the way that works for me.  My organizational scheme is constantly evolving – but here’s how it is now:

I keep all articles and notes together by class meeting or project and keep everything clearly labeled.

I am lucky that the desk in my office has a drawer for hanging file folders.

Except when I outgrow it….

(I also have a full two-drawer filing cabinet at home! – See how quickly you could get buried under all this?!)

It’s worked out really nicely to have additional storage in this hanging file crate.  Also, this will make it easy when I take all these files to my house when I take my comp.

Each class or general area (e.g. ongoing projects and comp stuff) gets its own label and set of hanging files.

Within each set of hanging file folders is a manilla folder for each subject – either a specific project or a specific week of class.  Clear labeling is important.

Within each manilla folder are the articles and notes for that subject.  Each folder then becomes like its own little world – everything I have (in hard copy) on that topic exists in that folder.

I keep this standing folder-holder (is that a real term?) on my desk for the things I am currently working on.  These things include class readings for the week and projects that need immediate attention.  In the front I keep pieces of scrap paper cut into quarters to jot quick notes or use as bookmarks.

I’m not teaching this semester, but when I was, I used these drawers to keep graded papers that students had yet to pick up.  This system was perfect because I had two sections and each section got its own drawer.  I liked it because student papers were completely separate from my personal files.

Above are pens and post-its and various office supplies.  I got used to having them out when I was at a desk without drawers and though I now have drawers, I still like to have these things out where I can get to them quickly and easily.

I’ve started a new thing this semester where I keep one notebook for all meeting notes and to-do lists and goals.  Before, these things would end up in weird places or getting lost because they didn’t fit logically into my folder system.  I was hesitant to put all of these things in the same notebook, but now that I’ve tried it I love it!

Doesn’t hurt that I found a super cute (if not a little silly) notebook

Here’s an example of how I use it.  On one side is notes from a meeting about one project and on the other is a note about what I want to talk about at the next meeting for another project.

Speaking of projects, this is how I am keeping all of mine straight (also a new idea for this semester)

I have what feels like a thousand projects going on right now, so to keep track of where I am on all of them I use a whiteboard to write down what needs to be done next on each project.  I am also using some extra space on the board to keep track of time time until I comp.

And that’s how I stay organized.

I’d love to hear about your organizational system!


It’s that thing where you realize that you’ve been working hard enough to need two pens 😉

Happy first day of school!


Back to school – From the Florist

This is a post from the florist even though the scholar goes back to school tomorrow (if one can ever really say that a grad student goes “back” to school). We had a little goodbye dinner for my step sister who is going off to college on Tuesday.

We were all a little sad to be saying goodbye so I wanted to create a fun, festive atmosphere that didn’t scream “cheesy school stuff stuck all over the table”

For a pop of color and because she is headed to Loyola, New Orleans I used wooden letters to spell out NOLA as a nod to New Orleans, Louisiana.

Lately I have been obsessed with arrangements of a single type of flower.  Here I used red roses and yellow and red alstromeria (I wanted sunflowers, but couldn’t find any).  The containers are different sized tin cans with the labels removed.  The smaller cans have colored rubber bands around them to break up all that silver.

I love using non floral items in the same way I would use flowers.  In this case, I used colored pencils in a tin can alongside the flowers to bring in that school-time feeling.  I also tucked big red apples among the cans.

While I love short centerpieces that people can talk over, I also wanted to add some visual interest above, so I created these book-page banners.  They were super easy.  I just got a book at the thrift store and cut some pages into triangles and attached them to baker’s twine.  Instantly makes the room super festive.

It was a bittersweet dinner.  We’re going to miss her very much, but I am so excited for her to start this new chapter of her life.

From the Florist: Birthday Dinner

My mom’s birthday was this weekend and my aunt decided we should have a party for her.  This is what our conversation looked like:


I thought my mom would prefer a more elegant look, especially because she made me the balloon grape thing as a Halloween costume when I was a little kid:

ImageThis is not me. This girl looks better.

So anyway, I did a thing with white garden roses, artichokes, grapes and plums.


What do you think? Did I go too fancy? Should I have let my Aunt go wild with the balloon grapes?

From the scholar: Visual learner


Trying desperately to understand the causal story of social capital (I’d rather be bowling alone right now, thanks Putnam)

Something I’ve just discovered

All new grad students are used to that pre-comp feeling when older grad students throw around names of prominent scholars in the field while you try to look like you have the slightest clue what they are talking about as you furiously scribble down notes to look it up later.

What I’ve just discovered is the para-comp feeling of looking back at these notes and how terribly you misheard/misspelled the names of the illustrious scholars.

Here are a couple from this week:

  • James Faller = James Fowler
  • Benjamin Hayden = Benjamin Highton
  • Kenneth Schlepslie = Kenneth Shepsle

Gradschool facepalm


Update: Dovey =Dovi

Just a note

One of the best things about studying political science in particular is that I get to watch what I study happen around me all the time.  (In our intro to political science, actually, we talk about humans as fish and politics as the water the fish swim in.  Fish aren’t necessarily aware of the water, but it’s what you’re living in). 

Right now, I’m working at a coffee shop and I’m sitting next to two people having a meeting about strategies for their environmental interest group.  It’s hard not to lean over and whisper “I study you”

I promise, I’ll restrain myself.