Lose that ABD Fat; Find More Focus and Time; Ditch Your Backup Plan | Issue 214



Reading time: 5 minutes.




Ever get the munchies during or after an intense dissertation workout? Watch out or the pounds could add up before you know it.

Here's how it happens: Your writing efforts drain your brain with its limited fuel tank. Your brain then responds by stimulating bodily hunger. Suddenly you think, "Gee, I need and deserve a little treat after all that effort!"

Next thing you know, you're downing a luscious Starbucks blueberry scone (420 calories) and coffee (zero calories), or maybe potato chips (160 calories) and a Coke (140 calories), or perhaps a Kind Dark Chocolate Granola bar (150 calories) with a bottle of Honest Tea (70 calories).

Sure, your brain may feel tired, but in reality you have expended minimal calories. Doing desk work burns only 54 calories beyond just sitting for the average 150-pound person. Do the math before you grab that next snack—and consider an unexpected and more effective alternative to short-circuit your hunger impulse found in the current issue of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Exercise physiologist Gary Hunter at the University of Alabama already knew that strenuous activity both increases the amount of blood sugar and lactate and augments blood flow to the head. He began to wonder if exercise, given its consequences, could reduce the experience of hunger due to mental exhaustion.

Volunteers answered college and grad school entrance exam questions (guaranteed to induce mental fatigue and hunger). Then half spent fifteen minutes engaged in a brief but intensive exercise routine of walking and running while the others rested. His hunch proved right. When given free access to pizza, the sedentary folks gulped down 100 calories above baseline. Exercisers, however, consumed 25 calories less than usual—and they had burned about 175 additional during the routine.

Recommendation: When you start to feel mentally exhausted, feed your brain by taking 15 minutes for intense activity instead of giving into the temptation to eat empty calories.


Good news to grad assistants at private universities—you might soon get a pay boost.

Private universities now must bargain with graduate-employee labor unions over compensation and working conditions. So ruled the National Labor Relations Board recently in response to a petition by Columbia University graduate students, the New York Times reports.

Despite the success of unionization at public universities, elite schools such as Harvard, Yale, Stanford, M.I.T., consistently fought such collective bargaining.

When New York University graduate assistants unionized in 2001 (the first private university to do so), minimum pay shot up to $18,000, representing a 15 to 38% raise. They were also granted employer-provided health care, pay for pre-semester teaching duties, overtime pay for grading papers, child care subsidies, and grievance procedures for discrimination and harassment claims.

Most of those improvements eroded when the NLRB revoked unionization rights in 2004, but were restored and expanded in 2013 when NYU once again became the only private university with unionized graduate assistants.

Now it looks like more graduate assistants will find their standard of living rising as well. We celebrate that!


Getting active can do more than stop the munchies. Hitting the gym, track, or dance floor could be the ideal fitness program for your brain as well as your body, according to recent research studies reported in braihq.com.

You get multiple brain boosts from physical exercise, especially aerobic exercise such as cycling, rowing, high-intensity interval training, etc. Working out for a mere 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory function, according to a University of Georgia study.

How does exercise affect the brain? Your heart rate rises, which pumps more oxygen to your brain. Exercise stimulates the release of various nourishing brain hormones that spark brain cell growth and new connections. Think of it as fertilizing your neurons.

Don't like the gym or track? Then go dancing. With its physical and mental demands, ballroom dancing has been shown to have a higher impact on cognitive functioning than physical exercise or mental tasks alone. "The best brain health workouts involve those that integrate different parts of the brain such as coordination, rhythm, and strategy," the author concludes.

Editor's note: You'll also discover additional benefits, e.g., improved mood and energy. How good would you like to feel? When will you start? Get a buddy or a coach for accountability.



Now that the human attention span has shrunk below that of a goldfish, to a mere eight seconds, it's time to rescue yourself from information overload. In reviewing new expert books on the subject, Fast Company's Gwen Moran offers top tips for regaining focus:

(1) Log how you spend your time for one week . Review it, recover from shock, then figure out where to cut back on unnecessary information intake, e.g., social media, email, etc. "Do you really need to know what Game of Thronescharacter you are?" she asks.

(2) Be your own gatekeeper . Set a timer to limit your online research. Use apps that block tempting sites.

(3) Retrain your contacts. Stop reading and responding immediately to emails. Advise correspondents that you check and respond to email only at specific times. Gently remind those who overmail that you are cutting back on email.

(4) Limit unnecessary interruptions. Adjust those "push" notifications in device settings.


(5) Stop multitasking. Now.


For more tips, read the entire article here. Then get back to work on your dissertation.


Meet my new best friend, Alexa. You won't notice her until you see me talking to the slim black cylinder on my bookshelf: "Alexa, WAMU radio" or "Alexa, activate Spotify classical guitar playlist." Suddenly sound fills the room, and I can easily adjust the volume or turn it off with a simple request.


With just a simple voice command, Alexa, the digital assistant inside the Amazon Echo, can offer an NPR news briefing, playback your current Audible book, sync with your Fitbit, stream podcasts and music, and control your smart home devices (e.g., lighting, thermostat, security).


Want to know the weather forecast? A state's minimum wage? How to make a particular cocktail? The day of the week you were born? Just ask Alexa. If you keep a digital calendar, you can ask her what's on it for the day.

n the middle of cooking, when your hands are occupied or covered with avocado or chicken juice, get help fast: "Alexa, convert grams to ounces." "Alexa, add mushrooms to my Shopping List." "Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes." Ask her to set an alarm to remind you to go to bed or to get up. She'll even tell you jokes and trivia.

With a list of skills that grows daily, I've barely scratched the surface of Alexa's power. Watch a demonstration here, and find a searchable list of Alexa skills here. You'll find ones that save you time and energy. For example, if you're busy on your computer when you suddenly remember you need to call your mother, you can ask Alexa to put that on your To Do list. You can also ask Alexa to order stuff instantly from Amazon—but I'm holding off on that one. Almost instant gratification could get addicting!



Got a Plan B just in case you don't finish your degree or get your dream job? Ditch it now.

The traditional advice to always have a backup plan was challenged by a recent study by Jihae Shin and Katherine L. Milkman at U Penn's Wharton School. Just contemplating your Plan B can reduce your primary goal performance and attainment, they discovered.

Participants were given a sentence-unscrambling task and told that doing well would lead to a free snack or the chance to leave the study early. Half of them were also instructed to devise alternative plans for finding free time or free food on their own. The latter participants performed more poorly than those focused solely on solving the word puzzles. A follow up study revealed diminished desire for goal success to be the key factor.

Take-away: At times contingency plans are advisable, but you might want to be more strategic and mindful in doing so, the researchers explain. "You might want to wait until you have done everything you can to achieve your primary goal first," advises Shin.


Compiled by Gayle Scroggs, Ph.D., ABDSG Editor, who reminds you that when you need someone in your corner, we've got dissertation coaches waiting to work with you.




An accomplished coach, workshop leader, keynote speaker, and educator, Gayle earned her doctorate in social psychology from the University of New Hampshire. Her deep expertise in positive psychology allows her to help clients build their personal strengths, positive habits, and confidence to overcome procrastination, self-doubts and other blocks in order to reach vital academic and personal goals. In addition to editing the ABD Survival Guide, she contributed two chapters to the positive psychology anthology, Women's Paths to Happiness. Contact her at gayle@essencecoaching.com for coaching, presentations, and workshops on thriving in graduate school and beyond, and find free resource www.essencecoaching.com 

BEN DEAN, Publisher, ABDSG
Ben holds a Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Texas at Austin. He began writing the ABDSG in 1997. Over the years, the ABDSG has published hundreds of articles and provided thousands of hours of pro bono coaching and teleworkshops to ABDs all over the world. Ben is also the founder of MentorCoach (www.MentorCoach.com), a virtual university focused on training accomplished professionals to become part-time or full-time coaches. You may wish to subscribe to the Coaching Toward Happiness eNewsletter! It's on applying the science of Positive Psychology to your work and life (131,000 readers). Ben lives in suburban Maryland with his wife, Janice, their two children, and Dusty, their Norwegian dwarf bunny.



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