Tips for Grads: Make your goals SMART

By Olivia Gacka, PhD Student

Back in May, I talked about the importance of planning out your summer so you can monitor progress towards achieving your goals. But no amount of planning and accountability can help if our goals aren’t SMART…that is, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Being able to distinguish between a goal that is and isn’t SMART can make the difference between whether or not you will achieve that goal. For example, “Get better at running”, while a legitimate thing to want to do, isn’t a SMART goal. But “Run a 5k this summer” is a SMART goal.

To give you a better idea of what a SMART goal looks like, I’m going to share one of mine: to submit a recent paper I wrote, “The Centering of Molly Bloom: Prioritizing ‘Penelope’ in Dermot Bolger’s adaptation of Ulysses”, to the James Joyce Quarterly this summer.

  • Specific: Instead of saying, “I’d like to submit ‘a’ paper to ‘a’ journal,” say “I want to submit ‘this particular paper that I wrote’ to ‘this particular journal’.” Taking a larger goal to have a paper published and narrowing it down to something comparatively bite-sized makes what you need to do much clearer.
  • Measurable: In this case, measurability is pretty easy. Did I do it, or didn’t I? It gets more complicated when you’re looking at goals having to do with improving a skill, but it’s still possible to monitor your progress and achievement if you make the benchmarks clear for yourself.
  • Attainable: I picked a paper that my professor suggested I should consider submitting for publication, so I know I’m working with a paper that, realistically, someone already thinks is of enough quality to be considered. I’m also working with a paper I’ve already written, aside from some areas I want to expand, which means I’m much more likely to have it ready in time for my deadline, which is relatively short.
  • Relevant: As a PhD student who just finished my first year with my program, I’m looking to further develop my publications list and engage with my discipline on a broader scale, and since I am a theatre scholar with research interests revolving around Irish studies, the James Joyce Quarterly (JJQ) is an ideal journal to help me achieve those goals.  If I were trying to get published in, say, The New England Journal of Medicine, it would certainly be cool, but probably not the best idea given my career and research aspirations.
  • Time-bound: Submissions to the JJQ are rolling, but I have two good time-related boundaries of my own to work within. One, I know myself well enough to know that if I don’t finish editing my paper by the end of the summer, I’ll be too swept up in the courses I’m registered for this fall to feasibly get it done. Two, this year is the 100th anniversary of the publication of Ulysses, so it feels especially timely to submit it this year!

To hear more about developing SMART goals and how they come together to build an Individual Development Plan (IDP) check out the Graduate School’s online IDP resources and join us for our virtual workshop, Creating Your Individual Development Plan, on July 13.

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.