Category Archives: Uncategorized

Conspicuos Consumption

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has a great comic about grad students today. I love how it pokes fun of grad student’s snotty reading habits–one of my favorite grad school pasttimes was shocking fellow students with my poor choices of reading/viewing material.

It’s Really Over Ritual

I didn’t really know what kind of ritual I wanted to do to signify to myself that grad school is really over. Luckily, my husband had the perfect idea. He photocopied the signature page from my dissertation and brought it with us in our post-defense celebrations. He encouraged all our friends to sign it, and also asked that they make the page look “like it has been through hell.” The project was enthusiastically embraced by all, and I have one really fantastic memento of my defense day to show for it. It was a great party, and those signatures not only show how I was supported by friends (and in some cases, people I barely know), but that I’m a doctor now in the eyes of the world! It’s an accepted fact. And I’m pretty psyched about it.


Not the Apocalypse

I really thought when I turned my dissertation into my committee that my world might end.

I imagined endless amounts of free time to cross off all non-dissertation to-dos. I imagined reading novels on sunny afternoons. I imagined writing long letters to friends. I imagined birds chirping. Constantly.

But the night before I turned it in, I realized my world was going to spin right on–overwhelmed with errands, good intentions, hard work, and even–yes, it’s true–more dissertating.

It was a letdown. On the other hand, I’ve had a few friends who experience great highs at the last moments of dissertating–as they write their conclusions, everything comes together in new, exciting ways. They get a surge of energy, and their committees are only too happy to urge them on.

That feeling you might have, that nothing about the dissertation goes the way you planned it to go, does not end once its turned in, or once you’ve defended, or once you’ve graduated. There are so many milestones that say you’ve “almost” finished, but it’s never really the end until you decide you’re done culling articles or shaping a book around the work you’ve done. That could take years.

I’m happy. But I’ve been astonished at how busy I’ve been, and how the dissertation still seems to need so much of my attention.

When I told my friend M. this, he said, “Yeah, but you’re still done.” But I guess what I’m trying to say, to those in the middle of a big project, is that you can’t plan for that  feeling of completeness or relief. It might not come when you’re expecting it.

E-mail Overload

There is a consensus that e-mail makes people less productive. The latest article I read, “E-mail is Making You Stupid” by Joe Robinson, shared some startling statistics: e-mail volume is growing at a rate of 66% per year.

So far, I have not been able to do what’s recommended: check e-mail at 2-4 designated times per day. However, I do generally close my e-mail program while I am writing. Considering it “takes a worker 15 minutes to refocus after an interruption,” I’m not a big fan of stopping to check e-mail or Facebook while trying to be productive.

One suggestion Robinson made that I really like is that if you send less e-mails, you’ll get less e-mails. He also advises putting “no reply necessary” in the subject line to signal that a conversation can be over.

The Future Mister Doctor has a practice of a double asterisks in the subject line to indicate that there is nothing in the body of the message. For example: “**meeting at 4PM tomorrow.” When you don’t have to open the message, it makes the process of checking e-mail faster.

I like to have a clean inbox, so I’ve recently been sorting messages into “This Week” and “Non Urgent” folders. True, I mostly never answer the non-urgent stuff. But that’s probably good (I’d only get more e-mails in return, right?). When all the pressing stuff is gathered in one place, I can go through it without becoming distracted by non-essential messages.  Anything that doesn’t need a reply is deleted immediately. I am also a diligent unsubscriber from mass e-mails–I never let an unwanted sender into my inbox twice.

This system ensures that nothing truly important gets lots in the shuffle–since those messages stay in my relatively small inbox. The “This Week” folder ensures that I see what’s time-sensitive when I settle in for an e-mail session–usually a couple times a week. The Non-Urgent Folder gets mostly forgotten, but it’s in there because it doesn’t need to be stressed (for example, if someone sent me a link to an article they thought I would enjoy).

How do you keep e-mail from making you stupid?

Renouncing the Privileges of Laziness

I adore Rob Brezsny’s horoscopes. Let me just say, at the outset, that I do not believe in astrology. In fact, it creeps me out when people discuss things like going into their Neptune phase in a serious manner. Yeesh! But Rob Brezny’s horoscopes are imaginative and playful and clever. He creates a feeling of intimacy and insight week after week that I find truly commendable.

So pretend this is your horoscope for today–it may get you excited about what comes next in your work life:

“Let us not underestimate the privileges of the mediocre,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche. “Life becomes harder and harder as it approaches the heights — the coldness increases, the responsibility increases.” I bring these thoughts to your attention,  because in the next two months you’ll be in a prime position to renounce some of the “privileges” of your laziness. Please hear me out. I’m not saying that your lackadaisical attitudes are any worse than mine or anyone else’s. But there come times when he or she has a chance to outgrow those lackadaisical attitudes so as to reach a higher level that’s both more demanding and more rewarding. This will be one of those times for you.

Finding the Right Routine

Joan Bolker talks about finding good routines to maximize productivity. “Write first” is one of Bolker’s most highly recommended routines.  But some people will get more done at night, and there are probably even weirdos whose energy peaks in the afternoon.

Bolker advises dissertators to continue refining the routine, letting your process evolve so that you’re doing what works, not merely what seems logical.

Recently, I started working on weekends, because I really want to graduate in May. I have resisted working weekends since the Future Mister Doctor moved to Austin, because he does not generally work then and I wanted our free time to align. However, I thought I could handle working weekends for a few months, especially if I made the weekends a little different than the weekdays.

I told myself I would work every day, but on the weekends, I could stop as soon as I didn’t feel like writing anymore, no matter how long it had been. Then I would read dissertation-related books until I was sick of that, too. By pressuring myself less on the weekends, I hoped to preserve some sense of relaxation.

It turns out that I can be insanely productive on the weekends. I should have figured it out sooner. Unlike the Future Mister Doctor, I don’t sleep in that well. Usually, I try not to wait to wake him up until he’s slept more than 12 hours (Sorry, parents. I know how much that last sentence hurt you to read.) Anyway, a lot of the time, what would happen is that I would do something productive (pay bills, catch up on personal e-mail) and then feel kind of tired because I’d popped out of bed so darn early.  I’d go back to sleep for awhile. (I’m not good at sleeping in but I excel at napping.) Turns out that weekend mornings are great dissertating times for me.

It’s possible that I should have been working weekends all along, and taking off Mondays instead, when I feel like lazing around (and have no problem sleeping in).

Job Talks

I recently attended a mock job talk. One of the hardest things about this particular talk was that it was supposed to be given to a mixed audience of undergraduates and professors. Here’s some thoughts I have about how to give a good talk in this situation:

1) Ask your audience easy questions at the beginning. Getting even a small amount of feedback (Let’s have a show of hands on who has seen Avatar!) will calm your nerves. Plus, the audience will be engaged. I say ask easy questions because you don’t know these people–you don’t want to put them on the spot if they are shy or insecure.

2) Repeat key terms a couple of different ways. Even the main concepts are not difficult to grasp, giving a quick definition or simple example will force you to introduce your main ideas slowly and keep your audience with you.

3) Rather than trying to cram all the different issues in your dissertation into one talk, pick one thread and stick to it.  As one professor put it, the hiring committee has read your abstract. They don’t need it rehashed, and a summary of all your big thoughts will just confuse a listening audience.

4) Don’t try to sound smart. Don’t name drop scholars. And if someone asks you a question that you don’t have a good answer to, it’s okay to ask them to elaborate or say that it’s an interesting problem (and explain why) without answering the question definitively. This approach has the added bonus of making your audience feel smart (they thought of something that you, the expert, didn’t!) and also making you look humble. Everyone would rather work with the humble guy than the guy who pretends to know what he’s talking about but is obviously full of it.

If you’ve got a job talk coming up, good luck!

Interview Tips from FSP

Female Science Professor strikes again! Her calm, practical advice for interviewing is definitely beneficial to any future doctor. There’s a whole series, but this post particularly addresses issues that are worried over often, including wardrobe and family issues.

Productivity Porn

Is that what I write? I am not a huge fan of the phrase, but it did get my attention. And I do like reading about productivity. So does Marc Andreesen, and here are his productivity tips:

Pmarca’s Guide to Personal Productivity

Chipped Shoulder

I got an e-mail from my friend L. that said, “I realized I have been walking around with a chip on my shoulder, angry and mad that I ‘have to finish’ my dissertation.”

Oh, I know that feeling! It’s so easy to think that you’re only going forward because you’re trapped, or you’ve gone too far to turn back. It can start to seem like there’s no way out but through. That fate or God or the economy or your student loans won’t let you out of grad school.

But, as L. went on to say, it’s possible to let that anger go. To realize that you are finishing, ultimately, because you want to.  Maybe you don’t want to finish all of the time, with every fiber of your being. But you are the one who is making yourself work–not because you’re a masochist but because you want it.