Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Whining and Learning

So far, I've written 9 pages of the last 12 page paper that is due for the course I'm taking this semester. This course was really heavy on the writing assignments, and while I like to write, I'm a little worn out. I'm approaching the mind-set that likely every student enters at the end of the semester, "Okay, let's say I get an A on the final, and I got an A on everything else, so that means I can totally blow off the rest of this essay and get the B that I want as my final grade." Sure, I want this professor on my dissertation committee, but I don't think he'll think less of me if I am four pages short. Besides, I could make up four pages of bullshit which would just give him more to grade. I think he'd be more upset by the bullshit than by a lack of pages.

Whining aside, I wanted to share with the readers what I learned this semester, much of which didn't have anything to do with the class I'm taking. Like Mark Twain said, "Don't let school get in the way of your education."

  1. Every diagram and figure for every paper and presentation should be drawn in the same program and placed in a central directory. When it comes time to write the dissertation, culling diagrams will be easy.

  2. Third year+ graduate students should not act like students. They should act like junior faculty.

  3. Don't ask for what you want. Tell THEM what you are going to do and ask for help on how to get it done.

  4. Talk to everyone, whether it's the head of your department, your group's secretary, or the assistant dean of your college. The more you are known and the more you help, the more favors you can call in later. This is networking.

  5. Leverage the help of your dissertation committee to make progress on your research. This is also networking.

  6. Leverage the power of your dissertation committee to help convince your PhD advisor that you are ready to prelim. This is also networking.

I've also got a glimpse of what academic life could be like if I don't quit and work at McDonald's. In recent months, I've started working on a side project having nothing to do with my actual "research." It's been an interesting process of making friends with smart people, and deciding to work on a cool project with these smart people. We've worked on writing outlines, proposing workshops, obtaining funding, getting authorization, and all kinds of other bureacratic fun because we really really believe that this problem is worth solving. It's just too bad that this has only happened once in my four years here.

PS. Here's my New Year's resolution. Stop cussing so much. Last week, I was in the office of the Assistant Dean of the College Engineering, and I'm pretty sure I said "crap" 12 times.


Tejaswi said...

I too have been figuring out some of these things on my own. I'm nowhere close to writing a dissertation, but intend to get there soon. So thanks for the insights on managing figures, and networking.

I've now started thinking that it really doesn't matter what exactly you work on. I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't be working on it in ten years. What really matters is to be around interesting people. I did a project in one of my courses this semester, that wasn't remotely connected to my research, but I really enjoyed it. I've started focussing on the work at hand and not think(read as worry) about things that I can't quite control.

Anyways, thanks for sharing your experiences. I've got to get back to- "if I do this extra credit question, and a good project, maybe I'll squeeze an A"

RussianViolets said...

Excellent advice, but why eliminate the pottymouth? Use it instead with flair. :-)

shannon said...

So, what'd you do? Did you pump out the bullshit or leave it at 9?

I'm looking forward to seeing you soon, although it kind of sucks I'm not going to be around for the majority of the time you are in P-town. Wait, it doesn't cuz I'll be in Mexico...if only you could go with. :P Love you sweets.