Monday, May 31, 2010

Manuscript progress (or the lack thereof)

Meanwhile, I haven't written a single word yet. Ok, that's not entirely true. I have written some instructions for people in the former lab. And I have written something that, with some imagination, looks like an outline of a grant proposal (eh, yeah, completely unrelated to the manuscript, but still, I did write it). I've also completed some practical work for my manuscript on the side and I've read a paper or two.


One of my professors at my undergrad institution used to say that writing a paper should be easy. By the time you're finishing up data collection, you ought to know what you were doing. It's only a matter of telling the story that's in your head. I wish it was that simple.

I know what I was doing and I know why I did what I did. But somewhere between the time that I started this project and now, other people have been working on the same topic. Some of the new stuff is no longer new and some of what I thought was boring turned out to be exciting. Plus, my recent focus on a related project changed the way I'm thinking about some of the underlying assumptions. This basically means that the motivation for the study is going to be completely different from what I envisioned it to be a couple of years ago.

That's fine, that's science, but it definitely isn't easy!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Oh manuscript, when do I write you?

Prior to starting grad school at NAU, I had the opportunity to work in a few other labs in my (loosely defined) research area. The projects I worked on in Lab1 are (more or less) completed and although I do put effort into keeping in touch with my old mentors and colleagues, this doesn't really take up any research time. In Lab2, however, I started a project that I never got to finish. The preliminary results looked promising though and so my adviser and I agreed that we would continue working on this project.

Fast forward a couple of years. After some delay (due to a lack of resources in my former adviser's lab), the project has come to a stage where it can be written up for publication. I would like to see some more follow-up work, but hey, beggars can't be choosers. Perhaps it isn't as nice a story without the extra data, but there's a story nonetheless and any publication would be beneficial to me at this point. So I really should start writing up this paper.

At the same time, I'm working on studies in my current lab. And by working, I don't mean working 9-5, but more like working 9-9 plus weekends. I try taking off at least one day a week to keep my sanity, but I often times find myself putting in a few hours here and there on my (supposedly) free day as well.

So here's the dilemma: when do I write this additional manuscript? Is this something I do on top of all the work I'm doing now? That's virtually impossible would make me very grumpy. But is it fair to cut down the amount of work I'm doing on the things I should be working on for my PhD? As much as I want to get a publication out of this, part of my stipend comes from my adviser, so I for sure can't (and don't want to - there's a thesis to be finished after all) simply drop all of my thesis work. But what is reasonable? Any thoughts on how much (and for how long) my productivity in my PhD lab can decline while working on this paper? Anyone?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I don't want to be that person...

Every cohort has at least a few of them. Students who will do nothing but complain. Complain about how being a grad students sucks. Complain about how being in academia sucks. Complain about how their adviser sucks. Complain about how life sucks. About how research sucks. The one thing that doesn't suck is their undergrad institution. Though I wouldn't be surprised if they used to complain about said institution while working towards their undergrad degree.

And I get it, I really do. Grad student life can be challenging at times and venting can be a good way to get rid of some of that frustration. I also totally sympathize with fellow students whose data aren't working out the way they had hoped, whose family conditions are far from optimal, or who simply don't get along with their adviser. But those are typically not the ever-complaining students. In my experience, the ever-complainers tend to have no more reason to complain than any other grad student. They almost seem to complain for the sake of complaining. It's what they do.

I'm not saying their complaints are not valid. They may very well be. But if all you can do is complain (and talk about how your everything is so much better at your previous school) without ever trying to improve your current circumstances despite all the advice people give you, then yes, I might get annoyed. Perhaps grad school isn't for you. It's not as if it's your only option. Or perhaps you should change advisers or institutions but that's advice and you won't take it. Or, dare I say it, perhaps you should change your attitude. Because if you decide to finish your PhD, things will inevitably get harder down the road, and feeling miserable all! the! time! isn't going to help. Plus, a nice side effect may be that others won't resist talking to you so much and stop hiding in their offices when they see you leave yours.

While my glass does tend to be half empty and while at times I do complain more than I probably should, I don't think I'm that person. Not quite yet at least. But I should practice what I preach. And that's why I just deleted a very whiny draft I was about about to post. Because things are really not that bad. I do research I like, I have an adviser who cares, and I don't have a two-body problem. Some nice data would be good, but I'm working on that.

Now I just need to continue working on my attitude.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Why higher stipends would be beneficial

Working from home would be so much easier if I didn't share an apartment. Just saying.