Thursday, January 7, 2010

Fall semester in review

The good, the bad, and the ugly (on fall semester academics):

  1. No one's kicked me out of graduate school yet, so I've still got them all fooled.
  2. I found myself more than capable of handling my coursework; frequently it felt downright easy.
  3. I had a great statistics class, learned some things, and did significant work on an interesting project.
  4. I've got a great labmate, and also a great cohort of first year students to muddle along with.
  5. Heard some really interesting and exciting talks given by various visiting seminar speakers
  6. Attended a neat, small conference and met some interesting people
  7. Gave my first lecture (~3 hours long, and technically at a graduate level!)

  1. I made no progress on writing up papers for either my undergraduate project (since August), or the project I completed prior to graduate school as a technician working with my advisor (and presented on at ESA in August). This is kind of inexcusable, since both of them are pretty much sitting around, results in hand, and crying out to be written up and published.
  2. My courses frequently felt too easy. My typical response to this is to get frustrated with the subject, unmotivated and rather apathetic. This didn't matter when the course in question was "Technical Theater" or some other course for my liberal arts undergrad degree. This matters a lot, and is harmful, when the course in question is directly related to my field of study for my graduate work. I spent a lot of time feeling frustrated that classes were too easy and I knew too much for them, and simultaneously feeling extremely overwhelmed about how much I don't know about my field, etc. Again, this didn't help much when it came to me getting stuff done. Something I need to rise above.
  3. Part way through the semester, I realized that I was attending far too many seminars because I felt obligated to do so, rather than because their content matter was interesting to me (there are a lot of seminars that happen at a university this big). Then, as a result, about halfway through the seminar my attention would wander, however caffienated I was, and I'd spend the next 30+ minutes with open, glazed over eyes, staring into space in the general direction of the speaker. In at least one instance, this unproductive stupor carried over into the rest of the afternoon following the seminar, and in my attempt to get home I took the wrong bus twice before it all wore off.
  4. Not enough critical (= useful) self evaluation and too much self criticism. I just sort of worked at whatever was on the top of my vaguely defined to-do pile, hoping stuff would get done, and drifting along, with the tensions mentioned above. I need to intentionally and constructively review my work and my progress towards defined goals on a regular basis and try to discipline myself more. If I can make myself do it, this will be much more useful and productive than maintaining a constant, diffuse, critical feeling of being inadequate.
  1. Deciding that because my classes felt too easy all semester long, I'd pick out very very challenging topics/projects/analyses for my various final projects and finally challenge myself. Challenging yourself is good. Challenging yourself on 3 different fronts simultaneously under a 2 week deadline is ugly.
  2. As my (more assertive) lab mate has observed and pointed out to me, I don't tell people 'no' often enough. I like being helpful, and am very loyal to my friends, but I need to set boundaries for myself so that I don't let these traits, and the interactions that result from them, consume all of my time and energy. I'm sure this is something I will face in the future when (if??? long story) I get a TA position, but there the official nature of my position will help me draw a line. With friends, fellow students, etc, it's a lot harder for me to say no. As I have fewer classes this semester, it'll help, as there will be fewer classmates asking for help. It's not my job to teach them - that's the professor's job (at one point this semester, the prof for one of my classes was very busy, and referred a few students to me to get questions answered. This is ok when I am established and know what I'm doing, but this past semester it became a significant time sink when I really need to be getting my own act together). I also need to place some restrictions on what sorts of collaborations I engage in. I have some ideas on this, but it's a topic for another post.

Fall semester was far from a disaster, there are a lot of good things going here, and I learned some stuff. I didn't accomplish a lot of what I wanted to, but I have some ideas why, and on how to do better this Spring. I've got some good friends, have handled living in a city and being more independent than ever. I haven't been kicked out, and I haven't lost my enthusiasm for the things I do.

Next blog post: Goals for 2010/New Year's resolutions.

1 comment:

Karina said...

I think it's pretty unlikely that you'll be kicked out of grad school if the classes are easy for you :-)

Learing to say no is important, especially because you're such a helpful guy! Where do you do most of your work? If you're getting bothered too much on campus, maybe you can find a less accessible place that still lets you get work done. I've learned that I work best in my office at school, but I also don't get distracted very often, especially when no one else is around.

All in all, it sounds like you've had a good semester!