Managing Your Motivation

Staying motivated in the unstructured work environment of academia can be difficult.  For me, it has always been easy to stay on task during the field season because the summer ticks away regardless of how much I get done.  I have to be organized and get in while the plants are growing and the tides are favorable. As summer gives way to fall, I have often gone through productivity slumps.  This was especially true after I was done with my coursework and, more recently, when I was struggling with some mental health issues. In spite of these challenges, I have been at this graduate school game for (*gulp*) nine years now, and I’ve learned a thing or two about how to bring structure to my days and set myself up for maximum productivity.  In other lucky news, I have tons of smart friends who kindly offered up some of their best advice on a Facebook thread I started. Thanks Tanya, Jeff, Christy, Brendan C, Danielle, Haley, Kevin, Sarah, Brendan H, Anne, Vadim, Ashley, Chhaya, Jamie, Lyndsey, Eddie, Jessica, Caroline, Sacha, Becky, Bjorn, Carlos, Aviva, and Colin!

Here are my top tips for staying focused and productive!

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That time I told the bartender I didn’t want popcorn and he told me I needed popcorn…and he was correct.

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An Earnest Desire to Save the World

“TEACHER seeks pupil.
Must have an earnest desire to save the world.
Apply in person.” –Ishmael by Daniel Quinn

2012-07-24 15.29.45

As I continue to creep (crawl? stumble blindly? drag myself?) toward the completion of my PhD I have begun seriously contemplating what exactly I want to do when I grow up.  Progress has been slow and circuitous, much like this essay.  But I feel calmer than I did when I first realized “Be an ecologist!” had stopped being enough of an answer.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.  

Regardless, I’ve been trying to take steps toward actually figuring this thing out for myself.  A bit of soul searching, a la Chelsea’s advice about a happiness brainstorm, really helped.  I’m happiest when I can travel but have a solid home base to return to, so I’m no longer prioritizing an academic career and the period of post-doctoral transience that usually comes along with it.  I’m happiest when I’m collaborating with lots of different folks who I can teach and learn from all the time.  I’m happiest when I can do public speaking and science communication, and I’d love to find a position where this is encouraged, valued, and incentivised.  I’m happiest when what I am working on makes a tangible difference.    Continue reading “An Earnest Desire to Save the World”

Meridith and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Qualifying Exam

I’ve made my way all the way to the end of my 20th year of schooling without much in the way of seemingly insurmountable challenges. Sure, the post secondary life is peppered with exams (SAT, ACT, GRE), finals, applications processes, and so on, but while all of these have caused me stress in the past, none even compare to my qualifying exams of my PhD program. This past May, after a year of courses and months of studying, I tackled three days of intense examinations which included a day of two 3-hour Stats Theory exams and nearly 48 hours of a take home applied project. I went in with months of studying, waves of support from friends and family (thanks!) , 6 pages front and back of notes to use, and even a belly full of sushi. I come out… completely and utterly defeated.


Failed like I failed to keep it together during
this episode of Dr. Who.

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