Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Prioritizing without Deadlines

After almost one year without few real deadlines in my life, I think I'm finally learning how to balance my different projects in a way that 1) everything gets attention and 2) things actually are completed. One of the biggest changes I've made is starting to outline manuscripts before I'm done with data generation. It helps me identify what data I need to generate, and makes me think about how many steps are going to go into it.

At some point in my undergraduate training, the idea of making metrics for everything was beaten into my brain. Every so often, I will sit down and make my priority matrix for every project I'm currently working on. First I split them into two types: things which need computation time, and things which need brain time. Each project gets a 1-10 score in several categories, which I assign different weights.

50% of the score is immediacy of the next deadline. When I actually have them.  20% is for length of time I expect it will take to complete. 20% is for how long it's been since I worked on that projects, and 10% is for how important I think it is to its master project. The entire score gets multiplied by the number of tasks that depend on this task. However, I let myself get frustrated with projects and take a break from them, and if I'm inspired on a particular project, I will give it more attention.

So far, I haven't had any deadlines take me by surprise, and I haven't heard any complaints from my advisor that I'm not producing the right data, but with the annual grant review coming up, that may change. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Pondering Beyond Academia

On Twitter and in blog comments, BabyAttachMode has started an interesting conversation about if those who left academia regretted doing so. I've been thinking a lot about careers and "what next" lately, and the more I think about, the more I want to spend at least part of my career away from the academic research environment. There are a lot of reasons for this.

I'd like to have kids, and not feel so guilty about taking a reasonable length of time off for maternity leave. I know in my current situation, I'd be expected to at least be working from home within two weeks. My boss has no kids of his own, and some of his previous students have done just that, so that's what he expects. Not that I'm planning on any right now, but things happen.

I'd like to earn closer to what my husband makes. And that isn't going to happen in an academic postdoc. In a national lab, it's much more plausible, but many labs aren't near somewhere he could work. Also, there is some totally awesome research happening at the smaller labs like PNNL.

I miss working with people on projects that can be completed. Open-ended questions are interesting, but I miss being able to say I'm done with something, and mean it (see: project that won't die). I liked having a final product that I could point to and say I contributed to that part, over there. It's the part of me that identifies as an engineer instead of scientist.

Unlike most grad students I know, the majority of my friends are *not* in graduate school. I have my belly dance friends, my craft night crew, and I married out of the ivory tower. It helps keep me sane and grounded, and remember that there's more to life than papers and grants (like Brave coming out! The hair algorithms! Squee!) It also shows me how borked certain things in my current academic environment are. The only professor in my department who regularly seems happy are the 2 old guys who are || this close to retiring, and our two young Russian hot shots, who I'm pretty sure are a) crazy and b) rolling in grant money. And because they work all the time, it's not like they're miserable from 9-5 and then go have a life. This is what they do. Is it any wonder that the longer students are in graduate school, the less likely they are to want to pursue an academic career (can't find the article to cite)?

I'm also very lucky to have family that will understand and support either decision, with a very solid knowledge of what every option entails. I've got an aunt and 2 grandparents from academia, an uncle from the national lab system, and parents in a tech industry. When I was an intern at GiantEquipmentManufacturer, my boss had his Ph.D, as did his boss, and 4 of the 5 other people in our little group. Not only that, but they had degrees from all over the academic and geographic map.

Of course, the grass is always greener. But I can't help noticing that the grass over here is awfully brown lately.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Vacation? Ha!

I go to a craft group weekly made of of people who by and large aren't in academia. My favorite question recently has been "Aren't you less busy now that the semester is over?" Ha! Um... no. You see, summer is when program reviews are, when my PI finally has time to read our manuscripts, and swings back into micromanagement mode. Summer is, in fact, busier.

At this point, I'm done with required coursework. I've finished my teaching requirement. As such, research is now my daily job. While I have more flexibility than my husband to decide to knock off early and enjoy the weather once in a while, I'm still expected in the office, working, most of the time. My advisor asked if anyone was planning on being out of town for the 4th of July, and it was very clear that the correct answer was 'no'.

Pretty much the only difference it that there are fewer undergrads underfoot, so it takes less time to get lunch. Ah, the exciting grad school life...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

At Long Last...

After 2+ years on my advisors desk, 1 week fighting the submission website for the journal he chose and 3 days off nagging him to approve the final PDF, the paper is submitted!

Now, back to work on the next one...