Thursday, January 31, 2013

Learning From Negative Example IV:

See previous installments: I, II and III

Sometimes, you just have to let one thing go in the name of getting three more things done
When a student has graduated and is completely noncommunicative about a manuscript, and you have another student who is still here *begging* you to read their papers, maybe spend some time on the project more likely to bear immediate fruit?

Tell students about deadlines
Yes, we should all be working hard all of the time. But there is a research equivalent of a sprint, which cannot be maintained for the length of a marathon. If you tell me about deadlines more than a day in advance, I can ramp up effort on the related project accordingly. I can't read your mind.

Don't get so caught up in details you miss the big picture
When you read a paper, read for content first, and then read for style and grammar. If it's not truly awful, give feedback on the science first (since that's what takes the most time for us). Don't be afraid to hand it back and say "Get someone else to read this" or "Reread this and try again" instead of nitpicking every sentence. When you ask for ideas for projects, don't get obsessed on one detail to the point of refusing to listen to further ideas (especially when we're telling you that what you want to do is impossible).

There's overselling, and then there's promising them a flying pink pony 
I get that grants need to be impressive, but when you promise to send someone to the moon with pocket change, the reviewers are going to reject you because you clearly don't know what you're doing.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Escaping the Echo Chamber

Chemjobber and Vinylogous are having an interesting conversation about mental health in chemistry graduate programs, much of which is directly applicable to my own experiences. The comments show I'm certainly not alone in having a neglectful advisor who then occasionally smothers me with attention.   In the comments, there's also a lot of talk of the need for institutional support systems.

I've found that far and away, the most important thing I can do for my mental health is this: talk to people who aren't in grad school. 

Talking to other grad students tends to devolve into pissing matches of who has the worst advisor (with smug thumb twiddling from the few with good advisors). While it can be cathartic on occasion, it gets very dark and depressing to spend that much time focusing on the negative parts of grad school. It's also *really* depressing when other people are complaining about something, and you're just thinking "Wow! They get feedback! I wish I got feedback!".

Frankly, I'm in a much better place emotionally than I was at this time last year. Nothing has really changed about my advisor or the stresses in my working environment. We finally got the first paper out, but reviewer data killed the next three I'd written, so that's a wash.

Now, I have a much better group of friends who have nothing whatsoever to do with grad school. I have a weekly craft night (aka Stitch and Bitch night), and belly dance classes. It really helps me put grad school back in perspective. I have fairly flexible hours, in that I'm not forced to work third-shift. As a computationalist, I can work remotely if I want to (and don't need certain software licenses...) It's also a nice ego boost to be considered smart again, instead of average at best.

I still have stress-triggers that can turn me into a wreck, such as having multiple people ask me "So when are you graduating?" in too short of a time frame, and thinking about how slowly my advisor reads is a good way to get me in a destructive mood. But guess what? These topics come up rather less often when you're not talking about school.

Of course, there are other coping mechanism, like finding other mentors for feedback, and solo hobbies, and whatnot, but sometimes, you just need to escape the echo chamber.