Wednesday, September 16, 2009

PhD Diary, Year Two: September, 2009

I've been struggling to come up with blog-worthy material lately. My rotation diaries were fun and easy to write, but now that I'm not rotating anymore, I need some new impetus to keep writing. I figured more diary-style entries would be easier to generate than other content, and will hopefully help me stay in the habit of blogging. I really enjoy reading other blogs, and I love getting comments from you all, so I really ought to put in the effort to keep this going.

With the semester in full swing, I've found myself struggling to manage my time. I'm not even taking any 'real' classes (I'm required to attend a weekly department seminar and a weekly journal club style discussion with my classmates), yet each week seems packed to the brim.

My first TA assignment has proved both time-consuming and rewarding. I attend regular lectures on Tuesdays and Thursdays, where I help keep track of attendance (a non-trivial task in a class of 99 students). The four other TAs and I have a weekly meeting with the course instructor to make sure we're all on the same page. I also hold a weekly review session, which thus far has been attended by about a dozen students each week. Finally, I had the opportunity to give one lecture from the syllabus during regular class time, which was my first real experience with that kind of thing. I talked for an hour about nervous system development, axon guidance, and synapse formation. Unfortunately, the class is an hour and fifteen minutes long... but students rarely complain about finishing early. I wanted to leave ample time for mishaps and questions, but I should have had some back-up "optional" material to throw in if I didn't use all the allotted time. Live and learn! Other than that, I think things went well. I've had enough practice giving talks at lab meetings and in classes that I'm over my stage fright and fairly competent at public speaking; I just wanted to do a really good job for these students. I've found the undergraduates in this course to be excellent students overall, always prepared for review sessions with thoughtful questions, so I don't think they'll suffer much from having a newbie lecturer for a day.

I'm also working in the lab, of course. After I spent most of the summer struggling with a project, my adviser and I consulted with an expert in the department. He considered my findings and the relevant published data relating to the project and concluded that I was chasing a nonexistent gene product. D'oh. It does make me feel better about all those failed experiments, at least. Since then I've had some time to regroup and I'm working on a couple of things in parallel.

One project involves growing cells in culture for many days, and the cells need attention even on the weekends. I don't mind Saturday morning jaunts to the lab, but because the bus I take to campus doesn't run on weekends, and my partner and I share a single car, I have run into some logistical issues. This weekend my partner will take the car to visit his parents in Florida, and thus I am unable to start a new experiment until next week. A labmate did volunteer to help me out, but I told her not to bother with my experiment unless she has other reasons to come in on Saturday and/or Sunday. In the meantime, I have other stuff I can work on.

Finally, I've become fairly involved with some student groups on campus, and the fall semester has brought lots of meetings and other events. The Third Culture interdisciplinary journal club has its first meeting next week (complete with complimentary coffee and bagels!). We'll be discussing interdisciplinarity in research and reviewing some articles on the subject. Subsequent meetings will focus on more specific topics that have interdisciplinary appeal. I've been thinking about history of science and similar subjects, but could use some ideas if you've got 'em.

I'm also really excited about the work I'm doing with Graduate Advocates for Work-Life Balance. The senior students who founded the group have already done a lot to explore issues of work-life balance for graduate students at Emory, but they've allowed me to share my opinions with them. Our eventual goal is to implement more progressive policies for parental leave, child care, elder care, and similar issues that affect the graduate student body. Some administrators have expressed interest in our projects, and we'll be speaking at the next meeting of the Graduate Student Council, so we're pretty psyched. We have a long way to go, but we're making some promising first steps, and meeting with the other students in the group is a continuing source of inspiration for me.

So, that's what I'm up to. I really want to get a new Research Blogging post out in the near future -- I'm presenting a critique of a Journal of Neuroscience paper for my journal club / seminar, so I have some material ready. It's just a matter of finding the time to type it up... always a challenge.


  1. since i'm reading a book on the social history and evolution of the scientific community, my self-serving suggestion for your Third Culture JC is the historical immersion of academics and intellectuals :) some of my thoughts on this can be found here:

    or here:

  2. I've been struggling myself to keep up with my blog. I have several ideas for new posts, but I've found myself working 16-hour days for the past 3 weeks both preparing to present my first year project in front of the Psychology department and struggling to keep up with this semester's TA assignment. The TA assignment is time-consuming enough - it entails leading 3 hours of discussion per week for two separate sections - but that combined with my first year project has meant the death of any free time I thought I once had. I'm hoping to get back on track with blogging and my life outside graduate school after I present my project on October 2, but who knows whether that will actually happen . . .

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