Monday, December 14, 2009

Priorities

The order in which I get things done (roughly) when sorting through a massive to-do list.

1. Quals. I had a written qualifying exam recently (we had to write a paper critiquing a journal article) and basically dropped everything else to work on it. I mean, if I mess this up, they kick me out of grad school, so I'd better take it seriously. (I've since heard back from the DGS that I passed. Woohoo!)

2. Teaching responsibilities. In general, I'm more likely to do work when someone else is depending on me than when only my own butt is on the line. This is especially true when the dependents are a bunch of undergrads, with whom I feel a special kinship because I used to be them. It's been wonderful working with the students this semester, and I'd hate to let them down in any way, so I'm very diligent about grading, preparing review sessions, and answering questions over email or the course message board. I'm also quick to volunteer for teaching-related tasks when my supervising professor asks around the pool of TAs. I find it rewarding. While there are many things that I don't know, I thankfully have a firm grasp of undergraduate level neuroscience, and I enjoy putting that knowledge to use. Especially when failed experiments have left me feeling like a useless moron.

3. Coursework. A lot of my coursework this semester has been seminar-based. This means listening to my classmates give a talk and providing them with feedback. I like hearing what they're up to, although I'm occasionally intimidated by all the super-smart folks in my program. I do everything I can to help them out, because they're my friends, and they've done the same for me. Classes also provide me with a lot of distinct, attainable goals (study for this test and ace it, research and write this paper, make this presentation and give the talk), unlike labwork, where the carrot seems to be constantly dangling just out of reach. When I finish my work for a class, it's really finished, and I can move on to other things.

4. Experiments. I'm still struggling to find the best strategy for Getting Things Done in the lab, especially as I juggle items 1-3 on the list above. Next fall, I'll be finished with quals, teaching, and courses, so it will be easier to plan my lab time. As it is, I'm trying to stay organized and break things into manageable chunks that can fit in around other obligations. My adviser has helped with this by encouraging me to think of smaller tasks (like, "order primers" rather than "complete Aim 1 of my NRSA") and to plan things out far in advance so I don't get overwhelmed. I've started adding these smaller action items to my calendar, and I feel very industrious when I have a full agenda (even if it contains things like "make LB/agar plates"). My labmates have also been extremely helpful, suggesting new things for me to try and training me in techniques. I have a long list of experiments planned for January. If all goes according to plan (hey, a girl can dream...), I should have lots of fresh data to play with in the next month or two.

5. Extracurricular activities. This is how I'd describe my work with Emory Women in Neuroscience (EWIN), Graduate Advocates for Work-Life Balance (GAWB), the Third Culture Journal Club, and other side projects (like organizing an event for Rebecca Skloot at Emory -- everything is coming together, so keep your eyes peeled for more information about that!). I find these projects inspirational when they're in the planning stage, and immensely satisfying when things work out. Even if the end product is nothing more than a successful meeting, I feel like I've done a good thing. I've concluded that I really like working with people on projects like these, and I'd like to keep it up when I move on to my future career. As it is, I don't have a ton of time to devote to these things, but I'm slowly building a network of people who have given me lots of help in bringing my (our) ideas to fruition.

6. Social life. Most of my local friends are fellow grad students, so even when we're swamped with work, we find some time to catch up over lunch on campus. My program is full of really fun people who can sometimes coax me out of my office and into a fabulous party. And, my live-in partner provides me with constant companionship and emotional support when I'm freaking out about a deadline. I struggle to make time for all of these important people (as well as the ones who aren't local -- my family, my friends from college and beyond...) and I hope I do a decent job. My partner and I eat a home-cooked meal together almost every night, and my friends and I keep in touch through Facebook when we don't have time to meet up for shenanigans.

7. Housework. Man... you don't even want to know how much laundry I have piled up right now.

8. Blogging. Sorry, guys.

Looking forward to checking more things off my list in 2010! I hope you all have a lovely holiday season and a restful break between semesters.

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