What I learned from Dr. R.

One night this past summer, I met with Dr. R to drink beers and talk about boys at The Marlin. We rounded out our beer dinner with Reese’s and M&M’s, and ended up discussing the intricacies, mysteries, frustrations, and joys of intimate partnerships for hours. It was a wonderful evening, one I won’t soon forget (although I’d like to forget that I had candy and beer for dinner).

Dr. R is a bright person. She is also wise, a great listener, and an inspiring academic. My grad school friends and I miss her ready advice, ready laugh, and readiness to shotgun a beer or two or three.

I recently asked Dr. R to answer some questions describing a Day in Her Life as a post-doc. Read below for inspiration!

What is your research topic?

I am currently working on a project to understand the effects of logging and riparian management strategies on stream ecosystems. There are three separate components to the project: 1) meta-analysis on scaled effects of logging, 2) modeling cumulative impacts of logging on downstream ecosystems, and 3) field-based monitoring and experiments on mechanisms controlling ecological responses.

Describe your daily routine.

I wake up, make coffee and mosey around my apartment until it’s time to leave for work. On most days I try to get to the office between 9 and 10 am. After I arrive, I eat breakfast and drink coffee while I check email and write down what needs to get done that day/week. Then, my activities vary. If I am working on my primary research, I write, read and take notes, prep datasets, etc. I also am involved in several collaborative projects and tasks for those vary. My weekly schedule is also punctuated by seminars, reading group, and meetings with my lab, my supervisor, and collaborators. So I guess, I don’t really have a routine. Maybe it would help if I did!

What practices do you employ outside of work time to support productivity and enthusiasm once you’re in the office?

Lately I have been doing absolutely nothing on weeknights. I have a longer commute so I get home between 7 and 8 pm and then catch up with one or more of the following: [my husband], housework, my mom, news, social media, or occasionally a show on Netflix. I usually save socializing for the weekend. I would say these activities are restorative but I don’t necessarily think they help my productivity or enthusiasm. I feel that I am most enthusiastic about my work after meetings with close collaborators or following conferences/workshops. This is probably because I am an extrovert so close collaboration is very invigorating. I feel the most productive when I am working through a detailed work plan and have a structured day time work schedule followed by going to the gym.

What is the most productive part of your day?

I usually feel like I hit a writing groove between 4 and 6, sometimes even later. Lately, I have embraced this inconvenient scheduling since I am living alone. This is also why I tend to come in to work a little later in the day.

Do you have any rituals or habits that keep you going through the workday?

Three things come to mind – eating breakfast at my desk, pomodoro timers, and website blockers. Somewhere along the line I tricked myself into thinking that eating breakfast at my desk saves me time in the morning (which is almost certainly not true) but I have come to really enjoy this part of my day because now it’s associated with thoughtfully planning my day/week. If I skip this step, I find that I don’t get as much accomplished because I feel like I don’t have my bearings. I use pomodoro timers and website blockers as a way to fight work paralysis and hardwire will-power into my work habits. All of my favorite news sites and social media are blocked between the hours of 9:30-5 and this really helps with mindless web surfing/facebook checking. I use the timer if I am feeling “stuck” or unsure what I should be working on.

What do you admire most in your supervisors? Do your supervisors ever act in ways that compromise your respect for them?

The thing I admire most about my current supervisor is his unrelenting enthusiasm and energy for science. He is always excited about science and can often be found in the lab, processing his own samples. From what I can tell, he never has a day where he feels unenthused about his job. The flip side to this is that he can be out of touch with the lives/feelings/expectations of people who are not scientists (e.g. office staff). I don’t think it is intentional but he can come across as very elitist and privileged.

Do you ever feel that your efforts in graduate school go unnoticed? Describe.

Yes, but I am used to it by now so it generally doesn’t bother me. Actually, I would say that I have shifted my expectations around what activities/efforts of mine should be noticed so that I don’t feel unappreciated. I am also working on caring less about what others think and finding enjoyment and satisfaction in efforts that I think are worthwhile.

What is your favorite way to distract yourself from working?

I have noticed that I subconsciously trick myself into too much web surfing or getting sweets (e.g. poptarts) if I am feeling overwhelmed or stressed with work. This usually results in a guilt/shame spiral so even though it is the most common way I distract myself, it is definitely not my favorite way to procrastinate. Probably my most favorite way would be to grab a drink with a friend but this doesn’t seem to happen as much as it should.

What are some of your greatest doubts or anxieties surrounding your research?

My anxieties generally fall into two categories – am I smart enough to do what I was hired to do and/or are my ideas good enough to pursue.

In general, do you think that your fellow graduate students are healthy mentally and/or physically? Do you think that your graduate student environment is supportive and understanding?

My current lab group (comprised of ~4 masters students, ~4 PhD students, and 2 researchers in residence who I interact with on a regular basis) are extremely well-adjusted. They all have outside hobbies/commitments and work fairly regular hours. With the exception of 1 person, they all seem to be focused at work and engaged with their research as well as the broader scientific community. They are always impressing me with how motivated and bright they are. I think my department has a supportive environment [and] there does not seem to be same type of workaholic culture that I experienced at my previous institutions.

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