GTD + Bullet Journal Introduction

Displaying IMG_20180304_101120.jpgI’m a long-time user of the productivity system “Getting Things Done,” but I’ve been occasionally derailed by boredom, travel, and (ironically and counterproductively) deadline crunches. After moving back across the country, I hadn’t gotten back on the horse because there’s always something more urgent (or fun) to do than a wholesale review of my life.

I’ve also long had an eye on bullet journalling. It’s flexible, personal, and can involve fancy pens and even elaborate art if you like. I hesitated for two reasons. First, it just doesn’t seem right to use pen and paper in 2018. It doesn’t have all the affordances of a digital system, and it feels indulgent somehow.

After I finished and passed (yay!) my integrative paper, I needed to reorient myself to the many projects that were on hold for weeks before that deadline and to plan my next steps. Overwhelmed by the many projects and possibilities, frustrated by the difficulty of time-blocking in my digital calendar, inspired by my friend’s fancy journal tape (I am a sucker for a good craft supply…), and homebound with a busted rib, I did a lot of research and dove in.

There is a LOT out there about how to get started, and I’ll make a recommended resource list, but the best place to start with bullet journalling in my opinion, is with the basics. It’s tempting to look all the beautiful things people do with it, but because I am using my journal as a tool for future planning, rather than an artistic outlet or an archive, I avoided looking at the online communities until I had the system down (more or less.)

To be clear, I don’t have a problem with outlets and archives, and I am not a purist by any means, but I wanted a system that works for my functional needs first, and if I manage to make it pretty and fun to do, well, all the better :) I don’t plan to be a bujo celebrity on insta (they do exist) and I don’t expect you to be impressed with my system on an aesthetic level.

Starting next week, this series of posts will explain how I incorporate GTD principles into my bullet journal, and how I use it to stay on track in grad school and life.

Index of (planned) posts: 


  • Getting Started with Bullet Journalling
  • My GTD + Bujo System
  • Graduate School + Bujo
  • Tools
  • Trackers, Tricks, and Tips

Also, if there’s something not on this list you want me to write about, please leave a comment!

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A few days ago, I was working on a survey analysis in R— a statistical programming language. My boyfriend asked what I was up to, and I told him I was coding. He was, too. He asked me if I needed any help, and without thinking, I said, “No, thanks!”

This sound like a minor event to you, but for me, it was a signal of massive personal progress.

My mind enjoys the kind of problem-solving that coding entails, but my disposition is exceptionally ill-suited for it. I realized a few years ago that I am preoccupied by failure. My habit of mind was to believe both that failure is the end of the world, and also that I was constantly doing it. Of course, this does not comport well with learning by error message! It also isn’t compatible with an academic career.

Brandon introduced me to a model that has helped me understand this very problematic thought pattern: schemas. A schema is a sets of beliefs about ourselves and the world that may have been accurate or at least explanatory when we were children, and which we perpetuate as we grow up, even if they are not or are no longer true. In schema therapy, these are referred to as “Early Maladaptive Schemas.”

For example, in the book linked above, the author describes the failure schema as “the belief that one has failed, will inevitably fail, or is fundamentally inadequate relative to one’s peers in areas of achievement (school, career, sports, etc.)” The book also describes various ways that we might cope with schemas– sometimes not very healthily. I might surrender to my belief that I will fail by doing things haphazardly (because I believe I will fail anyway), I might procrastinate or avoid challenge completely (to avoid failing), or I might overcompensate by driving myself into the ground in search of success. I’ll fixate on any signal that could conceivably indicate that I have failed or will fail, and I will believe that no matter what I do to try to improve, I will continue to fail.

As you might guess, none of these are great, and none of them are compatible with success in any career, but certainly not one that involves as much rejection as academic publishing entails, or one that relies on diagnosing and learning from failure to progress, like coding does.

I have been working on addressing this (and some other) schemas I’ve held on to, and Brandon has been integral to that. He sat patiently with me and taught me the process of coding (failure and all) and helped me rewrite the messages I was telling myself while I was failing.

“Everyone has a hard time at first.”

“You can do it if you want to.”

“You are getting better.”

This was not a pleasant task–there were hours of tears and anger on my part, often times misplaced on the person trying to help me. Progress was very slow, and I often couldn’t see myself getting better (mmm meta-failure schema. So helpful.) He helped me see much sooner that I was getting frustrated.

“You’re doing great. Do you want to take a break?”

“What are you telling yourself right now?”

“What would I say to that?” or “What would you tell [a friend] if she told you that?”

Two years ago, I was sobbing after about 20 minutes of trying my first homework problem in Matlab, and bawling while trying to make a button in javascript. I needed help every step of the way, and even lashed out occasionally when I felt he was expecting too much of [stupid, incompetent] me.

But this time, I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t know the solution, but I was confident that I could figure it out. I didn’t expect to get it right the first time, and I knew how to learn from failure’s feedback. I knew that if I did need to ask for help, it wouldn’t be a verdict on my competence.

I couldn’t see progress in the moment, but looking back, it’s very obvious. I used to cry every time I tried to write code, and now I do it fairly often without a thought. Now, my code isn’t amazing by any means, but it has been tear-free for several months :) Maybe you don’t think that’s a huge accomplishment for a 31 year-old, but 27 year-old Karen would have never tried writing code at all.

Last week I celebrated this personal victory. Yesterday, Brandon and I celebrated 4 years together! 4 years of improving together. :)

I’d love to hear about your benchmarks :) Leave a comment, or send me a message!

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Pressure, Failure, and Happiness

I’ve read a lot in the last few years about what a poor choice it is to sacrifice 5+ years of good earning potential for a slim chance at a job where you’re under pressure from all sides. I’ve heard how horrible writing a dissertation is for your mental health, and how preparing to go up for tenure is even worse.

In “The Awesomest 7 year Postdoc,” Radhika Nagpal explains her approach to her first 7 years as faculty. Here’s what she did:

  • I decided that this is a 7-year postdoc.
  • I stopped taking advice.
  • I created a “feelgood” email folder.
  • I work fixed hours and in fixed amounts.
  • I try to be the best “whole” person I can.
  • I found real friends.
  • I have fun “now”.

Her argument is that pretending like it’s a post-doc and enjoying the time before tenure will take pressure (and stress) off your early career, free you up to make meaningful choices for yourself, and stop contributing to the all-work-no-life culture in academia.

I think it’s worth thinking about this in light of the eponymous theory in Shawn Achor’s “the Happiness Advantage.” The book is well-worth reading (life-changing for me), but in very very brief, the idea is this: we think that if we become successful, we will be happy, but the data suggest that it’s the other way around– that happiness breeds success.

In the short term, for example, students who are asked to of the happiest day of their lives before taking a standardized test do better. Doctors given a small gift before a test of their diagnostic skill came to the correct diagnosis faster, were more creative, and were more able to change their minds when presented with new information. Dedicated practice of happiness and optimism can change your mindset and change your results on tasks, and over time can change your mindset, making this so-called “Happiness Advantage” a feature of your work all the time.

Your beliefs not only effect your performance, they are changeable: people who believe they can improve (called a “growth mindset”– see Carol Dweck) are more likely to take new opportunities to learn and they learn faster!

There’s a lot more to the book than this (because it is a book, and this is a blog post), but I will focus on a couple key takeaways for the early academic career that might be good supplements to advice in “the Awesomest 7-year Postdoc.”

First, focusing on how much you prepared and your knowledge of the subject matter before a presentation could put you in much better stead than worrying about your tendency to fidget or the faults in the slideshow. Note that these aren’t empty affirmations or false flattery, but a simple focus on what you are actually good at instead of what you are worried about. This is shown to reduce anxiety and improve performance.

Second, taking time to list 3 good things about your day trains your mind to look for the positives and the possibilities.I have recently restarted a gratitude practice in my bullet journal– three things a day, big or small. Participants who wrote down three good things each day for a week were happier and less depressed, even one, three, and six months later. Also, people who attend to the positive are more likely to notice opportunities for personal gain and growth. Pretty easy advice to take for people in any career :)

The third one is especially close to my heart, since I’m sort of obsessively afraid of failure. People who see failure and negative events as an opportunity for growth are more likely to identify and capitalize on those opportunities.  Psychologists call it “adversarial growth,” or, in appropriate cases, even “post-traumatic growth.” When people were taught to prevent errors when learning software, they learned less, worked slower, were less accurate, and had fewer feelings of self-efficacy than people who were guided into mistakes while they were learning.  This inspired me to follow the folks at the now-defunct “PhD in Progress podcast,” and refer to these mistakes, detours, and even epic failures as “secret learning.”

Lastly, people who view their work as a calling (instead of a job or a career) find their work more rewarding, work harder, and get ahead– this is true of medical doctors, janitors, and administrative assistants, among others I’m sure. Achor suggests an exercise: rewrite your job description as a “calling description.” He recommends writing down all of the tasks you perform at work, especially those that “feel devoid of meaning.” Then ask, “What is the purpose of this task? What will it accomplish?” If the answer you write down still seems trivial, ask yourself what the result leads to, and write that down. He suggests continuing this process until you have connected every menial task to a big picture you care about.

Here– I’ll try. Grading can be a real PITA. It takes forever; it’s not fun, but it requires focus; and it often makes students mad at me. But, in the big picture, even if I still don’t love it in the moment, I know that grading is the key way I can give my students individualized feedback. Even though they may not appreciate it at the time, this is how we pass along not only the content but the process of my discipline, and of learning generally. More broadly, as much as *I* think my research is important (and I can hope my discipline thinks it’s interesting, too) teaching students is probably the main way I will make an impact on the world.

Do you have a task rewrite to share, or another happiness practice? Please share in the comments :)


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Summer, Take 2

It’s summer! And I’m in SoCal, where I can really enjoy it– see photo of a hike a few weeks ago :)



As you probably know, summer in graduate school is not quite the same as summer in other kinds of school, but it is a big change in routine.

For your first two years(ish) you’re probably going to classes most days during the semester and earning your keep– by working for your advisor, TAing or working in your department for example. A lot of the time, you will have 9 or 9.5 months of funding for that arrangement, and you need to find a way to support yourself over the summer. If you have 12 months of funding, you’ll keep doing what your doing. Either way, you probably need to continue getting money in the summer!

Classes ending is a double-sided coin. On the one hand, you have a whole bunch of free time! You could be working on your own research, catching up on lost time from finals, preparing for your next step, getting a lot of reading done… On the other hand, your days have lost a lot of structure, and that makes it harder to get things done.

But you know what looks a lot like this– unstructured time, lots of possible work, no classes? Dissertation time! So it would behoove you to use summers as practice for that independent work time that will sum up your PhD.

My first summer, I didn’t totally succeed at working with unstructured independence, but I did get a decent amount done, and I learned a lot. You can read more about that using the “summer” tag, but the basics of what I learned are this:

  • I need to carve out specific time for work, so get things done and I don’t feel guilty about not working all the time
  • I need to carve out time for relaxing so I don’t go bonkers
  • I need to find and support healthy activities for relaxing time that I actually find relaxing, unlike the activities I tend to choose for myself (reading reddit, reading facebook, reading reddit…)

This summer, I will be doing all of those things, plus carving out a specific place for work– updates on that to come.

As far as relaxing time goes, my current habit is to commit to doing at least one artsy thing (a craft or art project, hair dyeing included) or one social thing every day. Once I have the rest of my system in place, I’ll reevaluate how that’s working.

My open question for this summer is do I need to specify which time is for my advisor’s projects and which time is for my projects, or can I work to get the most urgent project (my advisor’s) done right away, and then work on my stuff if I have time later in the summer? (If you have any thoughts on this question, please leave a comment!

And enjoy your summer :)


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I moved!

So I’ve moved!

I was living near my University on the east coast for the two years it took to complete the coursework that was required/interesting, and now I’m back on the west coast to complete the rest of the requirements. If you have any questions about what that’s like, or how and why I decided to do this, leave a comment or send me an email! What I’ll try to do here is be honest about how it goes :)

So far, it’s worth noting that there was a much larger than I predicted disruption in my productivity (and equanimity!) When I moved to grad school, it took very little time. Sure, I’d accumulated some more stuff, but I figured that it’d take, what? a week to move? Hm. Yeah.

Here are the things I expected:

  • Pack, after work for the day was done
  • take a day off to sort out things with the movers
  • take a day to travel
  • plan a day to recover
  • take a day (at some point) to coordinate with movers on the other end
  • unpack, after work for the day was done

Here’s what I didn’t expect:

  • OH MY GOSH packing takes SO MUCH TIME. I cried more than I’d like to admit.
  • arrange with various people on LetGo/OfferUp/Craigslist to unload various things that aren’t worth paying to move.
  • making decisions about what to keep, trash, sell, donate and what things to do next is mentally exhausting. I was all but totally useless during the packing phase.
  • Travel was weirdly the easiest bit
  • Unpacking is easy, but you have to have somewhere to unpack *to*
  • Coordinating with the plumber, buying a dryer, selecting and setting up shelving, desks, storage… takes so much time

So realistically, I am still moving even though I arrived almost a month ago. Thankfully, I’m living close to a 24 hour coffee shop and a work buddy, so I’ve managed to arrange a semblance of a work life. Between moving chaos and now working far from my lab, without a dedicated, on-campus work space, I’m convinced I need to make my new workflow plan thoughtfully. More on that, and how it’s developed, soon!

And, as of today, I have a proper desk!  I think I’ll dedicate an entire post to this desk. It’s really amazing.

Moving is expensive (!!) but it is also exhausting, and time-consuming. However, almost every case, I wish I would have spent a little more money to make things easier and faster. (And if you’re a grad student, you know about how much I make– it’s really that stressful.)

The primary take-aways from this post are:

  1. it may be possible to move after your coursework is done.
  2. think and plan carefully about how you do this!

Good luck out there!

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Moral Judgement and Disgust

The importance of effective, accessible science communication that breaks through closed information loops is vitally important now. I wish I had seen this earlier. This is my practice and experimental ground, and I hope it also proves to be interesting and useful. Let’s get started.

During the 2016 US presidential campaign season, did you ever hear an argument from a candidate and find yourself reacting with disgust? I certainly did. Did you stop to wonder why, of all the reactions that could come from political disagreement– anger, sadness, disappointment, fear, focus– disgust was your first reaction in that moment? What does it mean for political discourse and the direction of the world?

Today, I’ll be talking about how disgust influences moral judgement, as studied in “Disgust as Embodied Moral Judgement,” by Simone Schnall, Jonathan Haidt, Gerald Clore, and Alexander Jordan.

I sought out this piece after listening to this great TED interview with Jonathan Haidt, whose book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, has been on my mind lately. If you don’t have the energy or time to both read this blog post and listen to the interview with Dr. Haidt, please check out the interview instead of this post :) I would be delighted if no one kept reading, but everyone who stumbled on to this post watched the video or picked up Haidt’s book!

To better understand how feelings of disgust affects moral judgements, the authors set up 4 experiments. In each, they caused people to feel disgust using different things, and then compared their behavior to that of people who were not exposed to the disgusting thing.

They prompted disgust in a different way in each experiment: by asking participants to remember a disgusting experience; having them sit in a gross workplace (with used tissues, dried up smoothie, a sticky desk, and more); showing them film clips, and releasing “fart spray”. (Yes, the phrase “fart spray” appears in this article.) Some participants got this disgusting “treatment,” and some did not.

Then, they asked the participants in both the disgusted group and the control (no disgust) group to respond to prompts designed to be different kinds of moral judgements. They were given short stories about fictional people doing something that could be considered immoral and asked to make a moral judgement about what happened in the story. Some of the vignettes were designed to evoke moral disgust and some were not. For example, one scenario described a person who ate his dead dog— which may evoke disgust– and another described a person lying on his resume.

The question, which was addressed somewhat differently in each of the 4 experiments, was “does a feeling of disgust that comes from outside (like the fart spray) influence moral judgements in scenarios that involve moral disgust more than other scenarios?”

In order to learn more and to make sure they are testing the right thing, the experiments had some variations. One experiment tested whether disgust from an outside source would influence moral judgement differently in people who are highly in touch with their physical feelings (like hunger– measured by Private Body Consciousness) than in those who are not.Another experiment asked whether nonmoral decisions were also affected by disgust, And finally, one experiment tried to disentangle the effects feelings of disgust from other negative feelings by comparing groups who watched a disgusting film clip with those who watched a sad film clip (and both with a group who watched a neutral film clip).

They found that physical disgust seemed to cause people to make more harsh moral judgements in scenarios that were designed to include disgust and those that were not! Those who were more in tune with their physical responses made much more harsh moral judgements, whereas those who were not as aware of their reactions did not make more harsh judgements. The affect of disgust did not spill over to nonmoral judgements, and sadness did not have the same effect.


What does this study mean to you?

It’s going to have me looking at my gut reactions (especially in political discussions) in a whole new light. Remember that disgust and contempt can have dreadful impacts on interpersonal relationships– the researchers who found the effects of contempt on marriage dubbed it one of the 4 Horsemen of the end of a relationship– so tread carefully when you feel contempt.

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Writing an Effective Literature Review Quickly(ish)

Chances are that, at some point during your research career, you will be asked to write a literature review.

It’s a great way to get to know the existing research on a topic, so I suggest you agree. And then, perhaps you will sit down at your computer with a stack (or perhaps a Zotero folder) of papers and stare at your screen for a long time before you break down and Google “how to do a literature review.”

Every time I sit down to write a literature review (even if I am in the middle of the same project as last time) it seems like I forget how to do it! So when my advisor asked me a few weeks ago to write one, I googled (again). In the interest of not forgetting next time, I took notes on my process. In the interest of sharing the wealth, I am going to write it out here for you :)

What is a literature review? This seems like a silly question for someone to ask if they’ve already written one, but I think it’s worth addressing. I’ve heard of a few things referred to as literature reviews: annotated bibliographies, “related work” sections of papers, stand-alone documents, and published synthesis papers, for example.

Before you start your lit review project, it’s worth trying to assess what kind of document you need. Often, your finished project will need to be a cited piece of prose, which will stand on its own or lay out your “research space” in a larger paper. Make sure that, as you read, you are aware of the context into which this paper will fit– look for rhetorical links to the ideas you’ll present in other parts of your papers.

If you are trying to build familiarity with the research or gather relevant papers for multiple, related projects, your best bet might be an annotated bibliography– something flexible or modular that you can borrow pieces from without collapsing a rhetorical structure. In my case, that’s exactly what I did. I even used workflowy, so I could easily move things around and use an infinite number of levels in my outline (I’ve been known to get carried away).

Process Overview

I search for keywords in Google Scholar. I supplement GS with my University’s worldcat subscription for books or hard to find titles. I read abstracts to find relevant articles, and save those to Zotero using the browser plugins. During this stage, I keep an eye out for new keywords in those articles that I can use to search.

Once I have a handful of seed articles (really, just a few), I start reading the introductions. These aren’t the most important parts to get a sense of the article’s place in the literature, but the are great for finding more papers, related topics, and keywords.

Before I go back and grab all these new papers, I set up a draft outline based on what I’ve read so far and the format I need. Then, I go back and read the methods (if necessary), results, and conclusions of the seed papers and sort them into my outline with a brief description of what you think you will need out of this paper. I put each paper in multiple categories sometimes– it may have more than one contribution and interesting methods, for example. This outline is going to evolve once we get more papers, but it’s worth having some kind of basic model in your head as you keep searching.

Now, I go back and find those cited papers, search for my new keywords, and look at related topics. This is an iterative process, so don’t get caught up on things being in order. For each batch of new papers, read what you need, write yourself some notes, and stick them in your outline.

For any literature review, you’ll need to be looking for larger models that tie papers together, gaps in the research, and disagreements among authors that can become or support your argument: keep an eye out and keep notes.

Then, if you need to, write it up!

Here are some tips and specifics

First, give yourself more time than you think it’ll take. When I was planning the lit review beforehand, I titled the workflowy list I made to keep notes “Lit review in 1 week.” LOL no.

Searching for literature

  • Track your keywords. You may need them later! Also, you can avoid redundant searches.
  • Use the cited by feature. Google Scholar tells you how many people cited a paper, and if you click on that citation count, it will bring you to a list of papers that have cited it. These papers may be similar and relevant, or not! You can search within citing papers by clicking the checkbox underneath the search bar.


  • Read what you need. I said this before, but it’s worth repeating. Only read in depth what you need for your purposes. If you’ve already read 15 similar intros, start skimming and skipping them. Keep an eye out in the abstract for contributions and novelty: did they use a method you haven’t seen yet? Better read that section.
  • Take notes. These are just for you, so don’t spend too much stress on them. Especially when you are just getting into an area of literature, it’s not always obvious when someone messes up, when there’s a big gap, or when it’s you who is misunderstanding. Feel free to ask these questions and make these critiques in your personal notes; they will be really useful later when half of them turn out to be useless, but the other half can show you the gap your research can address, or just make you look like a great critical thinker 😉
  • Note themes especially early on. These will help you make your structure!


  • Map themes. When you’ve read a handful of papers, start mapping the themes if an outline structure isn’t already obvious (or dictated by your format). I used the pencil on dead tree format for that this time, and it worked well. I did find myself wishing I had a white board for this step, though. You can draw lines to represent connections, try to group the ideas into themes, or anything else that seems useful to you to start framing your paper. What you want out of this is an idea of what the argument of your paper will be and the skeleton of your outline.
  • Find a story. I hear this all the time in academic writing advice, and I honestly find it a little frustrating. What does that mean?? I could (and perhaps I will!) devote a whole blog post to this subject, but the TL;DR is that your paper should make an argument. Organize your ideas around your argument.
  • Sort papers into your argument or outline. Look for holes to search for more papers.


  • Create section headings in your document based on the structure you created
  • Re-read your notes for the papers in each section. If you need to fill in some details, go back to the abstract or appropriate section of the paper.
  • Write up the parts of the research that are important to your argument in your own words, and cite carefully.
  • Add your own synthesis or ideas that support your argument
  • Conclude with a summary, what it means, and why it is important.

Productivity tips: I used the Pomodoro technique this time around, and set goals for myself every day. For example, once I got into the reading groove it’d be something like “read, note, and outline 7 papers.” I’d work in intervals of 20 minutes with a 5 minute break in between for up to 5 hours. I had a hard time keeping track in Zotero of which papers I’d done and not, so I would copy and paste the notes I took for the paper into a Note in Zotero and sort the whole folder by how many notes each paper has. Not perhaps how it’s designed, but it worked :)

I hope this all helps! Do you have ideas about how I can improve my plan? Any particular road bumps you encounter in a lit review? Leave a note in the comments and we can try to make lit reviewing better :)

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Summer updates

I am hanging on in the Machine Learning MOOC! Week 9; barely! I am trying to keep my eye on my progress and focus on how much I have actually learned instead of how frustrating it is to repeatedly get something wrong for several hours in a row.

I was talking to some friends about defining characteristics of success in their occupation, and persistence came up as a candidate for computer science. Persistence is definitely a weak spot for me, and I’m learning both machine learning and programming simultaneously, so this class has been a real trial. Hopefully I will be able to look back on it in the future and say, “if I can finish that machine learning class, I can do this!”

I have mostly stopped weekly planning. Travel, having guests in town, committing to a new project, and trying out a new objective setting plan have colluded to derail that project. I learned a lot, though, and I wholly recommend trying it, even if the lessons you learn are from what stops you 😉

Speaking of which, I’ve started daily objective planning. As part of testing an app my partner is building, I’m setting objectives to further my life’s current projects. I can’t wait to share more info about that app with you, but for now, the practice of daily objective setting generally has been really effective for me. Putting each objective under a large-scale project that I believe is important has been just as motivating as the crossing off of them each day. I have a bigger-picture view of my life and a better ability to balance the urgent with the important.

I fly back startlingly soon and have a lot to do! I’m working on a literature review, so I will have lot of actual science content to share with you shortly :)

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ComSciCon Cornell 2016

cornellHave you ever gotten the sense that your journal articles, press releases, or blog posts are little more effective than shouting into a void? I feel you!

I’ve recently returned from Ithaca, New York, where I attended a ComSciCon conference: a workshop for graduate students about tactics, strategies, and even whole careers in effectively communicating about science to people who aren’t familiar with the field.

Writing has always been important to me, and one of the reasons research is an exciting career to me is because of how much writing it involves. I’ll finally have something worth writing about!

But graduate students often don’t have formal requirements or even available courses about how to reach non-scientists. In my program, we are lucky that one of our first-year courses (called “the Engaged Intellectual”) covered what it means to be a public figure as a scientist, and a few ways of doing so. I (predictably) got excited about the idea of writing for non-scientist audiences, and I started this blog after taking that course! I am so glad I was alerted to the options about public communication of science in my first semester so I can pounce on opportunities to develop the skills and experience I’ll need.

ComSciCon offered talks and panels with practical advice about writing, being interviewed by the press, and even interacting with policy-makers. I loved hearing about all kinds of science that I know nothing about: diseases in cattle, lasers, cancer treatments, and bees that live under ground, to name a few. We each wrote a piece intended for general audiences, got peer feedback, updated our drafts, and then got expert feedback. There were lots of interactive exercises and a chance to give and hear a 60 second “pop talk.” The food was good, too :)

A big takeaway from the conference for me is that I can do this. From where I sit, it feels like I only just now am seeing how much there is to learn and how little I know. Who am I to write as an expert? But ComSciCon helped me see that there’s a lot I can in fact offer, and perhaps I can bring some sense of the wonder and curiosity and creativity involved in science to my science writing. The idea that “I know so little!” is closely followed by, “Let’s go find out!”

So how will ComSciCon change my life?

First, I’m going to start thinking more about policy. I came into it looking for tips and feedback, but I left actually quite excited about policy. I care a lot about politics, but I’ve done very little (other than vote, of course) because I haven’t felt like I could. Knowing that my research can help inform policy and that politicians are actually interested in talking to scientists was really empowering and exciting!

Second, I am going to write more about science. Mostly I’ve been writing about what it’s like to be a graduate student because those are the kinds of blogs I read before heading off to school. But maybe that’s not all I can offer. It would be good practice for me to write up findings from studies I’m reading in Regular Human English, a good opportunity to think about its broader impacts, and perhaps interesting to the general Internet. I learned at the conference that 58% of online adults have a broad interest in science and technology, but it comprises only 2% of news coverage. I’m not going to fill that gap alone, but it’s encouraging to know that there are people who wouldn’t find it boring if they stumbled on to it :)  So look forward to more posts about the kinds of science I am reading and doing!

Third, I am going to talk about the excitement of doing science in this venue and elsewhere. Somehow, I made it all the way through elementary, middle, and high school, plus 5 years of college and a Master’s degree without noticing how exciting science is. As a kid, I definitely got the sense that adults were excited about science, but I could never figure out why. Science class meant memorizing old findings, writing super formal reports, and doing “experiments” which were in no way experimental– the adults in the room knew exactly what would happen. I never noticed that being a scientist would mean asking questions that no one knew the answer to and working out how to find the answer. Science class involved no creativity (except when we got to make a poster!) and actual science feels like all creativity, all the time (except when I have to make a poster 😉 Neither science class nor social studies clued me in to the fact that social science exists and is fascinating. I wish I would have noticed this sometime before my mid-twenties, so I’ll try to pass along my enthusiasm.

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How I learned to stop worrying and love the bubble bath

Remember when I said I was going to reflect weekly? Well, the weekly part hasn’t worked exactly, BUT the spirit of the project (continuous improvement to my schedule for work and play) has been consistent and beneficial.

Here’s the biggest thing I’ve learned:

I must make room for my humanity.

This may sound weird and woo to you, which is fair–  you can reword it however you like. The point is, about two weeks ago, I was getting into daily self-soothing spirals of unproductive and un-fun messing around. First, it was reddit and facebook. Literally, I would read one until I ran out of content, then switch to the other. Then, I downloaded “Two Dots.” Ya’ll, this is important: do not download Two Dots. After I deleted Two Dots, I went back to reddit and facebook.

This happens for me when I am stressed out or overwhelmed by something that I should be doing, or if I’m not taking care of myself. Not only was my work suffering, but my relationships were, too. I was grouchy because I felt guilty, and I felt more guilty for being grouchy.

So, I downloaded an extension for Chrome called “Block Site” and instructed it to redirect requests for “” or “” to list I created in Workflowy of things to do that I would enjoy and would make me feel refreshed. These things were a plausible and attractive alternative to social media loops, and have an ending point– something to accomplish.

There are big things on this list– like “hike Mount Woodson (for real this time),” but they are mostly small things. I could walk to a nearby grocery store for a fruit popsicle and go read with in in a nearby park. I could paint my nails, or watch a TED talk, draw or color. I could read in the bath or on the pier. Or I could write in this blog.

I feel so much better when I’m done with one of these things, and by the time I’m back, I’m usually ready to get back to work. If I’m feeling up for it, my “work” reading is on the same Kindle as the Neal Stephenson novel I’m into right now, so I can adjust my level of work based on my level of energy.

I was trained (as I’m sure many of you were) by school to “NO EXCUSES WORK RIGHT NOW ALL THE TIME.” That doesn’t mean I didn’t procrastinate, it just meant I felt a constant hum of guilt and worry when I did anything other than work. This ethic does not allow for being kind to yourself, discourages you from trying something you might fail at, and it doesn’t prioritize reading your mind and body’s signals that are telling me how much work I can make myself do. When I was ignoring these signals and buying into the guilt-driven work ethic, I would feel bad for so much as getting out of my chair. Therefore, when I felt tired or unsure, I would stay put. And I would open a new tab. Of course, all I had to do was type “f” and my browser knew what to do ( from there!

So far, this has made a big difference in my work and state of mind. Notably, I haven’t been on reddit at all in 2 weeks. I am nicer to be around, and more likely to be available when my friends invite me somewhere. Also, there’s a fancy grown-up coloring book on its way from amazon today : D

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