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 :)

IMG_4099

 

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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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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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 “facebook.com” or “reddit.com” 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 (-acebook.com) 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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MOOC Week 2: In Which I Cry More than Once

This week in our Machine Learning Coursera class, we had an assignment! So far, we’ve just had formative and evaluative assessments, but today we had to actually program something. I am, let’s say, “under-experienced” with programming. Up until yesterday, my programming accomplishments have been: messing with existing HTML/CSS to make my website pretty, a couple codeacademy courses more than a year ago, and a statistics class, in which I wrestled with R every week to find the correct freaking working directory. Once, with lots of help, I made a button in Javascript. It counted how many times it was pressed. It took hours to make and I cried, but eventually, it worked.

the bowl-shaped plot of a cost function
A cost function, J(θ), for a univariate regression model. Here, θ is a matrix of two values, which are represented on the lower axes: a coefficient for one variable x and a y intercept.

Our assignment yesterday involved programming a Cost Function (in ML, a function mapping the sums of squared errors resulting from potential regression coefficients applied to the same data, which are serving here as training data) and the meaty part of a gradient descent algorithm– a program that will grope around on that cost function (hopefully in an orderly way) to find its minimum. The goal of this exercise is to find the point where the error between the model’s predictions and the actual values are the lowest: the best model to predict future data.

Well. As you can imagine, this was somewhat harder than my hard-won Javascript button. It also involved a lot of matrix algebra, which I had happily forgotten existed up until a week ago.

I made my life significantly more difficult by leaving this assignment to the last day– a day on which I had a brunch to go to and a class to teach. I think you can see where this is going?

Fortunately for me, Brandon took the time while I was teaching to do the assignment first. I would have flunked out last night if it weren’t for him. OK, let’s be honest, I would have flunked out in week 1 if it weren’t for him.

What he discovered, through much annoyance on his part and much to my relief, is that the assignment as written looked very long and complicated (15 pages of instructions!) but really consisted of editing 3 files. It took me a while to believe him and stop reading the assignment instructions, but– let it be known across the Internet (and especially among future Coursera students)– he was right! Saved me hours I did not have to spend parsing the assignment doc.

Of course, it was still difficult. Not only was I having to re-google matrix algebra repeatedly, I had never used Matlab before and had forgotten nearly everything I learned about writing code. The assignment took almost all the time I had available (even with a generous amount of help from B). Repeatedly running code and getting “inner dimensions must agree” was abundantly frustrating. I didn’t have time to take a break and recoup or calm down or be grateful for my progress– I had to get the assignment in by midnight. This is all complicated by my false and self-fulfilling belief that I am inherently bad at math and my long-running battle with a paralyzing fear of failure. By the time I submitted the assignment, I didn’t feel much relief or accomplishment– I felt I was about 11 years old, crying at the dinner table with my dad, trying to get through my algebra homework.

Obviously, we can’t have this happening every weekend for the rest of the summer. So here’s the new plan:

When I feel frustrated, I will take a break. I’ll get a glass of water, take a walk, or lay down for a bit and encourage myself. Remind myself of all the benefits of not getting something right the first time.

We aim to get the assignments done by Tuesday. They are due Sunday night, so we will have plenty of time to be kind to ourselves.

We will keep evaluating the plan so we can make it better if need be.

From this week forward, I’ll be trying to see this class as an opportunity to learn to use failure as a tool for learning (in addition to its curricular topics and Matlab benefits : )

 

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First summer weekly reflection

Today I did my first reflection on my weekly schedule. As I explained last week, I am trying to continuously improve my work habits so that I am as effective as possible by the time I have a huge, independent dissertation project on my plate in a year or so.

Here’s what I observed this week:

  • I did not stick to my schedule on weekends. Although my Saturday is indistinguishable from my Monday, the same cannot be said for my friends! I want to maintain and improve my social connections, which I rarely have the opportunity to do since my move, so it’s important to me to carve out time for friends and family.
  • My starting time is manageable. My first draft of the weekly schedule included 5 hours of work per day, 7 days a week. I worked from 11:30 am to 4:30 pm. I started that late so I could enjoy staying out or up late on an occasional “work night” since every night is a work night :) I found it easy to be working by 11:30, and could consider moving it up a bit if necessary.
  • I don’t need a lunch break. I had scheduled one in last week’s draft, but didn’t use it. I will get rid of it, and I will think this week about breaks. Studies show that they are important for productivity and health, so I will need to include them.
  • Ambiguous work tasks tank my productivity. I spent nearly entire work day completely wasting my time until I realized that the task on my plate was intimidating and confusing because I didn’t know what specific things to do to accomplish it best. “Work on the paper” is too vague for me.

Here’s how I addressed each observation:

  • Weekends. This one is an open question still.Each draft of my schedule includes a section for “open questions” to acknowledge and focus my attention on unsolved problems. I may not have an answer for every problem right away, and I refuse to let the perfect be the enemy of the good in this project. I had to adjust my weekend schedule anyway because I took on a class on Saturdays, so I’ll experiment with this new schedule and see whether it’s easier or harder. I have another idea to solve this waiting in the wings, but I want to change my schedule incrementally so I can get the best picture of what actually works.
  • Starting time. I decided to stick with the 11:30 starting time for another week to solidify the habit of daily work at a comfortable time, but I will consider moving it earlier for the following week. My goal for evaluating start times will finding one that supports the most productivity during the day, not starting as early as possible for earliness’ sake.
  • Breaks. I eliminated the lunch break and brought in another project that had originally been relegated to free time. I’ve added breaks to my open questions and plan to observe my needs and existing habits for breaks closely over the next week.
  • Ambiguous work. This last week, when I wasted a day I redeemed it near the end by using GTD’s project planning technique to clarify my goals, define my desired outcome, and create concrete, goal-oriented “next actions.” This cleared up my thoughts and the next day, I was back on track.

Draft 2 is on paper!

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Summer plans!

I’m trying a new thing this summer. I want to meet some specific goals in terms of each of three priority projects this summer, but I struggle to remain productive with unstructured time.

I’ve devised a plan for my work days that will support those goals and will help me build on what I learn so that when I have to, say, write a dissertation, I won’t have to figure it out from scratch.

Here’s the plan.
1. Get up to date in GTD. GTD is a productivity system laid out in the book “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. I have tweaked it slightly for my own needs and implemented in in workflowy. The system and software work really well with each other and with my mind, when I am actively using them. The end of this last semester threw me off a bit, so my first goal will be to get my list back up to date. This included narrowing down all the projects I am interested in to the ones I am planning to actively work on this summer. It also includes setting up a time for a “weekly review” so that I keep my list up to date and in line with my priorities.

2. Plan out my week. Although it’s not specifically sanctioned by GTD, in order to make sure I’m spending my time in appropriate proportions on my projects (not just on what seems most urgent or interesting that day) I’ve scheduled out work time for each of my projects during the week. I plan to work about 5 hours per day, 7 days a week.

My first draft of the plan started with a list of the projects I’d identified as important. I allocated a number of hours per week to work on each, and then drew a map of each of the seven days. Along with blocks for each project, I included regular calls, lunch, and maintenance tasks like cleaning. I also have a space for “Open Questions” on the planning page that will serve as prompts for the next step.

3. Reevaluate. On the same day as my weekly review, I have time planned to write about what I’ve learned about working when I have autonomy over my time. This will give me a time to reflect and adjust my plans if I need to.  A week will give me a chance to test out every aspect of the plan before altering it, but each new plan will be lower-pressure: it’s not My Life Plan, it’s just what I’ve committed to for the week.

The written reflections will help me learn week-to-week and help me understand the effects of each change. Hopefully, by the time this summer is over, I will have not only a solid routine established, I will also have a better understanding of how I work and what my options for a routine are so that I can apply all of that knowledge to new circumstances in the winter, next summer, and during my dissertation work.

Commit, test, reflect, adjust. That’s the plan.

I’ve got time planned in my week for blogging, so I will keep this up to date :)

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Downs and Ups

It’s finals time!

I thought I’d throw up a quick post to talk about what the end of the semester looks and feels like, rather than waiting until after I’ve recovered.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • At the end of our first year, we do a review of our progress with a committee. It went well, but compiling the materials consumed a lot of time and thought. The process and the review was a very productive exercise in thinking about my career, so it was worth it. I may to a future post about first year reviews.
  • I took an extra class this term, which I don’t recommend. It was interesting, and supposed to only be IMG_2194two credits’ worth of work, but it turned out to be a lot throughout the semester, and it added significantly to my end-of-semester workload. Today we gave our final presentations, and although the class and its content were great, it’s a relief that that’s over.
  • I bit off more than I could chew for a big final project and I’m excited about the outcome enough that I’m going to do the work instead of scaling it down, but intrinsic motivation is a double-sided coin. That’s how you end up with to-do list like this one.
  • I stayed up really late last night on accident. I wasn’t even doing anything useful, I was relaxing with Gilmore Girls!

So this morning, I had to be at school for a talk and a class. It turned out to be well-worth the short sleep– the talk was about how the idea and practice of trigger warnings have evolved, how they are used, and how they do (or don’t) function in the college classroom.

For some reason I can’t explain, I got really sad in the time between that talk and my class. I’m not used to acknowledging my feelings, so I may never get to the bottom of this one, other than that I was tired and it didn’t take much :)

I tried to take a walk, but the outside is full of people. I sent a text to my partner, but it was early on the west coast, and he was still asleep. Eventually, found a comfortable chair somewhat out of the way, made myself some tea, and meditated a bit.

It helped a lot to acknowledge how I was feeling, and that it was OK. Someone from my lab even asked if I was OK; I lied to him (Sorry!– bad socialization) but I really appreciated it. For what it’s worth, I think he– and anyone in my department– would have understood. After all, they were grad students once.

So the end of the semester is challenging, as you’d expect. But even though most of the stress is my own fault, I wouldn’t trade it. I’m excited about my occupation for the first time ever, and I am confident I can make it (also pretty rare for me :).

To conclude, I’ll share this Facebook post I made last week about this same paper (that of the big to-do list). I am very happy to stand behind it, even on this less-than-easy day.

Screen Shot 2016-05-10 at 10.46.50 PM

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The Alternative?

This is a “reprint” of a post I wrote for an in-class, private blog as an assignment last term, slightly edited. It is a response to articles about mental health challenges in graduate school; something like this one.

I was inspired to fetch and post this publicly by a conversation I had with some more senior (and one former) graduate student today about whether and how we were prepared for the intellectual and emotional work of grad school.

I post this with gratitude to my friends whom I mention here, all now PhDs in their own rights :) 

I feel lucky to be here.

I am aware————————–de=erd   [<– this is the contribution of my cat, Mandelbrot! I’ll use this occasion to try that sentence again]

I was convinced for most of my life that I was only possessed of aptitudes for which I could not be paid: drawing, painting, poetry, the verbal sections of standardized tests, and getting things down from high shelves. This would have been fine– that’s what hobbies and short roommates are for!– except it also turned out that I was pretty bad at doing things that did pay, and pretty miserable doing them, too. I thought I was just not very clever, and rewarding work wasn’t in my future, until I met some grad students.

I had this impression that in order to pursue a PhD, you needed to be some kind of savant– that if I were to meet people who were doing so I’d have so little in common with them that we couldn’t even communicate. But I was way off.

The graduate students I met were sharp, of course, but also friendly and fun! They had meaningful conversations thoughtfully, and, surprisingly, they cared about *my* thoughts, too. They wanted to know what I was curious about, what my ideas were. They even thought some of my ideas and questions were good, and I felt like I was a real, equal partner in our discussions. Meanwhile, at work, I would be asked for my opinion, ignored or over-ridden by someone senior to me, required to execute and stand behind something obviously stupid, and then told to clean up after those ideas went wrong.

And the more I got to know my academic friends, I noticed something really amazing. More than anyone I knew, they sincerely loved their work. People say, “don’t ask a grad student about their thesis topic,” and I can’t think of worse advice. I mean, yeah, don’t ask when it will be done, but if you like to learn,  the person to ask is someone who taken on huge opportunity costs to become an expert in a topic that they care about. So they were experts, they worked hard, and they loved their work. I quickly grew to love graduate student parties, because I could go around and ask, “so what do you study?” It might take a few follow-up questions to convince them I was actually interested, but eventually, I could learn a ton about something from someone who knows all about it, and gave up what is often considerable income potential because they care about it so much.

The value surplus of my friends’ work expand the human knowledge by pin pricks, and I worked to– what exactly? prevent a start-up from failing? Make some board members (marginally more) wealthy?

So if there’s a checklist, my friends had autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and I had none of the above.

After being told by a senior executive that I was here to be “something nice to look at,” being spied on, and finally asked to do something unethical, I quit my last start-up job, and I promised myself I wouldn’t find another until I took those GRE books out of my trunk and put them to use.

I spent the next year gathering research and teaching experience to give this an honest shot. By the time I got into this, I had seen my friends go through comps, prospectus defenses, dissertation defenses, and the job market. It looked terrifying, though they all handled it with grace. They confessed it was brutal, and it was totally worth it.

The choice was perhaps easier for me than them, even with open eyes to the difficulties, because the payoff–rewarding work– was a unicorn I never dared believe existed (and frankly my alternative was pretty shitty.)

My partner, Brandon, persuaded me to write a plan (in GTD style) for how I’d get in to graduate school. I went back to check it out (had to go look in the “Completed” section by the way– what a trip!)  Here are the purposes and principles for my “get into graduate school” project:

  • Enjoy learning and researching for 4-7 years, and expand human knowledge by a pin prick at a time
  • Qualify for a career in which I can continue to enjoy learning and research (in academia or industry)
  • Qualify for a career in which I can continue to expand human knowledge (pin pricks at a time)
  • Qualify for a career in which I can spread enthusiasm for science among people like me, who initially were intimidated or uninterested
  • Qualify as a expert in something, about which I can write
  • Qualify for a career in which I could feel autonomy, mastery, and purpose
  • Have an income for 4-7 years
  • Expand my social network with more thoughtful, invested, ambitious people
  • Publish a first-author paper
  • Don’t idolize R1, TT jobs
  • Don’t put your name on half-assed work

Fortunately, all of these things can be accomplished if I end up working in industry. So as as intimidating as the pressures created by the structure of academia are, and as much as I want to fix the issues that plague the academy for the sake of current professors and undergraduates, I am walking in with open eyes and and a back up plan.

It’s fun to end with a photo, so here is Mandelbrot gloating about her astute blog contribution.

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