Saturday, July 11, 2009

Leveling Up

I've been slacking since the end of May. It was a real crunch point while I finished my Master's thesis and took PhD qualifying exams, and I don't think anybody can fault me for taking it easy for a while after I finished those things.

But life needs to move on now. It's been six weeks, and that is enough for me to completely unwind and recuperate. I've taken vacation to see my family, I've wandered around doing sightseeing I've always meant to do, I've read books for pleasure, I've done a bit of physical labor, and I've gotten in the habit of cooking delicious healthy meals. I'm ready to work again.

And I have the feeling I need to "level up" in my academic life.

As I listen to my labmates, and talk with my officemates, I'm realizing that there really is another level required of me for PhD work (as opposed to a Master's). I remember having this same realization as I moved through each point in my life - from highschool to community college, from community college to undergrad university, and then when I moved from a bachelor's to a Master's. At each point there is this feeling that the bar has shifted. Up. By a lot.

This bar-shifting used to really bother me - I would think, have I not done ENOUGH? Why is now MORE being required of me? Will I ever get to the point where I don't have to work so HARD anymore? Is what I do NEVER good enough?

But I think that line of thought just leads to bitterness with life. Perhaps I'm getting wiser (or just older), but I now realize this higher standard in each stage of life is not to point out my shortcomings, but allow me opportunities to grow as a person.

I don't know how to accomplish this, really. I can't just tell myself "Okay, GROW!" But I have to take a stab and start somewhere. So here are some of the things I need to start doing:

1. Start working again (not so much a part of "leveling up", but just because I can't slack off forever....)
2. Write down the long-term research goals I have, so I don't lose sight of those in day to day experiments.
3. Get myself current in reading literature (I haven't read any new papers in my field since last December when I did the lit review for my thesis)
4. Set up an RSS feed of new papers, so that I stay current from here on out.
5. Think about what I want to do for the PhD, and start a list of possible projects.
6. Gather initial research/literature on a few of my favorite possible PhD projects, to start narrowing down the list.
7. Network and get to know other people working in my field here at World's Best School. (This is actually a grave error on my part - since I've been here two years I should know the other labs working in my field, but I haven't ventured outside my own lab. Shameful, and needs to be remedied right away).
8. Work on getting out a journal paper or two. (I'm second author on one in progress, but I should be able to publish a first-author paper using the material in my thesis).
9. Start thinking on higher-level terms (see what I did there - ha!). Look for the bigger picture, and try to see how my work can contribute to the grand scheme of the whole field.
10. Stop checking email and Google Reader and Facebook and the news so flippin' often! Seriously. Such a time sink.

Ready? Set? Level UP!

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