Monday, 24 February 2014

Post 4: Attitude and Competitiveness in Grad School

In many ways I think this is a timely post.
It's hard to admit, especially when in the middle of a spell of self-reflection, worrying, and crippling self-criticism that you're doing that, and that is is 200% unproductive. I probably spend more time concerned with the future and projections that very likely won't come true, and losing sleep over those worries, than productive time during the day. In that sense, this master's program has become a trial in self management, on top of all the other wonderful lessons that have come along the way. But -- I'm told, and from conversations with colleagues, understand that this is very much the experience of many, if not the majority of graduate students.

One of the observations that I made about myself and my colleagues is that there is a certain kind of self selection process that seems to occur for the people that choose to go on to grad school. For one thing, most people are introverted (in my guesstimates; at least for my cohort year, and a few for outside of my starting group that I have the pleasure of knowing). For another, many perfectionists, which means that they are highly critical of their work and set the bar high. I know this to be especially true for myself -- and it's because that bar is set so high that my worries can become a barrier to getting things done. Oddly enough, this is closely linked to procrastination and the feeling that a certain amount of pressure (even if self-imposed) leads to productive working time. And third, most are very competitive, to the point where an evening of Hearts (the card game) can become a rally of emotions when one is on the losing streak.

Just for fun: some of our local stonewort. :) So pretty! 

The emotional state of most grad students is a world of ups and downs. At least for myself, I have moments in days where I feel on top of the world, and like I'm the scout flying the fastest, hardest, ahead of all the others. Then, moments later, that all deflates when I think about the work that's left to do, or how I struggle to keep my entire project in my head.

There's a lot to be said about seeking out something like a Thesis Completion Group that Counselling Services runs on campus at UVic, or some other kind of peer help. One of my colleagues has organized one of those groups, and I'm looking forward to attending.

So, one of my strategies to deal with these work barriers is to be very strict about my use of time. This is actually something that came up at my lab meeting last week on Tuesday morning, and it essentially boils down to time management. I block out an hour of my day at a time. Yes, I'm aware that the rest of the day is there, but if I say to myself that, okay, for the next hour I will transcribe, and focus solely on that (and not check my email or go onto the internet), that seems to work relatively well. Putting my cell phone away and to the side and not looking at it is also good. My supervisor mentioned today that research on attention has shown that it takes people on average 8 minutes to get back into the work flow they were interrupted or distracted from. 8 whole minutes! That's a lot of lost time if you distract yourself or get distracted by visitors, phone calls, emails,  (and since participating in the bird count this weekend, the birds at the feeders of my office window!), and more, during the course of a day.

Small blocks of time. And breaking up the activities, too. So, some blocks of transcribing in the morning, some blocks of reading or researching in the afternoon, and then another few blocks of transcribing in the late afternoon -- a push to get lots done before leaving work.

Undoubtedly, being organized and knowing what you have to do when, and where, and what you'll need to do it is key, too. Forgetting your foot pedal at home (ahem), on a day when you had transcribing planned, isn't super productive. But -- I'll use the trip to zip home and pick that up as a reason to drop by the bird store to pick up more seed for my fine feathered friends, seeing as they were closed yesterday, too.

On that note! The 6 species that I was fortunate enough to see during the count, and these only from my office window, were:

Anna's hummingbird
potentially a Rufous hummingbird
a good number of chestnut-backed chickadees
several dark-eyed juncos
one western gull
and a lovely pair of house finches

I'd emailed a former colleague about the bird count and he'd advised to keep a look out for Bewick's and Pacific wrens and golden-crowned kinglets, and while I didn't see any yesterday, on my walk into the office today, I spotted some kind of wren low in the bushes along the road! So adorable, the way they bob and hop from branch to branch!

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