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Saturday, July 07, 2007


I am a bit overcommited to my in-progress experiments right now and it is starting to affect the rest of my work. I had a feel-good article about my research due that didn't get the attention it needed (luckily the co-author is a GENIUS and it still turned out really, really well). I am worried that my conference presentation will suffer and am torn between running experiments or stopping and taking full days off of lab work to focus on my conference stuff.
It is hard to decide what to do because it would just be really, really, really great to finish my experiments during my time here this summer. I know I can come back next summer and work more but that shorter time frame introduces other variables and it just isn't ideal. I will happily come back to DO to do more experiments that are necessary to clarify the results I've already got but I don't want to continue the same experiments a year apart. Essentially, I am trying to do all the experiments (not including data collection and analysis) for my dissertation in 8 months (this is the length of time of my RA and time at DO).
I know, I know....

Have you stopped laughing yet?

It isn't THAT funny....
Ok, so when I told Advisor and V that I might not actually finish as planned because I added an extra treatment, they both laughed at me, having assumed I was never really serious about it in the first place. Of course, this makes me want to get it all done even more. Which might actually happen, with the help of some lab assistants. I am cashing in all my house/pet sitting favors and having people experiment-sit in return. Ha!
Anyways, it has got me thinking a lot about what types of expectations are placed upon us and by whom. Is it good or bad to have had these really high expectations of myself in the first place? My advisor isn't really clear on where he stands. He doesn't want me to be too hard on myself but also tells us all that to be competitive and get jobs, we should have 10 publications from our time in his lab. Sounds crazy, I know- but then 2 students actually got those 10 papers and Advisor had to adjust his ridiculous, unreachable goal to 10 pubs not including your dissertation research. Someone in the future will reach that one too I bet (not me though). I think he tries to use that as a tool so that we are always trying to achieve more in our research, get more out of our projects and stay focused on the endpoint of publications. But why is that tool useful for pubs but laughable when I use the same lofty, idealistic goal setting tool for my research? You just can't win. You need to motivate yourself to get your work done but not too much!
It always cracks me up to hear professors go on about their expectations for students. How their students should work 28 hour days because when THEY were a grad student, that is what THEY did. Unfortunately, these expectations are touted over beers at happy hour and never actually talked about, implemented or even made clear come Monday morning. I think as a professor I will have documents that clearly state my expectations of students including hours, research progress and timelines for graduating. With the nature of research you can't have hard and fast rules but some gentle guidelines for what I want out of my lab will be clearly put out there. My MS advisor did this and it was very informative. Especially in the early stages of figuring out what being a grad student is all about (free food and CuteOverload).

In the meantime, I will keep plugging away at my experiments and pick a color scheme for the conference thing already. I'd love some feedback on this topic- who sets more ambitious goals for your work- you or your advisor/lab/program? When you set your own goals or deadlines, how reachable are they really?

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Blogger Specs said...

I always found that my professors set harsher deadlines and gave me more work than I did on my own. I think this is because they didn't know how much reading I had for my other courses, if I was grading at the time, reading for exams, knitting (ha!), etc. And one of the golden rules in grad school is "don't complain/show any weakness" (at least -- it was at mine, but I've since been told that this isn't always the case), so you just accepted their deadlines and suffered.

Or, maybe I'm just too much of a people-pleaser to tell them that getting a paper to them tomorrow would mean I didn't sleep or finish something else.

7:40 PM  
Blogger Laurie said...

I put way higher expectations on myself than anyone else does, but I also need higher expectations to get stuff done. My advisor does not like to give firm deadlines at all, and I find it hard to work without deadlines so I just set crazy ones for myself. I know some people, though, who get demoralized when they don't meet deadlines so my system would not work for them. I think it is a really personal thing, based on each person's individual personality and way of working.

That said, I totally agree that if I ever have grad students I am going to set clear expectations for what each of us are going to do, and for what I expect regular or good progress to be.

Also, I rarely meet my crazy goals, but I get where I am going sooner than I would without the crazy deadlines. For example, for my MA I planned to have a rough draft by Christmas my second year. This did not at all happen, but I graduated the following August and was one of the few people to actually get the master's in 2 instead of 3 years.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Amanda said...

When I was in grad school (for chemistry), my research advisor was a little out of control with some of his demands of us, but other times he was great. He was up for tenor my last year there, so every single thing we did was done for the purposes of publication. It gets hard when all they want is to "publish, publish, publish" while you're just thinking about graduating on moving on to the next goal. Hang in there! It will all be worth it in the end.

2:19 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

My advisor is pretty hands-off. I rarely see her. I've been handed off to two step-advisors who don't really seem to communicate with each other. Not only am I supposed to reach outrageous goals, I'm supposed to be psychic in achieving them! At the last conference I got yelled at for not doing something when I had no idea I was supposed to be doing it in the first place. It's maddening.
Be ambitious, but be realistic too. I flat out tell them what I can and cannot do in any given time period.

1:28 PM  
Blogger DancingFish said...

Thanks for all the comments, it is really interesting to hear how different every lab/advisor/student is about this stuff! I think the key is knowing what works for you no matter what that is!!

3:34 PM  
Blogger frog-o-phobic said...

My MS advisor set pretty much no goals for me and only met with me once a semester. I ended up slacking my way through grad school and quitting after I got my masters. I don't regret leaving, but I think it probably would have turned out differently (i.e. with a PhD) if she had been more involved and given me more challenges. (Now that I'm a teacher, I'm conditioned to use words like "challenges" instead of "expectations.")

8:34 AM  

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