Virtuosity 11.11

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Archive for the tag “PhD”

Be fearless, or at least fake it ’till you make it

As long as it doesn’t hurt other people, don’t be afraid of being yourself. You were born uniquely you, but that’s a moving target.

Learn to face the fear, and be courageous. If it’s worth doing, than do it.

You can be afraid. Most of us are. However, don’t let that stop you from reaching your goals.nik_wallenda_trains_for_june_23_2013_grand_canyon_walk_at_nathan_benderson_park_sarasota_fla-_june_7_2013

Tomorrow never comes

You have today. Tomorrow is always just a dream. However, we do today to the best of our abilities, with the hope and dream of tomorrow.

Make today a present. Make today present. …Get my meaning?



Write Before Coffee

It took me nearly two years to cultivate a daily writing habit that worked. First, I went with word count, then I went with designating an amount of time for writing each day. Both of these goals were too overly ambitious, and they ended quickly.

Although I’ve written in far more detail about how to form a writing habit in a previous post, here, I will outline the two main tenants that helped me:

(1) Form new habits around the habits that you already have.
You will be more successful in creating a habit when it is associated with a habit you already have. For example, I write first, before I get my coffee. I’m a coffee addict, so there’s no way I’d forget to get my coffee. Thus, by forming a habit whereby I may not have my coffee until I’ve written, coffee becomes a reinforcing reward for the writing I’ve done.

(2) Your goal is not on productivity, you must focus on forming a habit, first.
Word count or writing for a set amount of time to move a project forward are very good goals for productivity. However, if you have not formed an addiction around writing first, achieving the productivity that you want can be difficult. Hence, the first thing you must do is form a writing habit that becomes an addiction. To do this, make your habit-forming goal reasonable and consistent. For example, I freewrite for 10 minutes every day. JUST 10. This means I know that every day, I will be writing. It doesn’t sound like much at all, but believe me, it’s not the amount of writing you do that you are trying to achieve. What you are trying to do, is accomplish the goal of getting the writing done. Every. Day.

So, for today’s writing prompt:

Think about your habits and addictions (e.g., brushing your teeth, getting coffee, taking lunch at a particular time), then schedule your writing before your normal habit. When will that be for you? Second, what’s a reasonable goal that you want to achieve in order to get this habit to work?

Need a push? Here’s some other posts I’ve written on the subject of writing sprints, journaling, and habit formation:

Reflect on Criticism

“Lie naked on the table, and let them cut. Criticism is surgery, and humility is the anesthetic that allows you to tolerate it. In the end, the process will make you a stronger, more flexible, and truly creative writer. It will replace attitude with genuine confidence, and empty arrogance with artistry.” ~Molly Cochran

Recently, I took a personality test, just for fun, to see what it would say.  Now, I’ve taken this test before, from a different website, and both have described me as an INTJ.  For me, it sort of affirmed what I already knew about myself – that I have a thirst for applicable knowledge, and it can be hard for me to translate the thoughts that are constantly going on in my head.  Knowing more about myself meant that I could also understand more of myself – so that I could fix the things that I needed to fix.

As a grad student, our work is constantly being scrutinized, critiqued, and taken apart. Some of our reviewers are not kind, and a few seem to have a vendetta against any new academic. It helps to remember three rules: (1) don’t take things personally,  (2) their comments will make you better, and (3) take what you can use, and let go of the rest. For many, our first reaction is to get defensive about our work. After all, we are putting our very best effort forward, and to have it torn down leaves gaping holes in our ego. However, we need to learn how to take criticism without getting defensive. If we do not listen to our reviewers, we will not improve our work. So, learn to use critique in ways that build you up.

You may have given your best effort, but our reviewers are telling us how to get even better!

Write NOW – Jan. Writing Camp begins!

Today, find me on Twitter @yenbio as I follow my colleagues at the University of Rochester’s writing camp using #writingsprint to keep track of our sprints. We’re taking 10 minute breaks each hour, with a 1 hour break for lunch. We’re sprinting every day this week!

Need a boost? Check out my post on writing sprints.




Write your life – get ready for writing camp!

Make a journal that captures your thoughts. Learn to think through writing, by writing every day. You can’t keep everything in your head. It’s simply not productive! So, use a journal to hold your thoughts. Use today to prepare your journal. Here’s some posts to help you get started:

Keeping a research journal

Using Evernote to track things electronically

How to find writing time

About writing sprints

The Pomodoro technique

Then, join me tomorrow on Twitter for writing camp!  We will be doing 50 minute writing sprints starting at 9 am EST, and going until 3pm EST.


Stop, drop, and ROLL!!!


Image from Pixabay

I’m an overly ambitious person with a to do list a mile long that extends well out into the next decade.  However, I have received the gift of a very tight October 19th deadline (16 days) to get my dissertation proposal draft finished and turned into my committee (le gasp!).

To me, it feels like I’m perched on the edge of the Grand Canyon, about to make my jump over the edge, while asking myself to do the impossible – to fly!  Fortunately, I have a backup parachute if things don’t go well, but I don’t plan on using it.

Anyways, this  deadline made me think about how I have so many things I want and need to do – both on a weekly and daily basis.  However, as I look at my list, I have to be realistic, and strip everything down so that my most important goal gets done.

What that means is no distractions.  I don’t have time to be distracted.

STOP doing things that are not important or do not contribute to my #1 goal of writing my dissertation.

DROP anything that distracts you, and that can be done after October 19th.

ROLL with everything you’ve got.  EVERYTHING.  Keep your eye on the prize, and invest everything into getting it.  Rest later.

Which means, I may not be able to do regular blog posts for a while – and if I do, they will short, like this one.  Also, these posts are personal reminders, and for me to remember:  We experience life by being fully present.

We experience life by being fully present.  Sometimes, when these goals are particularly important and life-changing, they require our full presence to be achieved.  Your amount of effort and sacrifice is a clear message to your muses and the universe that yes, you want this goal so badly, that you are willing to live for it.

Be in the moment, and battle on, my friends!

Dear New PhD Student,

Welcome to the first steps of your journey!  You are not alone.  When I started my Ph.D. program, I met with my advisor’s research group every week.  In addition to the sudden immersion into academia, I am indebted to those senior students who gave me such sound advice during those meetings.  I want to share this advice with you, with the hopes that at some of it may help you, too!

 1. Find a good reference management program, and learn to use it.
By the time you have finished your comprehensive exam stage, you will have hundreds of journal articles and references in your collection.  Although I have slaughtered many forests in printing some of these articles (I read faster in print than computer, and it’s easier on the eyes), a reference management program will be able to help you organize that overwhelming mess of information.  You can tag your stuff, search for it, categorize it, and file it for later.  Furthermore, if you are adept at embedding codes, your reference program can compile the bibliography for you!

Personally, I use Sente, but our university gives students Endnote for free.  Another good program that my colleagues have used is Refworks.

2. Keep ALL the references and books that are given to you in your classes.  Or, if you’re short on space, keep the references electronically, scan what you need from the books.
I admit that I do not remember everything I learned from my classes.  However, some of the first classes you will take as a PhD student will immerse you into the theories and methodologies of your field.  Your instructors will give you foundational literature that you will draw from when you do your comprehensive exams and thesis.  Keep all of it in your electronic files.  When you start your examinations, go back to some of that work – it’s amazing how differently you will read and view the same paper after a year or two of being in your program.  Even now in my fourth year, I go back to Boote and Biel’s  classic “Scholars Before Researchers” paper quite often to remind myself about how to write a proper lit review.

3. Learn to balance your life.  Take care of your body and your mind.
PhD students are workaholics.  It’s in our nature to work and to think constantly.  However, we must remind ourselves that we need balance – and exercise!  There have been many times when I’ve spent days trying to understand a concept, only to have things naturally fall into place during a workout.  If you need to, program exercise and relaxation into your calendar.  Your mind cannot work efficiently if you ignore your body.  Not only that, but your studies will take an incredible amount of will power, perseverance, and belief in yourself – you need to take care of the physical and emotional aspects of yourself, too.

4. Working on a PhD is a social process.  Get out of your bubble once in a while, and stay connected.
I’m an introvert by nature.  However, I am very fortunate enough to have family, friends, and colleagues who quickly remind me that it’s important to get away from my desk once in a while, and to talk to living, breathing, in-the-flesh people….on a regular basis!  Not only can conversations help to extend and form new ideas, but you’re going to go through a lot of emotional turmoil and self doubt.  Friends, colleagues, classmates, and family pets will be there to help support you along that path, and they will remind you of two important things: (a) that you are not the only one that goes through this – everyone in the PhD program will go through what may feel like academic hazing at some point in their journey, and (b) you can do this.  A PhD is part brainwork, but the other part is about building your indomitable spirit!

I have more advice, but I think that these four things helped me immensely when I started, and hopefully they will be useful to you, as well.  For those of you who have been through, or are going through the process, did I miss anything?  I’d love to hear your advice and stories, so please feel free to add in the comments.

Happy Researching!


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