Settling in

The last few weeks have been quite … tiresome. I honestly can’t wrap my head around everything that has transpired, but highlights of this include:

  • putting together a major piece of the dissertation puzzle with a recent, overwhelming, and exciting research project
  • moving from Houghton to Hancock into a much better, bigger, and comfortable living space
  • preparing for the Graduate Education Day Summit at Michigan’s State Capitol
  • running a 30-miler

Along with other life things [including getting a load of bad news from my family about friends that were involved in an accident], I am surprised that I am not having too hard of a time keeping up.

We joke in our lab about the need for having personal assistants (seriously, do any of you have personal assistants?!). I have been (more frequently) getting the feeling of being overwhelmed but it goes in waves. One minute I am doing alright, the next I want to cry because I have five things that need to be done simultaneously in five different labs. But, I have learned a few things over the last few weeks (years, even) that have helped me deal with the ebbing and gushing rapids of grad school:

  1. Prioritize: When I have media that needs collected and samples than need decalcifying, I do the more time-dependent one first. If it takes me an hour, I’m not as anxious because I know the decalcification is not so time crucial.
  2. Map out the plan: I use a carbon copy lab notebook, and I try to spend a fair bit of time prior to experiments to map out what I want to making tables (neat and clean, using a ruler), using different colored pens (easy to see/highlight important steps) and fill-in-the-blank style worksheets. Not only does it help make data collection go smoother (I don’t forget to write something down because I was go-go-go during the experiment) but it also helps me mentally run through my experiments before actually performing them. Writing something down helps it sink in to my brain a lot easier than just reading through.
  3. Ask for help: If there is something small be essential that needs to be done (like charging the Dremel or downloading photos from the camera to the shared lab hard-drive so you can look at them later), asking someone else to help is not a bad idea. These are tasks that can lead to overwhelming anxiety (say, if logging into your profile/h: drive takes five minutes longer than you can handle) and someone else who isn’t so anxious would probably be able to deal with easier. Plus, they are probably the one already logged onto the network.
  4. Take a step back: Look at your results, even if you aren’t done with the project, and look at what you are discovering. Is there any technique you are using that isn’t working quite that well? Put a hold on data collections, if only for one day, to troubleshoot any issues you may have. For example, I was having serious issues with slicing thin sections of tissue using a diamond saw. So I took a day off, thought about what needed to be improved, and then went to the hardware store to scope out their adhesives. I found a solution that worked.
  5. Optimize your time: Have a ten minute chunk of time when something is incubating or adhesive is curing? Don’t check Facebook. Instead, do one of the menial tasks that might otherwise cause you anxiety later. Nothing is worse than thinking you are done for the day and ready to go home when you realize you forgot to swap out media or EDTA. And seriously, Facebook won’t miss you.  No offense.
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About megankillian

Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Delaware. I love biomechanics!

Posted on April 10, 2010, in 1. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Keep it up chica. You DO have a lot on your plate, but only one time on this planet, so you gotta shove lots in! I’m looking forward to meeting you soon and call anytime if you need to vent. Keep groovin, keep movin.

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