Sometimes graduate student life is a lonely place.
Every program is different with different types of participants: commuter students, part time, full time, university employees working hard through a tuition remission program. Unless you are very lucky, you won’t have a cohort who is supportive, geographically around, and moving at the same pace. While I have very willing and supportive colleagues, we are all in different places in our lives and programs that makes commiserating a bit more challenging. But where there are challenges, there are also opportunities.
In a previous job, I gave training courses to different groups, and the most common presentation I was asked to give was one on e-mail alerts and RSS feeds and the benefits that these tools can offer.
I am disorganized.
Okay, maybe that’s not completely true, but I need to be more organized. Starting this past Spring, I took a look at how I was organizing myself and my projects, and realized I simply had too much on my plate. In the midst of balancing a qualifying research project, graduate assistantship, adjunct work, upcoming comprehensive exams, conference proposals, and, of course, that big dissertation off in the distance, I felt it necessary to turn to a new type of project tracking.
My Quality Improvement/Project Manager husband had been suggesting I try Personal Kanban for a while. And, as I tend to do, I was stubbornly sticking to my guns and telling him I had it all under control. Then, the pneumonia happened. In the middle of the Spring semester, I fell into sickness like I had never experienced before. As anyone in the graduate school/ academic world knows, you miss a week and you are behind for the rest of the semester. In my instance, I was out for over a week, and working at half capacity for another 2-3. I was in trouble.
I used to live in Portland, known for (among other things) its urban growth boundary, organic micro-brews, and locally roasted Stumptown coffee. Home to the country’s largest independent bookstore (Powell’s), the smallest park in the world (Mills End), and the most downtown bridges (ten), Portland was also voted the second most bike-friendly city in North America. Bike lanes, boxes, and racks abound. The urban chic commute during the week, but the 40 mile looped Springwater Corridor attracts families and weekend bikers.
Now, nothing makes me feel like I’m ten years old again more than riding a bike. Pedaling along with the wind in your hair (ok, your helmet), a bell to ting, and a basket to carry your peanut butter sandwich in – what could be better? (Some would say playing cards in your spokes and streamers on your handlebars – you know who you are, people!) But despite the knowing smiles I’d get from the riders with titanium bikes and technical clothing, my step through bike with the soft seat and upright handlebars allowed me to coast along the trail and over the hills, drink in the scenery, and stay the 40 mile course. It was such fun, I did it often.
I just re-read Clifford Stoll’s 1989 book, Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage, a chronicle of his self-reflections as he tracks who is breaking into the computer systems at his research lab. A well-worn copy awaited me on my university library shelves. Was my own paperback lent to someone long ago or perhaps passed on to a used book sale or taken by one of my kids?
Anyhow, Cuckoo’s Egg, so titled to refer to the cuckoo’s habit of “brood parasitism” – laying her eggs in another cuckoo’s nest, is written in non-technical language. It is one of the first popular books about the intricacies of Internet communications. While the technology is so old now (when did you last think about or even know of Tymnet?), it was surprisingly enjoyable and thought provoking. Yes, Stoll could have used a good editor (the first time reading of one of his bicycle dashes from home to the lab was charming but the endless detail of the tracing of the hacker gets a bit boring) but even so re-reading his book reminded me of serious matters about this big, new thing, the Internet. Back in the ’80’s, he knew that hacking could endanger this extraordinary communications network that 21st century life relies on.
It’s that time of year when schools close for the summer and vehicles clog the roadways as the whole country goes on holiday. It is also the time of year when our library is asked to provide content for inclusion in the organization’s annual report to members, donors, and the management team. In preparation, I have been painstakingly compiling figures. I have noted how many in-person visits were made, how many e-mail requests and many phone calls were received, how many publications were catalogued or new PDFs added. We even track how many volumes were loaned by different user groups and how many inter-library loan requests were made.
While I understand the necessity of keeping these statistics, even the benefits that this data may offer for planning and fundraising, I intensely dislike these numbers I am compelled to keep as library exchanges are difficult to accurately quantify. Which is a better numeric representation of answering a reference question — the amount of time spent sleuthing or the monetary value of this time, based on the hourly wage of the librarian or the user? Trying to reduce or describe every encounter in numbers disregards a very important feature: the rationale of the users and the context provided by the situation.
Concept mapping is my go-to tool when fighting the inevitable “brain wander” that I experience when planning (and sometimes even writing) a research paper. It’s not that I’m not focused or dedicated to the task at hand. Rather, brain wander is the practice of unveiling new and interesting topics that you then want to jam into your research paper. With all the information that you amass while doing literature reviews and preliminary work, there is a tendency to get so wrapped up in the excitement of learning new things and making those connections that you end up trying to fit pieces together that don’t quite mesh.
So, imagine yourself planning a research project or a publication, and you are just overwhelmed with information and ideas, connections and conclusions. How do you work through it? My answer is the concept map. Concept mapping is the practice of using graphical representations (thought bubbles, arrows, and icons) to chart out ideas and topics for a task at hand. Read the rest of this entry »