My distractions at this moment:
- Cars passing and the fact that, though the streets are dry, it sounds like the roads are wet
- Someone playing video games in the other room
- The cats, one trying to sleep on my lap between me and the laptop perched at my knees, the other staring at me from the floor by my feet
- The plethora of other things I’m supposed to accomplish today
- The Internet
The cat in my lap has now moved to sleep on my wrists. Obviously, she doesn’t see this as a distraction; in her mind, it’s the computer and whatever I’m typing that must be distracting me from what I should be doing, namely, paying attention to her. When she gets really irritated, she puts her paws across my hand and flexes her claws, then turns to stare at my over her shoulder with that look that cats have perfected, a cross between boredom, disdain, and eye-rolling irritation. This post, ladies and gentlemen, is apparently less important than this furball.
In the book The Secret Miracle: The Novelist’s Handbook, on the topic of distractions and handling them, the responses from two different authors express very well the delicate balance in dealing with distractions.
‘Twas the last Friday before the holidays
and silence reigned in the stacks.
There were no patrons nor queries,
not a call, e-mail nor fax.
The books were all shelved
in their places with care
in hopes that, undisturbed,
they would stay there…
(with apologies to Clement C. Moore)
For some libraries, the holiday season means a massive rush to the finish, followed be peace and calm and an opportunity for inventory, staff training, and wearing jeans to work. In the last week before the holiday break, there were some important lessons learned which I thought might bear sharing as they apply for librarians and library patrons, beyond this stressful period and into the rest of the year.
One afternoon, a staff member came into the library with an unusual request. For her upcoming holiday, instead of escaping to a beach or the mountains, she had decided to try something a little different. She would be traveling to South Africa and donate her time to a project tagging penguins on a wildlife reserve. She had already borrowed books on penguins and made an appointment to visit a local zoo and speak with those specializing in animal care. Now, all she needed was a camera.
Her previous camera was not up to the trip and she was looking for something a little more advanced, with a different feature set. She did not want to know what camera I would recommend for her, but rather where she should look to find information to help her make her decision. Where could she find reviews of various products, created by experts and everyday people, to enable her to make an informed choice?
After reading SES’s post “Thinking Big Thoughts: Blogs to Follow”, I added GOOD to my feed reader and I am happy I did — while I might not go so far as to read all the posts, there have been a fair number that interested me enough to click-through to the full article. One such post was Cord Jefferson’s “Community Engagement: How the Internet Ruined My Perception of What’s Popular” and the concept of the Internet echo chamber, which led me to a new understanding about the ramifications of my dependence on RSS feeds for news and trends.
As someone who helped coordinate an effort to gather signatures on a petition to keep My So-Called Life on the air, I can appreciate Jefferson’s confusion at finding out that the television show Community was being put on indefinite hiatus. Everyone I knew liked My So-Called Life; students, teachers and parents signed the petition before we sent it off to the show’s producers. While there are any number of reasons or combination of reasons that lead television producers to cancel shows, we could not understand how a show that was so popular could be cancelled.
As I wrote in my first post at Research Salad, we compile statistics at our library. We track number of visitors, number of queries, number of consultations and loans, and number of publications catalogued and uploaded. In previous libraries, we’ve had Access databases to help us track and process this information. Where I currently work, without time to develop a similar system, I have a series of spreadsheets to collect the same data. However, these numbers are not all I collect.
When I started work here, I received a very good piece of advice: remember to thank those who help you and keep track of the thanks you receive.
I remember writing school reports entirely by hand when I was growing up in the United States. In an effort to give all students equal opportunities, we were prohibited from typing our reports until junior high school because not all students had computers or typewriters and computer labs with word processing software in elementary schools weren’t yet commonplace. At the start of the school year, my mom would buy several reams of lined paper because a single, good paper, required many drafts and many pieces of paper.
I’d start with penciled statements on 3×5 cards and then move on to pages of penciled notes. Then there would be penciled outlines and drafts. Then there would be at least one draft in black or blue pen (I loved those erasable pens when they came out; even as imperfect as they were, they saved so much time). Then my mom, who proofread my papers, would find mistakes in my “final” draft, mark them in red pen, and then I’d write out another final draft. I remember having an aching and tender writing bump at the end of the process, but a nice and neatly handwritten report.
After the IRB process, what more is there to dread about the path ahead, right? Well, between myself and the dissertation process, there is one large hurdle standing in the way, and that is the comprehensive exams. Every PhD program is structured differently, but in my particular program, I have both a qualifying research project to complete as well as comprehensive exams to move on to the next level: PhD Candidate.
Comprehensive exams are tricky. They are at once highly comprehensive (hence the title) but at the same time personal. You spend your time as a PhD student working hard to chart your own research, but there are common goals of the program that also must be met through your coursework. The balance is seen in your comprehensive exam, testing your own self-paced study while addressing the wide variety of information you have soaked up during your in-class time. It feels daunting, but my guess is that you are far better prepared for it than you imagine. So, in the spirit of my own quest to keep on track, I have compiled this list of tips that I am trying to use to prepare for the dreaded December test.