Tag Archives: focus

The Annual Progress Report

It’s that time of year again, when all the postgraduates get to reflect on how little or how much they’ve achieved over the past 12 months, all thanks to the university administration. I understand the reasons the university gives for the report, we need to be sure you’re not stalled in your research, we need to know you’re being supported by your supervisor, you need to pause and see what training you need to complete in the coming year, will you actually be finishing this degree? The rationale doesn’t make the report any less depressing or time consuming to complete.
For me, it seems like I have achieved little between this year’s report and last year’s. I got one or two interesting results that need further work. I got some very interesting results to go into a paper, but the reviewer wants the work repeated a lot more before acceptance for publication. I don’t have a chapter’s worth of data, but I have a number of leads. I have zero papers, and zero presentations (oral or poster) at conferences, (two minor inhouse poster presentations probably don’t count).
I learned how to use some key instruments in my lab and my collaborator’s. I taught a lot of people how to use various pieces of equipment, and just generally taught a lot of people (demonstrating for undergrad practicals and supervising final year projects). Teaching and learning aren’t counted in the metrics as outputs for my research however.
The honest feedback I received was that, while I don’t seem to have a lot done on paper, accumulating new techniques is the most important thing I can be doing in my 1st/2nd year of the PhD. The teaching is important, but I need to learn to be more selfish in the future, and limit how much helping I do for others. The internet tells me that my regular forays into the world of science communication are very useful for my CV, but the progress report doesn’t care for that, and from the looks of it, the thesis won’t care either.
I have dealt with a number of small flare-up’s of my arthritis during the past year, but it’s hard to tell if they are what are slowing my progress, or (more likely) my distraction by more interesting science going on elsewhere. Certainly when I have a lot of experiments to do, my feet get especially sore, and I get pretty tired, and I need to take a day off to sit down and try to relax. It’s hard to relax though, as I’m anxious at my apparent lack of progress compared with my colleagues and at the approaching deadlines. The annual report doesn’t help with this.
The annual report should help me plan the coming year better, but so far, I’ve found that it’s difficult to plan very far ahead. Experimental results can change what you expected to achieve, and somethings take a hell of a lot longer to optimise than you anticipated. When I see others produce Gantt charts of their project and plans for the future, I’m torn between scepticism and inadequecy, “will they really achieve that in four years?” and “should I have more done by now”.
Anyway, for now it’s time to fill in the form and get my supervisors, independant advisors, head of school, and probably half the administrative staff to sign it.

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Overwhelmed or underwhelmed

It can be hard to be constantly, permanently and eternally fascinated by your project work. I go through phases of loving it and not really being overly pushed about it. Sometimes there are far more interesting things to be doing/reading/considering. While I’ve always had an interest in sci comms and policy, reading about it and commenting is taking precedence over my work of late.

The sheer volume of work I need to complete over the next few years is pretty overwhelming when I think about it, especially when I consider how much (or how little) I have done to date. I came back from recent conferences invigorated and excited about science and what I can achieve, but that wears off. I enjoy reading about my field, I like designing experiments, and teaching people around me, but actually executing my own experiments with my hands is harder than it should be. Not due to the arthritis, but a lack of will.

At the moment, I spend a lot of time ordering supplies for the lab and doing various housekeeping chores like preparing for health & safety inspections and clearing out the remains of PhD’s who have long left the lab (seriously, how can people not archive the relevant work and discard what doesn’t need to be kept). This work keeps me occupied and useful, without necessarily progressing my PhD work. In a larger lab, these duties might be spread across more people, but in our tiny lab it’s primarily my responsibility.

So for now, things are tipping away, but I should probably see if Santa Claus will bring me focus and motivation next month…