In spite of the many hours I spent working on it over the last couple of days, the abstract I was working on last night failed to completely materialize. I did make substantial progress in bringing about the substance of the study, but my co-author was not available for the final push before the submission window closed.
The good news is that the project is much more substantive, and I was able to scare up some concrete data that will move us forward.
And on the theme of concrete, since that’s the way my mind works, I figured I would share these photos of some concrete art. The installation pictured was one I saw at Heritage Gardens and Museum in Sandwich, Massachusetts back in June. I really wish I could remember and/or find the name of the artist and the piece (or pieces?) because I found the installation quite enjoyable. What looks from afar like a field of gray rocks, upon closer examination turns out to be varied little concrete forms, created by pouring wet concrete into little cloth bags. The resulting abstract figures have a lot of character.
As part of my Mother’s Day present, Theo gave me temporary custody of his much-loved new tiger, Tigs. First it was going to be just for the day, but then he decided I should get to have Tigs for a week. Later that week, I had a lab meeting in Boston, and I decided that I would appreciate the company of a tiger for my day.
First, Tigs helped me to feed the parking meter. Because it really bites to get a parking ticket. (And tigers know all about bites.)
Next, we walked down to the building where I had my meeting.
We made sure to stop to admire the spring flowers along the way.
After a bit, we headed back out to pick up some provisions. Again, we admired the scenery along the way.
For lunch, we opted for Thai food.
Then, we shared some coffee.
Back at the meeting, Tigs offered some editing advice on an abstract.
Then he did some light reading to keep himself amused while the humans discussed research.
When it was time to go, Tigs couldn’t resist a slide down the banister on our way out.
And then we buckled back in for the long drive home.
Overall, Tigs made a delightful workday companion. And from the happy expression on his face, I’m quite sure he enjoyed his big day in the big city.
A pair of unpared pears on my kitchen table one morning.
A few years ago, my research group did an experiment that involved eliciting productions of phrases with specific intonational patterns. We were interested in examining the differences in realization of a pair of contours that are superficially similar, but convey different nuances of meaning. To answer our research questions, we elicited and recorded a set of phrases two different times with each subject, one for each of the contours. The recordings were then looked over carefully, and a number of preparations were made for the analyses, including cutting up and labeling the longer soundfiles into phrase-sized chunks, which were then labelled according the intonational contour elicited. Each phrase produced by a given speaker with one contour was then paired up with the same phrase produced by that speaker with the other contour. If for some reason we did not have both successful productions to pair up, such as if one was produced with another intonational contour altogether or contained a disfluency in the region of interest, we would pare out both the unsuccessful production and its would-be pair from that subject’s data. This process of pairing and paring the soundfiles henceforth became known among us as “pearing.”
This year has been a bountiful year for tomatoes where I live, and given my CSA membership and friendship with a successful gardener, I am certainly supplied with an abundance of tomatoes. But this post is not actually about that kind of tomato.
The tomatoes I’m talking about are chunks of time: I’ve been using the Pomodoro technique to get my work done. I’ve mentioned before that I have found this method of working in timed stretches to be helpful to my productivity.
A little more than a year ago, July of 2013 to be specific, I started to meet regularly with another PhD student from my program to commiserate and work on goals together. One goal I set was that I would work at least one tomato, that is a 25-minute stretch of time focused on the task, on my own research.
With all my other obligations for group research as well as parenting and home commitments, my own research had been regularly getting pushed to the back burner. While I’d work in impressive bursts for upcoming deadlines, such as when preparing for conference submissions and presentations, l would regularly go days or even weeks without looking at my own research when the other obligations had their own crunch times. I might make reasonable progress during the week, but a busy weekend or school vacation would come up and push all thoughts of my research out of my head. A family crisis or even a fun time like a family trip would come up, and even longer would go by. When the time would come for me to dig back into my research, it would feel alien to me. I actually had the experience of reading papers I’d written almost as if they had been written by someone else. (I’m happy to say that I did at least find them to be interesting and well-written!)
Since making the commitment to myself to do at least a tomato a day on my own research, I have made much steadier progress. There is much greater continuity, and I feel connected to my projects. Some days I manage to put in more time on my research, but I’m happy to say that I have always managed to get in at least one tomato before bedtime. (I had to give up on getting the tomato in before midnight at some point–there were days when I was travelling when it just wasn’t feasible.) Friends and family have come to know about my daily tomato.
Over the past year, there have been times when I have really wanted to just go to bed, or at least just goof off, at the end of a full and exhausting day, but I have not let myself off the hook. Even when travelling. Even when falling asleep at my laptop. 25 minutes is always an amount of time I can fit in. Even when the work is not my best or most focused, the gains to my sense of continuity have been immeasurable. I can much more easily pick up where I left of the day before.
I am feeling connected to my research every day in a way that I haven’t before.
Posted in life, photos, school, work
Tagged grad school, life, photos, productivity methods, school, time management, tomatoes, work
With the start of summer comes the end of structured school days. While there is lots of fun to be had, I still need to squeeze in time for my work. Picnics and visits with friends and fireworks and trips to the zoo don’t mean any less cooking, or food shopping, or laundry, or cleaning, (and in fact often mean more) and there are days when I find myself feeling squeezed. I optimistically promised my advisor that I’d get him a large chunk of writing done while he was away on vacation, but I foolishly did so without looking at my calendar, and observing the small number of child-free hours on it in those 2 weeks. When I find a 4-hour chunk of time to focus on my research, my thoughts start to get organized, but then comes the next over-full day and my thoughts scatter. Really, I’ve been enjoying the summer fun, and the extra time with the kids, but just now find myself wishing I could just do one thing or the other for a sustained time. Today I have maybe a 6-hour chunk to do squeeze out as much writing as I can while both kids are out of the house. (Just now I am trying to squeeze out this blog post as the kids eat breakfast. I have only been interrupted roughly 14 times.)
Starting next week, the kids will both be in camps and childcare more-or-less full-time, so hopefully the squeeze will feel less tight. But if I’m actually going to finish this degree, I have to be prepared to keep on the tight squeeze, long-term. (Hold me.)
This is where I was, one year ago today:
I took this photo on a walk along the Bund in Shanghai.
I’m finding it hard to believe that another whole year has gone by. I feel like I have very little to show for it. A year ago today, I presented my research at a prestigious international conference. (Here I am, giving my talk. I even won an award.) Two days earlier I had walked along a stretch of the Great Wall near Beijing, one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life.
Two days ago, I barely left my house. The past year has been a blur of holidays and birthdays, laundry and grocery shopping, illness and death, laundry and grocery shopping, celebrations and family visits, and more laundry and grocery shopping. I know that I have been working and busy, but once again I feel like I don’t have enough to show for it. I’m really not even sure what my point was other than…damn. A whole ‘nother year. And I haven’t even posted my trip photos!