Wednesday, November 19, 2008

No vegetables and PhD Success Mantras

The only problem with Mr. PhizzleDizzle doing all the cooking is that I don't think I've had a real serving of any green vegetables for at least a week.

Tomatoes, potatoes, and onions, that's it. Pretty pathetic.

On another note, I was thinking about something today. My moods have swung from wildly high to wildly low recently based on my research day - good results, bad results, roadblocks to go around, etc. All of which have required me to just suck it up and keep going.

It made me think, that's really all a PhD is. Once you get past a basic level of curiosity and competence, it's really about persistence. Yesterday, I had a not so good day. It was such that, at the end of the night I was sitting on the couch and I said to husband, "I want to die." Then I quickly took that back, that is a horrible thing to say when I am so lucky and healthy. But I was internally shaking with stress and worry and my career going down the tubes.

PhD Success Mantra #1:

When you are stressed out - stay calm, hold it together, and keep working.

But there was something in the back of my head that said, "HOLD IT TOGETHER." And I did, and I kept coding, and this morning the thing I needed to support my experiments came together and worked. This would NOT have happened if I had given up last night (which I thought about doing) or crying (which I nearly did).

PhD Success Mantra #2:

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other, that's the only way you'll get stuff done.

It happened to be that Mr. PhizzleDizzle was watching "The Unit" on TV, some show about Army special forces or something. I was sitting on the couch, working, and not really tuned in. Then suddenly, I heard a character say "Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Just keep going. That's the only way we get things done in this world."

I know it may sound stupid, but I felt like that was a sign, and it came just in time - it totally bolstered my self control to just keep going. It was so funny, it was the first time I really had a "devil/angel" conversation with myself. I knew if I let myself go to pieces, it was all over, but that's what I so wanted to do. It's weird, but I am really proud of the way I told myself to "suck it up buttercup" and how spectacularly successful I was at doing so.

PhD Success Mantra #3:

What would you do if you knew you wouldn't fail?

I was speaking to a friend the other day, who said she came across this quote. I thought about it for a moment, and it REALLY resonated with me. Why did I feel like giving up yesterday? Because I felt like I could fail, so I might as well stop before I put in the work and waste my own time. I realized I totally would do a lot of things differently if I KNEW I wouldn't fail. And that's sad.

So last night, I told myself that if I assumed I could do what I needed to do, then it was only a matter of getting it done. So then, I did just that. Isn't that amazing? So much of success really is in attitude.

It just so happened that all these mantras came together and helped me last night in my dark moments of distress. They are all really variations of the same thing, but they are each helpful in their own way. And today I feel much better. So I felt like I should share.


EthidiumBromide said...

Seriously, green vegetables or not, you are SO FRIGGIN LUCKY that Mr. PhizzleDizzle cooks. My husband wouldn't know the inside of an oven if he was trapped inside of it. My favorite is when it is 8pm and I have been in lab since 5:30am and he calls me, in the lab, from his comfy position where his ass has melded into the couch, to ask when I will be home to cook dinner because he is getting hungry. And this incompetent individual is responsible for saving lives in the hospital. GAH!

Regarding Matra #3, I always think it is interesting how many things I would do differently not if I was afraid I that I would fail, but if success was required. A little different from what you are saying, but the same general line... like, how many kick-ass ideas have I had to shove in the back of the closet because they're TOO far out there, and I'd like to graduate someday. But just WHAT IF one of them MIGHT work? It could be revolutionary. But getting a Ph.D. isn't dependent on hard work or trying or learning new techniques... it's depending on getting something to ACTUALLY work, and so a lot of times that means sticking to the somewhat safer route. I wonder how many awesome ideas are benched because graduate students don't want to become 15th-year students as a result of chasing down a crazy idea because it's too risky, and there's no potential to graduate without actual publishable success.

Ambivalent Academic said...

Great post and good for you for hangin' in there. You've totally got the right attitude and I'm so impressed with your ability to hold yourself together...that's SO hard when things are overwhelming...I rarely succeed myself, but you are an inspiration!

And ditto on EtBr - Mr. PhizzleDizzle is awesome. I'm sure that he understands how stressed you are now and that you DO appreciate everything he's doing even if it's hard to get your head above water long enough to tell him so. But if you do get a chance to tell him how great he's being, you can tell I think he's awesome too!

You can do it!

PhizzleDizzle said...

EB: You are so right, that's an interesting thought - it seems like perhaps we'll have to wait til we have tenure to try something really far out there?? I don't know. But without big risks there are no big rewards. I think about that sometimes with my work, that I don't know that I feel like everything I put into this degree is all that cool (I suppose it never is after a few years). Like, I enjoy what I am doing, but man, is it really that earth-shattering? No. And that makes me sad - but I'm not sure in my nascest graduate student state I could have taken something really here I am. Fighting to finish something that isn't even revolutionary. Sigh.

@AA: Thanks!!! I will try to continue to be an inspiration ;). HAHA! So funny to think of myself as inspiring to anyone.

I will also pass on to Mr. PhizzleDizzle that you think he's awesome. And he is. :) I love him.

drdrA said...

Hey nice post. You've learned a very important lesson, very early in your career. This job isn't about who is the smartest- it's about who is going to be the last man standing. Dogged persistence plays into this in a major, major way.

The lab pixie said...

Hi! I stumbled accross your blog last night. I really liked your PhD success mantras (I'm attempting to finish one in organic Chemistry). I had them in mind today and I really think they changed my day a bit. Certainly, I was a bit calmer, and I think more focused in the lab. When one of the girls was having a bit of freak out about what if it never works, I put number three to her, and it got a smile and a moments relaxation from her.

I recently started my own blog, it's just where I ramble and rant mostly about all things PhD-ey, and how it's slowly taking over my life (as it sounds like you might know about). Would you mind if I put a link to your blog on the side?

JLK said...

My Dearest PhizzleDizzle,

Keep on, girl. Just keep plugging away. This might sound totally OCD but I keep to-do lists that get updated as often as needed. I take satisfaction every time I cross off a single item, and I often find that when I write down everything I need to do, it's actually not as bad as it seems to be in my head.

Obviously I'm not on the PhD path yet. But I keep telling myself (and grad admissions committees) that working full-time and going to school full-time provide the same stress level and constant need to do stuff. Not to mention the long hours and late bedtimes.

The PhD may feel like a more abstract goal because there isn't like a set number of credits that merit your having earned the degree. Sure, there's a checklist, but it's not the same as going through the motions of undergrad.

However, there is still an end, a point of completion that you have to look forward to. If you try think of every single thing you do as a step toward that end, it might help you to keep up the motivation, especially with how close you are.

What's keeping me focused right now between school, work, and grad apps is that my comprehensive to-do list is shrinking. For good. (Or at least for now, until I start grad school). Having things written down also takes away that nagging feeling that I might be forgetting something.

I love my lists because I see them as a measure of progress. Each item crossed off is one less thing I have to worry about tomorrow. I also try to reward myself for each major thing I get done. So like tonight for example, I need to do an essay for an application. But when I'm done, I'm gonna make some spinach dip and enjoy an episode of House.

After crossing it off the list, of course. ;)

microbiologist xx said...

I am loving mantra #3.

PhizzleDizzle said...

JLK, I love lists too!!! Somehow, they are most satisfying when they are in pretty little notebooks, handwritten. But sometimes, I get so frazzled I don't do my lists...or I jot it down on scrap paper and cross some items off, but then the next day I make a new one on different scrap paper, then it's not as fun.

But you are so right: breaking a problem down into small manageable pieces and tackling them one at a time is the most effective way to plod to the finish.

I'm sure your multitasking ways will get you far in a PhD. Actually, there's a quote on AA's blog from a comment of MXX's that talks about how much work she gets done by multitasking well.