Living my best academic life: 2018 resolutions for getting that PhD done

I didn’t feel very optimistic going into 2017. I had recently lost my father and grandfather in the same week, and I was feeling anxious and depressed about what seemed like a pretty disastrous outcome to the 2016 elections. I don’t think I made any resolutions that year because I was so disheartened by the whole situation that I figured, who cares? My focus in 2017 was basically, do what it takes to get through it, eat some good food and drink some good wine because possibly the world will end pretty soon, etc.

But I feel different going into 2018, more motivated and invigorated. Yeah, 2017 was pretty shitty in some ways, but there were also some good things about it, actually some really great things! I know it’s very silly, but it also feels like there’s something to wiping the slate clean and starting over. At this point, I’ve worked out 100% of the days in 2018! I’ve eaten healthy, and put my shoes away and all those other things I aim to do EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THIS YEAR.

More importantly to my motivation, there’s a chance that this year could be when I finish my PhD, if I can manage to do my dissertation work in three semesters (i.e. 12 months). Maybe this is a ridiculous goal, but I’m kind of a ridiculous person, and it sure would be nice to finish. To that end, I’m deciding to make the goal for this year to live my best academic life. What does that mean?

  • read (something academic, that is) every day. My former advisor, who I still keep in touch with on Twitter, very usefully recommended #365papers – i.e. read a scholarly paper every day of the year. I probably need to read around that much for my dissertation anyway, and I do also have a huge backlog of interesting articles I’ve filed away to read “one day.” So far I’m one down, 364 to go! (But again, I’ve read an academic paper 100% of the days this year)
  • write every day. It doesn’t have to be a lot. A blog post (this counts for today!), a bit of a paper, part of my dissertation, something for work, even an academic related tweet. I know that doing a dissertation will involve way more writing than I’d been doing for the other parts of my PhD work, so I want to get into the habit now.
  • keep working on open science. I’m finally getting to the point in my coding skills that I don’t feel horrendously embarrassed for other people to see my code, but I still often think, eh, who’s going to want to see this? That’s totally the wrong idea, especially for someone whose scholarly research focuses on data sharing and reuse! I’m going to try to make a lot more commits to GitHub, even if it’s just silly stuff that I’m working on for my own entertainment, because who knows how someone else might find it useful.

So there you go! I’ll be tweeting out the papers I read on my Twitter account (@lisafederer) using #365papers, putting stuff up on my GitHub account, and I’ll probably (hopefully?) be writing more here, so watch this space!

“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”

I took this picture on the bus in Denver when I was there for a conference.
I’m not sure why, but the steps in the title made me think of these girls with their
matching shoes.  For the record, they were wearing matching shirts, too,
but it was too difficult to take that picture surreptitiously.

The Lao-Tzu quote in my title is perhaps trite, but it’s true.  I have a lot of ideas, but a lot of them never really make it into reality.  I have good intentions, but translating that to the real world is often impractical or just more time-consuming than this working, single girl can commit to.  So it is with great pleasure that I can report back that I have been sticking to my challenge thus far.  Not only that, I am loving it.

Now, I admittedly got a slow start, although through no fault of my own.  I played host to some unexpected company this weekend, and I had to invoke exception number five: watching TV in a social setting is permitted. In other words, I can watch if I get invited to go to a movie, have a friend over and he or she would like to watch TV, or go to someone else’s house and he or she suggests we watch TV.  In those situations, I wouldn’t be reading a book anyway (I think the person I’m with might find that a bit rude).  It only makes sense to cut the TV when reading is the alternative activity.

So it really wasn’t until yesterday that I got a chance to begin my challenge.  As it happened, I was home sick yesterday, so it was both an opportunity and a test.  Sure, I wasn’t feeling so great, obviously, and there was my TV and my Netflix account and my DVD collection and whatnot, all right there and within easy reach.  However, to my credit, I did not give in.

Instead, I picked up the book I was reading at the time – The Truth About Kent State: A Challenge to the American Conscience – and ended up finishing it before too long (I’ll report back on this later).  I did the crossword I still had left from Sunday’s paper.  Then I started another book I have checked out from the library – What a Blessing She Had Chloroform: The Medical and Social Response to the Pain of Childbirth from 1800 to the Present.  I got a little less than halfway through.  I kept thinking to myself, oh man, can I do it?  Can I finish this whole book today?  Ultimately I got too tired and realized I’d have to call it a night, but I felt the day had gone well.  I’d stuck to my plan.

As I was compulsively adding more books to my list of the books I want to check out, it occurred to me that I could probably get through them all in a not-unreasonable amount of time if I were to continue this challenge even after I finish all the books I have in my house.  I’ll never run out of books I want to read – I’m a librarian and a knowledge junkie.  There are probably a few movies I want to see now and then, a show I’d like to follow, but on the whole, I don’t have much use for TV.  It’s obviously very premature to say this, but maybe I’ll make this a permanent thing.  At the very least, I would like to commit to not wasting time on TV anymore, such as by watching stuff I’ve already seen.  Sorry, Arrested Development, but I’m looking at you, among others.  It’s time I spend a little more of my energy on something I consider actually worthwhile.

So, because some of you have asked, I’ve compiled a list of the books that are on my to-read list.  Again, these are the books that I have here in my home that I haven’t read yet.  There are a couple that I didn’t manage to put on there because I couldn’t find the link or I skimmed over them on the shelf by accident.  As it stands, there are now 45 on the list, but I think there are at least 5 more I don’t have on here.  So it’s a somewhat daunting task, but one I’m up for.

Fun fact: I didn’t put it on this list, because I’m not sure if I’m up for it, but one of the books I have in my collection that I haven’t read yet is the complete, unabridged edition of Les Miserables.  At least I’m not totally insane, and I got the English translation as opposed to the original French.  Even so, that puppy runs 1,222 pages.  And let me tell you, from what I’ve read so far, some of those pages include long, pointless, minute details about extremely minor characters.  When I started reading it the first time, I think I got about 80 pages in and all I’d read so far were details of the life of the priest who helps Jean Valjean the first time around.  If you know anything about the story, you will know that the childhood of this extremely minor character could not be less relevant to the plot on the whole.  So, what I’m trying to say here is, if I somehow manage to finish this tome in addition to the other 50-some odd books on my list, I think I deserve a cookie, at the very least. 🙂

Books Before TV: The Librarian’s Challenge

I had an interesting idea this evening. This probably will not come as a surprise to anyone, but I own tons of books I haven’t read yet.  Beyond the backlog of books I myself own, I also have four already checked out from the library and a list of 70 items that I intend to check out when I have a chance. Clearly, I’ve got a lot of reading to do, yet over and over again, I waste what free time I have on doing stupid things, like watching a bunch of so-so at best movies and TV shows.

The idea is simple: no more TV-watching until I finish every book in this house.

This is just part of my library, to give you a sense of the scale of what we’re talking
about here.  I don’t know how many books this is or how many of them are unread,
but I will count tomorrow and report back.

Here are the stipulations:

  1. This includes books I have not read that are  in the house as of this moment (and the books in my office that I checked out and haven’t brought home yet).  I wouldn’t be buying more books right now anyway, since Christmas is almost here, but if I am given books, they do not count in this challenge. Also, this only includes actual, physical books, not e-books or articles on my iPad.
  2. Both fiction and non-fiction count, but not books one would not normally read cover-to-cover, like a cookbook, dictionary, knitting pattern book, or the like.
  3. The sad fact is that there are some books on my shelf that I probably don’t want to read.  They sounded good at the time, but then I found I couldn’t get into them, so they went back on the shelf in hopes that I would enjoy them more at some later date.  Well, hopefully that date is now, because if not, those suckers are getting donated.  Each book will get two tries.  If I start a book and I’m really not able to get into it, it moves to the back of the line.  After I finish everything else, I try it again.  If I still don’t like it, it gets donated.
  4. There will be no TV-watching of any kind, including movies, TV shows, documentaries, or the like.  Short internet clips, like  Youtube videos under five minutes long or videos of my friends’ adorable children, are permitted.  Also, having the iTunes visualizer on the TV while I’m listening to music and doing the Sunday crossword or cooking is permitted.
  5. Watching TV in a social setting is permitted. In other words, I can watch if I get invited to go to a movie, have a friend over and he or she would like to watch TV, or go to someone else’s house and he or she suggests we watch TV.  In those situations, I wouldn’t be reading a book anyway (I think the person I’m with might find that a bit rude).  It only makes sense to cut the TV when reading is the alternative activity.
  6. There’s no time limit or deadline on this – I continue until I either finish or donate every unread book on my shelf (and return the ones checked out from the library) or I declare defeat, possibly risking having my Awesome Librarian badge revoked.
  7. To be clear, I’m still allowed to do other leisure activities – it doesn’t have to be all reading all the time.  I’m just not allowed to watch TV.

So that’s the challenge.  I was thinking I’d wait till after the holidays and consider this my New Year’s resolution, but you know, I’m thinking why wait?  Why waste another day boring myself with pointless TV?  Starting tomorrow, no more TV for me.

So how about you?  I imagine at least some of you reading this have a similar situation.  It may not be books and TV, but I challenge you to think about what you’d like to get around to doing and what you’ve been wasting your time on instead.  Set a finite goal and commit to avoid wasting time on the other thing.  Come on, you know you want to play along with me!  If you’re doing it, tell me about it in the comments!

By the way, in case you’re curious about my list of books to checkout, it’s saved as an Amazon Wishlist.  To be clear, I don’t want to actually own any of these – just check them out from the library.  So if you are a person who happens to be shopping for me and you stumble upon this, that’s very nice of you, but I don’t need to own these 🙂  It’s almost all non-fiction, but there’s a little fiction toward the end.