The 2015 Challenge – Entry 3: My Plan for Research Attack

Last entries of this journal

1. The Introduction
2. No Headphone, No Music on-the-go

Now or Never

This may be only my second semester as a pre-candidate PhD student but my scientific career prospect all comes down to the next few months. I have to officially get into a research group. I need to get funding for the next summer as well as the next 4 or 5 years of my life. If I cannot do it this semester, my chance of having a career in research would be practically zero. In terms of tennis, it’s like you are 23 years old now (I am!!) and you have not yet played in the main draw of a Grand Slam, then you should forget about winning it altogether. It is not impossible, but far from doable.

The key thing is, up to this point, I still have been unable to accomplish any major project in my life, not just research. While I feel a little embarrassed when I write this, I know it is not too late to change that. Along with the changes I have made so far during this challenge, a plan for research is crucial for a successful semester in the short term, and a successful career in the long term.

The problem

One thing that I’ve learned about myself is I cannot concentrate on too many things at once. The problem is, like many others, I tend to overestimate my ability of getting things done efficiently. Take last semester for example, I signed up for a mountain biking class, tried to learn two courses on Coursera, registered for two electrical engineering classes, joined a soccer club and played at least once a week, opened a new blog and wrote a few articles.  Man, no wonder why I was helpless in the end of the semester. I must do less to accomplish more. A simple rule, but easy to forget one.

Clearly I need to invest a lot of time on research and get my priorities right.

Go all in for research

First thing, I want to make sure I have less things to occupy my mind this semester. I have one writing course at school and audit one electronics course. Auditing means the latter course is optional. I will try to take notes and do homework in that course only if I have time to spare. My extracurricular activities include only soccer and some regular gym time. Sports are indispensable for me and they actually help balance my life so it’s fine. I am also learning a Coursera course, Introduction to Classical Music by Yale University. It will not be a problem because I consider watching Coursera lectures similar to reading a book and I will do it in the evening only. That also applies to the writing course mentioned above. My plan is to put all the possibly distracting stuffs to the evening schedule, with an except of Saturday, when I’m free to do whatever I want.

That leaves the whole day, 6 days a week for me to do research and study for the electronics course. I want to spend at least 20 hours a week on research. It means for four days a week, I will do nothing but research (and research-related tasks like group meetings.) The other two days will be devoted for classes and maybe some homework (about 10 hours a week.) Even this seems to be a lazy man’s schedule but I cannot step into that trap — overestimating my ability — again. Also I think it’s a good idea to leave room for random events that may occur.

Learn to Focus

I believe that is a sound plan. Now I need to follow the schedule faithfully. Another important point is I have to make every hour of research counts. I must learn to focus and overcome distractions. It will be the main area to improve in the upcoming months.

(Photo by Sprint006)

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Author: Tri M. Cao

Music with my beloved HD 650 headphones.

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