Thursday, July 30, 2009

Master's as PhD training

In completing a master's degree, I learned a few things that will help me immensely in maintaining sanity while working on my PhD. Most of them derive from mistakes I feel I made in the way I handled research for my master's degree. Without further ado, here are my lessons:
  1. update reference manager tags as soon as I add a new reference--It makes it really difficult to find things when I don't keep them consistently tagged.
  2. start writing the literature review as early as possible--It is a nasty beast.
  3. start notes for other sections of dissertation asap--This would force me to think of my current work as part of a larger project so that I stay focused on a single large-scale goal and remember how all the smaller parts fit together
  4. take copious notes on daily progress and problems--I confronted several similar problems throughout my master's research and I had to re-solve them every time because I didn't remember how I did it the last time. This would also help me write my dissertation and work more efficiently because I wouldn't have to spend so much time and effort trying to figure out what I did and did not do.
  5. note the next steps I need to take the next day to keep work flowing smoothly--A running to-do list is not good enough. It needs to tell me what to do next so I can dive right into work every morning.
  6. have an idea of the structure and content of target publications while working--This should help keep me focused on a publishable, coherent line of research. It should also help me keep my thoughts organized.
Now all I need to figure out is how to make sure I implement these ideas. I bought a notebook for taking notes while I work. I haven't decided if this will just be research notes or if I will also use it to tell myself what the next steps are when I leave work every day. My plan will also involve more pre-planning and administrative time, but I think that will save sanity and time overall. Administrative time can be kind of therapeutic, anyhow.

Next week I have a workshop on supercomputing. The following week I'll start revising my thesis for publication and start implementing some pre-planning and organization for my PhD. Exciting stuff!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Next Step: Prelim, but first a week off

So I just finished my master's degree--deposited the thesis on Friday. I'm taking a week off from work as part of my reward/celebration. Despite this break from actual work, some part of the back of my mind is working on the next step.

Since I've already passed the qualifying exam, my next big hurdle is the preliminary exam. The qualifying exam was a written test that took ten hours over a day and a half. It tested me on everything I've ever learned in atmospheric sciences. For the preliminary exam, I'll have to write and defend a proposal of my planned PhD research (and I have to choose a PhD committee). After that, I research, write my dissertation, and defend the dissertation.

Looking at the next step, I am a bit intimidated. According to the online description of the prelim, I need to write the proposal and prepare the defense without help from anyone. I've never done this before. I have a few versions of a fellowship proposal that won me three years of funding from which to start, but this proposal needs to be much more detailed and longer than the ones for fellowships.

I think seeing an example or two will help. If I can't get advice specifically about my proposal, I can at least use other people's proposals and presentations as examples so I know the structure and quality it needs.

In any case, I may not be starting on that right away in a hugely meaningful way. I still need to polish the research and writing from my thesis to make a paper or two. I also need to introduce myself to some tools I'll be using in my PhD research. I hope to wrap this up well before the end of the fall semester and get a good start on my prelim proposal before the end of the year so I can present it by the end of next summer.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Aaaand, we're back! Four months to the day.

Whew, I've been away for a while! In the last post, I had just presented my required department seminar. Now that it is four months later, I have passed the PhD qualifying exam, procured a Department of Energy fellowship, and finished my thesis (which will be deposited Friday or early next week). In less than a week, I will have a master's degree. *yay!*

I have also discovered that I seem to have a problem acknowledging the magnitude of my accomplishments. I seem to think that having a camcorder set up to record my seminar, the first recorded seminar in department history, is a bigger deal than:
  • making my first poster
  • presenting said poster at my first grant-funded conference
  • winning a department award for said poster
  • presenting my department seminar in my fourth semester
  • passing the PhD qualifying exam at the end of my fourth semester, before finishing my master's degree (apparently this is not normal)
  • finishing my master's degree in two years with enough research to possibly make two papers,
which I did in a little under a year. Is it sinking in yet? That's a hell of a lot of stuff!

I think I'm starting to understand that, but the transition from a lifetime of minimizing accomplishments either to fit in or to avoid becoming an egotistical asshole is slow. I'm still worried about the latter, so I hope someone will tell me if I start down that path.