Evaluating my semester

This semester I’ve had a teaching leave. Fifteen weeks to focus on research and getting papers out and research done. I had lofty ambitions for this semester, and slightly unrealistic expectations for how much I could do.

The plan
The cut down version of my plan (after planning my semester with far more, realizing that was not going to happen and re-planning with less) was to get 2 papers written and submitted, with one of those resubmitted. Another paper drafted, and one major grant submitted.
My softer goals were to spend more time in the lab at the bench, attend 3 conferences and speaking at two of them (lined up well before the semester), and increase the time I spent reading broadly and thinking about the future of projects happening in the lab.

So how did I do?

I got a lot written. More importantly, I really got into the habit of sitting down as soon as I got to the office in the morning and write* for 2 hours. Sometimes that was 3 hours, more often it was 2 hours, then do another task, then have meetings with students, then come back and write more in the afternoon. This writing habit is one that I have been working on for a year, starting with the NCFDD Faculty Success program**.
One of the papers took far longer than I anticipated to get written – largely due to a large data set that took a long time to work through, and a new-to-me subfield. But it got done, submitted, and I’m finishing up the resubmission now. The second paper is the first from one of my graduate students, and that is also slower than expected (see previous post). But we are in the final stages.
So paper writing? I am going to hit the 2 papers, one submitted, one resubmitted goal before this semester is done. Or at least before Christmas.
I didn’t get a draft of the next one done, but I did go through all the data with my lab manager, sketch out an outline, and a couple of experiments are being finished off now. So that’s progress, just not an actual draft.

The other “hard” goal was to get an R01 done. It was done and submitted. And better – I did it without any late night writing, and only one late night adding references. Please everyone cross their fingers for $$$.

The soft goals were a little more hit-and-miss. Partly because of the nature of poorly defined goals. I did not spend a lot of time in the lab, but I did finish off some experiments and I did get in there to teach a new student many of the techniques. The other thing that happened was that many of my lab people have all got to the point where they are now experts. I guess they hit the 10,000 hours of practice while I have been losing ground as a consequence of being at my computer rather than at the bench. So I didn’t spend more time in the lab, but one of the reasons for needing to be there quietly dissipated. So is this a check or not? I am not sure.

More reading? Thinking about the future of projects and new projects***? I guess I did? But not as intentionally as planned. It happened more organically – we started producing more data, we talked about broader directions, and therefore I read more.

What else did I get done?
Student fellowship applications, postdoc fellowship applications, letters of recommendation, ongoing lab management stuff, 4 conferences, 2 talks, student presentations…

What didn’t I get done?
I had lofty goals. I expected more (even though I knew that was unrealistic) and I somehow feel like I didn’t quite get everything done.
That next paper draft! And I really wanted the paper resubmission to be done before now. There’s one more experiment I really should have done by now. And I wanted be further ahead on the grants due in January… the usual.

What else happened?
I said no. To everything****. I turned down paper reviews, I said no to taking on more undergrads in the lab (we already have a lot, and they are great, but managing more takes time). This was both expected (it’s part of the deal for the leave) and great.
I did get derailed for almost a month when I was sick. Even when I was back at work I was totally inefficient. I need to build a little more flexibility into my plans/expectations of what I can get done since chances are I’m going to get sick more than once per semester.

So was the leave semester successful?
I think so. Having one less major thing to do every week meant less task-shifting which meant better focus and getting more of the writing/research/thinking side done. It also meant that now I feel a little more on top of this*****. And the focused writing time was good for one of these papers in particular, as it was the first in a new subfield for me.

What did I learn that I will take forward?
1. The writing habit. I planned my class times so that I can continue to walk into my office and write, and not worry about email, class prep, meetings, or anything else until after that first writing bout.
2. That saying “no” thing. I can’t always say no to everything, and I don’t even want to do that, but knowing I can, and knowing that usually the response is *shrug* “okay” is super helpful.
3. Closing my office door. It goes with both 1 and 2.

Next Semester
Having a break from teaching was great. I’m actually looking forward to going back to it******. I also still have a lot on the burner to write: grant proposals, resubmit the second of the papers from this semester (and possibly the first, but fingers crossed for not needing to do that), two more papers that are in the pipeline, two conferences and a couple of talks… it’s going to be busy.

* Write, analyze data, edit, meet with a student about the paper we are working on…
** Highly recommend. And I have no affiliation with the program or any kickbacks for advertising. Also see @psycgrrrl’s blog here.
*** These come under the banner “should always be doing more, no such thing as enough”
**** Except one committee, which I actively wanted to be a part of.
***** But ask me again tomorrow
******It helps that the course is one that I’ve already taught a bunch of times.

2 thoughts on “Evaluating my semester

  1. Somehow the language has not appealed to me. Flippancy often fail to send across serious messages. I may be a bit old fashioned but I somehow could not connect with this.

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