Thursday, October 30, 2008

Making it Work

So, I've been working on my paper. Or, I've been trying to work on my paper. There are a few problems that I've been dealing with:

  1. I have trouble working in the lab. We have a small lab space, and my desk is right in the middle of everything. People are constantly walking past my desk. I can hear everyone's conversations. The bench space of one of my labmates with whom I enjoy chatting is right next to my desk. No need to even raise our voices. I am very easily distracted.
  2. I have trouble working at home. I constantly feel like I am about ten items behind on the critical to-do list around the house. That's not even touching the long standing undone big jobs, like finishing up painting the living room.
  3. Even if I did want to bring my laptop with me to work every single day, I'm not convinced that working in the library is any better of an option, since I would also need to bring all my papers and files with me. Plus, when I sit in the comfy chairs in the nearest library, I just feel like falling asleep.
  4. It doesn't really matter where I work, I don't really do well when I have to sit for long periods of time. My brain kind of shuts down and I get cranky.
  5. Oh, I almost forgot, I don't know what the hell I am doing!
Well, I have found some solutions:
  1. I finally updated my iPod and put all of the music we have at home on it. So, I play really loud music really loud while I'm working. How loud? If you don't wave a hand in front of my face or tap my shoulder, you might as well not exist as far as I'm concerned.
  2. I still don't know what to do about working at home. Except to not.
  3. For now I am skipping the library. I used to hide out there when I was so sleep deprived I needed to catch a power nap. The association is too strong.
  4. I permit myself to get up and randomly walk around every half hour. Bathroom, coffee, water, down the hall and back again. Sometimes I just dance around by my desk. Anything to avoid turning my ass to stone. Thankfully my labmates are amused and not annoyed.
  5. Whoops! I got nothing for this one. I know what a good paper looks like. I have a plan for writing, too, but it just seems like, no matter what I do, everything takes at least three times longer than I think it will.
I am writing an article length paper. That's 55,000 characters maximum for the journal we plan to submit to. I think the limit is ten printed pages. I have decided on seven figures, although one may be axed. My PI has recommended that I write the sections in this order: Methods, Results, Discussion, Introduction, Abstract. He didn't really specify when he thought the figures should get done, but I found that I get stuck trying to write about imaginary figures.

So far, I have made really nice, prettyfied versions of 5.5 of the figures. Each one has taken at least half a day of solid work to get done. I have written the captions for all the completed figures. I wrote the "Methods" section a while ago, and I feel like I've been writing the Results section FOREVER! It seems like every time I write something, I end up realizing something that I forgot to include. I don't know when it's going to get done. And my PI is waiting for it. I thought I'd have it done a week ago. I think he thinks I'm not working on it. But I am. I just feel like I'm bumbling around like an idiot. I know I'll get there eventually, but right now, I'm spending a lot of time backtracking and I don't know how to take a more direct route.

All that said, I am really feeling cool for getting to write such a long paper MYSELF (though I fully realize that it will get ripped to shreds in the revision process). This is what I came to grad school for!


Anonymous said...

Make the figures first! I promise it'll be easier that way.

ScienceWoman said...

Join the club. November is InaDWriMo.

ScienceGirl said...

I was about to suggest InaDWriMo as well! Also, it is the "Oh, I almost forgot, I don't know what the hell I am doing!" that I find very paralyzing myself. I try to get around it by making detailed outlines/lists of what would go into each part of the paper. Good luck!

acmegirl said...

Thanks for the suggestion, ScienceWoman and sciencegirl. I took your advice and I did it! I'm signed up for InaDWriMo! Gonna make a ticker for completed tasks. Yay me!

Professor in Training said...

I was in the same situation in grad school ... I shared an office with TEN noisy, smelling, sweating, talkative guys. I found that I was most productive early in the morning before they started to arrive and the rest of the day was spent with my iPod blasting (which you seem to have also discovered).

Oh, and btw - I agree with your PI on the best order in which to write your paper. Play with putting tables and figures together before and during the time you write the results section ... and revise and change as you go along.

Good luck :)

Drugmonkey said...

what everyone said. Figures first!

Comrade PhysioProf said...

FIGURES AND FIGURE LEGENDS FIRST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Abel Pharmboy said...

I definitely understand the motivation issue in working at home with kids and staring at all the little crap projects I've been putting off.

I can't write when listening to any music but classic jazz. In your situation you might also consider those compressible foam earplugs.

And yep, my PD mentor had us each keep a manila envelope with completed figures and legends. Having them done and in front of you in hardcopy form seemed to stimulate my subconscious formulation of the text I'd ultimately write in the manuscript.

acmegirl said...

Well, I'm happy to report that I have finished all the figures that contain my actual data. I hope to finish the Results quickly, now!

drdrA said...

Figures first... as everyone has said. Materials and Methods can get you started on the text because they are easy easy easy to write and fairly defined. I usually write the introduction sort of at the same time. Then I skip to the results, because now I've had time to ponder the figures- and the discussion..

As for finding a quiet place to write. I either stay home, and force myself to sit for a solid hour- then allow myself a break to get up walk around, eat something etc. Then another hour.

Otherwise, I have a random coffee shop that I like that has free wireless internet- so I hide there but can still access the library... usually works very well.

Also- find your optimal hour for writing- for me that's 4 pm to 9 pm- I can just crank out text between those hours- I have no idea why. I suppose I just could have made a blog post out of this!