We're a little crazy, about science!

Path planning

I’m an anxious person, I acknowledge this. PTSD, anxiety, depression, just a few of the things I live with and try to manage daily. To help keep me sane(ish), I have certain things I do. I like making to-do lists, having a well organized calendar, and I like to keep track of where I’ve been and where I’m going. That last one, that’s the topic for the day. With summer here things have changed. I am done with classes, I’m going to be teaching (here), I set my “lazy goals” (here), and it’s the time where I review my progress and plan for the next year. I figure others may benefit from doing something similar, so let’s go over how I do this.

Technically I mark the end of my PhD year in the fall, because that’s when I started so it makes sense to me to designate it there. Holding to that convention I’m almost done with my third year in the program and I’ve come a long way since I started. I’ve learned a lot, done a lot, and I don’t regret the decision to continue my education. In order to make sure I make the most of the years I have left (hopefully just two more!) I like to come up with some plans for how the next year should go. It’s not an exact plan, but more like a guideline of things I want to get done. This relates back to goal setting and milestones (here), but is more long-term.

I like to think of my yearly review of my progress as the way people treat new years resolutions. It’s just things I want to get done by the next review and it’s not the end of the world if I don’t hit them, but I want to do my best to make it. Unlike new years resolutions though, these are things I definitely wouldn’t be giving up on. I do this at the end of the term like this because I have time to think ahead now and summer is when I have time to take major leaps to getting things done so I aim high for the summer. This is also why I set my “lazy goals” before I do this, so they don’t interfere with each other and because some years I have a lot of “lazy” things I want to do so the summer work gets scaled back. Remember self care is the most important thing you can do, period.

This years lazy goals read a lot like last years, in fact they are basically identical! That wasn’t an accident, last years lazy goals were perfect and I really got a lot out of them so I wanted to relive that summer again. The path ahead though is going to change. I have several things that need to happen and they can be broken up into short-term (summer-ish timeline to finish) and long-term (won’t be done until the next review if they get done at all). I make this distinction because it helps me plan on what to do and when to do it.

In the short-term I have one journal paper that needs revisions, that should be done in the next few weeks. I have a second journal paper that we’re going to resubmit to a new journal soon, that should be done shortly (again next few weeks). And I have one journal paper I need to write based on the experiment that I did (I talked about that headache yesterday). Yes, that’s a lot of papers. Ideally they will all get submitted and excepted by the end of the year. Submission will happen soon, acceptance or review wouldn’t happen for several months. The delay between submission and either acceptance, revision, or rejection is as short at three months and as long as six. Which is why the second paper is still (STILL) being revised and submitted literaly years later.

Long-term goals are things I need to do for my degree. This fall I want to defend my PhD proposal, which will happen after that third paper gets submitted. That paper has a hard deadline of the end of summer for that reason. There’s no other option or I will be pushed back even further and I can’t do that if I want to finish on time (my “on time” or five years to the degree). Once that happens it will trigger the next goal, to collect THE dataset. That dataset will be the dataset I use for my degree, hence the capital THE in THE dataset. Data collection ideally would happen in the fall shortly after my defense (which would happen at the beginning of the fall term sometime).

That would give me the next year and a half to analyze the data, publish at least one more journal paper, if not two. The goal would be two or even more if I can do it, but two would be ideal and really I think that would be pushing it. That’s further along though, so for the next year, the two long-term goals are just PhD proposal defense and data collection.

There are a few minor things I want to do, attend conferences and maybe help organize another one (like this one, which I did before the pandemic hit). This list also doesn’t include the collaborations with my Co-PI, I’ll be an author on at least two journal papers we’re publishing (that’s just so far) and with any luck I’ll be a first author on a future publication. There are also things up in the air, my funding and the R21 grant I wrote for example. Depending on how those end up, I may or may not have to reevaluate a lot of this.

Which brings me to why I’m laying all this out today, I need to email my main-PI to discuss my goals with him. Having it written down like this helps me, but also gives me a chance to think out what I want to do before I talk with him about it. If I get a response right away, I’ll be able to update everyone tomorrow on what may (or may not) happen, but this may be a few days of back and forth before we come to any conclusions. I’ll be sure to update once I know more though. The responses to my questions and my plan forward will either make or break this plan so as with a lot of things around here, it’s hurry up and wait time.

Planning the year ahead takes off a little bit of the stress of the unknown. I have goals, I can see the goals, and I can follow my progress towards those goals. It’s a way to remind myself that I have made progress in my degree even if it doesn’t feel like it. As with the previous years, the next year will probably be a wild ride and one that I am looking forward to, especially if I can make serious progress towards my degree plan.

Now, time to send that email…

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