I just got the best email ever!
My thesis finally got approved for thesis release!!! This has been quite the process since my defense way back in November…and even more of a ridiculous journey since starting research in the winter going into 2013.
Now that I’m done with my thesis research (apart from a recently submitted paper and hopefully one more on the way) I have several things that, in hindsight, I wish I’d done differently.
1) Have an advisor selected BEFOREHAND my first semester. I didn’t figure out who I was going to work for until well into my first semester and I actually only ended up working for them because we chatted when they visited the lab I was teaching. I wasn’t nearly decisive enough about what kind of work I wanted to pursue and was consequently far less aggressive about pursuing research opportunities than I should have been. Part of this was caused by my crazy notion that I might enjoy robotics. Found out a few weeks into my first grad robotics course that it really wasn’t my thing.
A better strategy may have been taking a temporary job and working harder to explore my options and nail down a lab, advisor, fellowship applications, etc. I guess the end date would likely have been the same but maybe I would feel more successful, having followed a more traditional timeline within the program itself.
2) Ask for help sooner. I think I’ve talked about this one earlier, but struggling with software for MONTHS is idiotic when there is a lab just down the hall that regularly utilizes the strategies that you are torturing yourself to figure out. In hindsight this is so obvious and simple, but at the time I think the stress and anxiety made it really tough to make that call to seek assistance. People are so busy and asking for help is intimidating
3) Be more persistent in getting writing guidance from my advisor during that first draft. I learned a lot from getting it utterly mauled, but the experience also caused my anxiety during interactions with my advisor to skyrocket and added a ridiculous amount of revision time. If I could go back I would ask for a) a copy of a thesis that my advisor thought was well done and b) a style guide or example of approved figure and plot style. Turns out advisor is VERY particular about those and I had to redo every single figure. Multiple times. With vague but very harsh feedback….good times! The harsh delivery was not due to maliciousness, but just due to advisor having to repeat the same remarks to multiple students and losing track of who should already have known each formatting preference, etc. If I ever end up managing others who are writing papers for one lab/organization I plan to make a style guide so that I can hand it to new people and then feel secure in any chewing out since they actually should know what I want ;P
I think that covers the main areas that inspire me to face palm whenever I look back…
A few things that I couldn’t/wouldn’t change:
1) Mono. That particular challenge couldn’t be helped, and I acknowledge that falling asleep mid-dinner most evenings for a couple months definitely slowed my research progress down.
2) Marriage. My marriage survived grad school, but there were some rough patches where I struggled to balance my work and my relationship with MountainMan. If I’d worked more I might have finished sooner, but I think I may have been single by the end
3) TAing the course from hell. I actually wouldn’t go back and change this. Sure, 30+ hours of TA work per week isn’t ideal for excelling at research, but some of my strongest grad school friendships emerged from that grim inferno. I’ll take misery if it comes with a social life 😛
In any case, I’m done now! Hopefully I can apply my experiences to improve my chances of success in future endeavors and gain something worthwhile (besides my degree) from the last 3 years!