Better Grad Student

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Posts Tagged ‘break

40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Days 26 & 27

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Photo by david.nikonvscanon

The past few days I’ve felt like I was beating my head against a wall trying to solve this research problem. Some of my data wasn’t coming out right and for the life of me I could not figure out why. I checked all my spreadsheets, recalculated formulas, traced the units so that they all made sense and I was getting nowhere. I wound up getting distracted with other unimportant tasks because I was struggling so much with this problem.

Finally I’d had enough and decided to go for a walk to clear my head for a bit. I just had to get out of there and let my mind wander for a minute. As I was walking, my mind wandered back to the problem and what I could possibly be doing wrong. All of a sudden, I made the realization that something I had assumed to be correct, was in fact wrong! I had this Aha! moment without even trying. I finished my walk and got back to the problem, and sure enough, I solved it in no time flat.

In a separate, but similar situation, I was working with one of our the instruments in my lab. This machine measures glucose and lactate from any sample presented to it. It’s been working pretty well, but it spontaneously decided that it didn’t want to function normally. It’s not that complicated of an instrument, but aside from a few basic maintenance tasks I knew about, there’s not much that can be done to it when it’s broken. But for whatever reason, it just wasn’t working. I went through the troubleshooting manual a couple of times and did various things to see if I could get it to work, but, again, it was all for naught. Eventually I decided to call the company’s support and see if they had any suggestions. Turns out, they weren’t that helpful.

Oh wait, they were actually extremely helpful. Within a few minutes, they were able to offer some suggestions as to why the machine wasn’t working, and they sent me some more supplies to replace what was potentially busted. As I found out, the company support line knows what they’re doing, and they certainly knew more about the machine than me. Implementing their suggestions got the machine up and running and helped to get the backlog of samples going. I fixed the machine, learned a few things in the process, and hopefully next time I can figure out any problems myself.

I share these two stories to really drive home my tips of the day(s). The first is to take a real break when you’re struggling with something. This means go do something that’s not a normal part of your routine. For most people, going on a walk is pretty out of the ordinary and so I highly recommend taking the time to do this, even if it’s just outside around your building. You may be surprised at how you feel when you come back.

The second point is that you shouldn’t wait to ask for help. In my situation, help came in the form of the company’s support line, but help can come in other forms. Take some time to see if you can figure something out yourself, but don’t wait forever to ask for help. Other people will either know more than you about something, or they can offer a contrasting point of view that what you have.

Break out of your normal habits and you will be surprised at the good things that will happen!

Please tell me what you think in the comments. Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

Written by Taylor M.

April 8, 2011 at 9:59 pm

40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Day 8

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Photo by Ivn8ive

Today’s tip is simple: go outside! I know that most of my readers (for now) are here in the South. Here in Nashville, it’s an absolutely gorgeous day. Many months of cold weather finally gave way to some warm temperatures and sunshine. So get out there and do something! Suggestions:

– Go for a Run / Walk

– Sit and read somewhere

– Play some sport

– Get a tan

Whatever you do, just make sure you enjoy this beautiful day somehow. I know it’s a Thursday, but that’s no excuse not to get outside at least once and just relax for a few minutes. You’ll be glad you did!

Please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

Written by Taylor M.

March 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Posted in Fun, Productivity, The Basics

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40 Days of Tips, Tricks, and Links: Day 7

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Photo by SergioTudela

It’s questionable whether today’s link will make you a better grad student or not. It will make you smarter, so that’s at least worth something. This link comes from the all-knowing Wikipedia. As I’m sure you’re familiar with, Wikipedia is packed with information on just about any topic you could ask for. In recent years it has become an indispensable tool for research and quick fact-checking. The problem with just using it for research or school though, is that you never get to explore the randomness of the 3,500,000+ articles on the largest crowd-sourced encyclopedia.

Enter Wiki Random. From any article in Wikipedia, you can hit the link on the side of the page and go to a random article. To make that even better, you can set that link as a bookmark in your internet browser. Add http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random as a bookmark to your bookmarks bar or favorites. Whenever you need a mental break, hit that link and you’ll be transported to a page to learn about who knows what. This magical ability is also available to you via the keyboard: while on Wikipedia, hit control-option-x (or alt-x for you Windows users) and you’ll be taken to a random page. Use this when taking a break to learn about something new and unexpected, but be careful not to let it take too much time. Too many hours to count have been lost in the sea of knowledge that is Wikipedia.

Please tell me what you think in the comments! Also, if you like what you’ve been reading here, sign up at the top of the page to receive emails every time I make a new post. Thank you for reading!

Written by Taylor M.

March 16, 2011 at 6:06 pm

Posted in Fun, Internet

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