I once asked my writing teacher what to do when I don’t know what to write about. He told me I should make a list.
I always envisioned my end of the year post as a deep riveting essay reflecting on the past academic year. However, as I finishing scrapping together my last project report, I realized that I’m either too burned out for deep reflective essays or don’t actually have deep reflective thoughts about the year. Instead, in an attempt to keep my New Year’s Resolution, I will make some lists. A list of things I’ve learned. A list of things I’m thankful for. Because as long as you have lessons to learn and things to be thankful for, the year was not a waste.
Things I’ve Learned
- Sometimes, it’s important to know when to give up.
As a second year PhD student, I ambitiously caught myself in projects that were very theoretical and technical in fields I am unfamiliar with. Sadly, it turned out I simply can’t catch up with the field in a short quarter or, like my ego likes to claim, simply not interested enough to put in the time needed.
After spending numerous Sunday afternoons struggling with my friend over game theory models and a Saturday from 9am to 9pm trying to get my multi-armed bandit algorithm to run, I was forced to admit that perhaps these projects won’t be the success and potential publications that I’ve childishly imagined.
It’s okay to admit that some things just aren’t for you. There are many projects out there and I still have over half of my PhD left to find them.
- Learn to time manage, but don’t beat yourself up over wasting time.
This piece of advice actually came from my professor. Frustrated with my lack of progress on research, I asked her feedback on what I was doing wrong. Her answer was much more forgiving than I expected. She told me that every graduate student at some point wastes over half of their week away. And it’s okay, because it happens to everyone. Don’t stress about it, just make sure it doesn’t happen every week.
“We can work on better time management skills next year,” she reassured me.
- Exercise is important.
This one is quite cliché so I won’t explain myself. But clichés are clichés for a reason. I shall just cite that I noticed an increase in productivity in the weeks that I exercised regularly. Of course, don’t over-exercise either.
- Blocking off time for rest and fun is also important.
In undergrad, I frequently sacrificed sleep and fun to finish homework assignments. I told myself I shouldn’t do that in graduate school. However, whenever finals season come and the pressure of final projects hit me, I fall back into my undergrad ways. Maybe it’s signs of old age, or perhaps my older and wiser self is simply more aware, I’m completely unproductive when I’m tired and stressed. Instead of actually reading a paper, I spend over an hour rereading and rereading the introduction because my brain refuses to process information. Typically, a couple hours pass before I realized I need a nap or a break.
Which relates back to my first lesson, sometimes, it’s important to give up.
Of course, all of these lessons are easier said than done. But hopefully this post will serve as a reminder for me in the coming year.
Things I’m Thankful For
- Reconnecting with old friends.
I’ve always been bad at keeping up with people. However, this year, perhaps because the west coast is a popular vacation spot or we finally started missing each other after a few years of break, I’ve been meeting up with many old friends from high school and undergrad.
Surprisingly, despite all changes in our lives, we seemed to pick up exactly where we had left off, teasing and annoying each other like we always did. No matter what status, lifestyle, job, or etc. changes, they were suddenly the same people I struggled over late night psets with in the dorm room kitchen, cooked dinners with for our co-op house, and bonded over midnight truth-or-dares with on the campus lawn.
Perhaps things haven’t changed as much as I thought.
- Building new community.
First year was a struggle in terms of community; it was difficult juggling adjusting to grad school life, to Bay Area life, and making new friends. This year, however, I’ve felt much more settled and at home. I have found a church, bible study, and campus fellowship that I love. I’ve gotten to know people in my department better. I’m getting along wonderfully with my roommates.
To my friends, old and new, I truly appreciate your friendships.
- Understanding my professors better.
After sticking with me over my year of unfinished projects and endless soul-searching for new projects, it finally sunk in that my professors probably aren’t going to abandon me for other brighter and more efficient PhD students. I have always been mildly scared or intimidated by my professors. However, as I got to know them better, I realized that despite all their awe-inspiring achievements, they are people, just like us. Luckily for me, my professors are caring and insightful individuals who are ready to give advice as long as I have the courage to ask them for it.
This one is self-explanatory. I’m always thankful for the ones who support me and encourage me despite how annoying I am. Thank you, mom, for being my negative emotion dump throughout the year. Although you don’t always give the best advice, thank you very much for listening.
Last but definitely not least. A list cannot encompass God’s blessings over the past year, for He was the one who taught me how to give thanks in the first place. So, I shall just say, thank you very much for your blessings and guidance and I hope that everything I do will give thanks to you.
“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”