When your research gets put on the backburner

Once again, since my TAing has ramped up for the summer, I am buried in a pile of grading.

I’ve noticed that I’ve started to prioritize my teaching (read: grading) over other things, such as reading papers, figuring out what other experiments I should do, and looking into grants.  As I sit here and look at the pile of papers I should grade and the pile of papers I should read for research, I find myself reaching towards the grading.  I’ve noticed that I tend to put the immediately due (but not necessarily more important) over the important, but due later.  For example, while I know I want to apply to the NSF GRF, and that it’s important, I choose to grade instead.

I know that this habit is not going to result in a productive PhD.  So how do I make my research my priority?  Personally, I think I tend to make choices based on what is due first.  And because research is a long term thing, while teaching things (preparing recitations, reviewing labs, grading, attending meetings and lecture) seem to be due all the time I gravitate towards doing things for teaching.

In the last year, I’ve noticed that I also prioritize what I do first by how long it will take to get done.  I tend to do things that I can finish quickly over things that will take longer.  This may be why I do other things over reading papers.  Right now, I have a TON of papers that I should read, and there are always new papers to read.  So reading papers is a never ending task*, there is no point where I can cross it off of my to do list.  Therefore, when it comes time to decide whether or not I should grade my large, but finite number of papers or to read 1 of what seems like infinity number of papers, I will almost always choose to grade. While this makes me a good TA, it does not make me a good researcher.

So I think I need to somehow redefine how I see my research to do list so it looks like my teaching to do list.  I think I need to give myself short tasks that have a hard deadline.  So maybe instead of thinking that I have to read all of the papers in my backlog, maybe I should change my goal to read just 1 paper?  Possibly, instead of thinking of 1 line of my to do list as “find grants to apply to”, maybe I could change it to “look at one grant”?

I think I will try to create my to do lists in this fashion.  Hopefully I begin to do more research stuff as a result.  Fingers crossed.

Do you do this too?  Do you do things that are due immediately over things that are important?

* I think it should be.  I think you should try to keep up with the literature as best as you can.


About myscientificlife

Welcome to myscientificlife! I recently completed my undergrad at State University. I am currently taking a year off of school and applying to graduate schools. This lovely blog is mostly about my journey towards grad school and other things I find interesting, such as food, podcasts, and books. Probably mostly food. You can reach me at myscientificlife@gmail.com.
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7 Responses to When your research gets put on the backburner

  1. Alyssa says:

    A couple of things that helped me: breaking larger tasks into a bunch of smaller ones and setting aside one morning per week for just reading. Hang in there – part of the PhD process is to figure this kind of stuff out!

    • Alyssa, those sound like good ideas! I definitely think I need to start thinking about my research like that. Also, dedicating one morning a week to reading is a good idea too! I’m going to have to look at my schedule to see if I can start doing that. Thanks for the suggestions and encouragement!

  2. Do the important stuff in the morning. (5-6 days a week!) The grading will get done even if you’re brain dead.

  3. I can see why you are choosing to grade papers rather than do more important but daunting tasks. It seems to be that it’s a form of procrastination, and we’ve all been there. It’s less scary to grade papers (a boring task that you know how to do well) than really dwelving into the literature for your PhD or applying to a major grant isn’t? My advice is similar to comments above, set a specific time in which you are going to read papers or start your application; even write in in your diary (that helps me). Hang in there!

  4. Pingback: Life update | myscientificlife

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