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.