Sunday, December 4, 2011

How to Finish Your Ph.D. and Get a Job, Part I

I have all the answers.

Happy birthday to me!

Just kidding! I have no answers! Yet. I'm trying to accomplish both things, so if I ever do, I will let you know.

In the mean time, now you know where I've been. Right after the Marine Corps Marathon, I woke up early and dragged myself to main campus for Princeton's Dissertation Boot Camp. Five days of dedicated writing time with an array of breakfast and lunch-ish snacks and a constant drip of coffee? SIGN ME UP.

Mom makes fun of me for my free food fascination, but I am only behaving like any other normal grad student. I digress. Writing.

Boot Camp began with a round-table discussion in which our sergeants (lovely Writing Center staff) led our group of 20 plebes through introductions, exercises to help us define our dissertation audience(s) and good titles, and the writing of daily and weekly goals. I enjoyed chatting with my fellow cadets very much, even though (especially because?) I was one of only four or five scientists or engineers in a sea of humanities and social sciences folk. Soon, we were sent off to our assigned desks for the week. I shared a big, comfy room with two other writers.

This desk was mine for five productive days:
GS Boot Camp

The impressive array of morning snacks included bananas, grapes, bagels, yogurt, granola bars, cream cheese, peanut butter, Nutella, juices, tea, and coffee. The afternoon snacks were not advertised as such, but I made a very satisfying lunch out of them: trail mix, hummus, pita chips, apples, more granola bars, more coffee, and--perhaps because it was Halloween--REESE'S!
Delicious snacks

Our bulletin boards held inspiring quotes, our goal note cards, and my dream defense date.
Personal bulletin board
So true

On the second day of camp, I turned 27! Happy Birthday to me! I arrived home that day to these beauties on the patio, courtesy of Craig and Melissa:
Birthday cupcakes on my patio!

Also, Rachel cracked me up with this card in my mailbox:
Awesome card.

And sister Amy's Arabic-speaking Dalek is amazing:
Awesome card II, from Amy!

On Day 3, I used a bunch of books, lugged all the way over from lab:
I lugged a lot of books from lab.

In the afternoons, we broke up into small debriefing groups, the same each day. I was highly amused that in mine of five people, I was the only girl. Now, that's not unusual. That's downright normal. What was strange is that I was the only scientist! :)

By Day 4, I was done with a Chapter 1 draft and truckin' through Chapter 2:
Day 4! Still Alive!

I got to do some math, which makes me happy:
I did math today.

My group got along well. They were interesting guys with topics completely outside of what I usually contemplate: Georgian music, philosophy, ancient Japanese warrior families, and Latin American drama groups. I loved glimpses into their worlds, and I hope they enjoyed glimpses into mine...

On Day 5, we wrote during the morning and had one last debriefing with the entire squad. And pizza and cannoli (which will always remind me of You've Got Mail). We discussed our progress (we all made some), what helped (a new space, focused comrades, free food), and how we could perpetuate this motion and finish (stay off Facebook).

I highly recommend that you take the Dissertation Boot Camp if it is offered at your university (Princeton isn't the only one that does). It kick-started my writing! I left with 1.75 more chapter drafts! (Out of only five or six total, that's significant.)

I finished out Day 5 in my apartment.
Last day ended early, so I finished at home.

Here, I learned one reason...
Faraday is one reason...

...for the difficulty that I occasionally have...
...why I have difficulty...

...working at home.
...working from home sometimes.


Since Boot Camp, however, you'll be pleased to know that I have complete rough drafts of three chapters, a 75% finished draft of another, a 33% finished draft of the fifth, and plans for the simulations for the sixth.

One major tip I can confidently offer to someone writing their dissertation? GET A BUDDY. Working with Nadine, who is writing her master's thesis, lends accountability, motivation, and camaraderie. The food at our meetings isn't free, but at least we share it. :)

Stay tuned for Part II: "How Jess Is Trying to Get a Job".


IrkaDblrka said...

Happy birthday! And wow - several drafted chapters in five days?! That's more than impressive! Usually the first chapters are the hardest since you actually writing new stuff, and the rest are the papers you've already wrote... So looks like you are in great shape to meet your defense dream date!
As for the job searching - if you are looking for a postdoc job, start talking with all potential bosses, and don't be shy of contacting them and asking if they have any postdoc positions open. These are often not officially advertized, personal interactions is the key (my experience + my recent Ph.D. student experience).

physikerin said...

Thanks! Well, in five days I got 1.75 drafts done...the others have been a work in progress since October 1st. :)

Thank you for the advice! I've indeed had the most success so far with personal job offers yet, but on-site interview offers!