A day in the office

After a shoutout from fellow scientist Jill, I realized I hadn’t posted in awhile.

Since my last post, I successfully navigated the qualifying exam that it described, married the love of my life in my parents backyard, and have spent most of the summer in San Diego ‘working.’

I don’t have an incredible research trip, or even really cool research results, to share with you today.  So I thought I’d go into some ramblings on what is involved when I say ‘work.’

Most days, I wake up around 8am, make breakfast and coffee at home, and eat it while I read my emails, answer anything important, skim the news online, and set out a plan for the day.  I make a little to do list on my computer, which is usually a copy of yesterday’s to do list with several additional items.  I know in making the list that I will not possibly complete all of the tasks, so I put the really important ones in boldface and decide that if I can at least achieve those, I’ve had a good day.  Then I pack my lunch, clean up the kitchen, and ride my bicycle to school.  I ensconce myself in my office with a freshly topped off water bottle and begin working through one or more of my items, which will probably involve coding on my computer.  Within an hour, I’ve reached a brick wall and write several emails asking for help.  I take the opportunity to walk down the hill from my office to our coffee cart, refill my coffee mug for $1, and either sit in the sun to read or make my way back to my office.  Around noon, I meet Simon for lunch and we find a comfortable outdoors location in which to eat and discuss our day.  If I’m still stuck in MATLAB or unix, I ask his advice (and he usually has good advice).  We talk about what time we might leave, if we want to race each other home on our bikes or not, and what we’ll make for dinner.  I then return to my office and am usually very productive for about two hours.  Around 3pm, I am feeling tired and my eyes simply do not want to look at a computer screen anymore.  Depending on how motivated I am, I will either 1- print off some papers and read them 2- go to a seminar 3- find someone to talk to about science or vaguely related things 4- go to the lab and work on my sediment samples or 5- sit placidly in front of the computer, but stare out my window watching for dolphin fins or whale spouts until it is time to leave.

On a good day, I’ll have produced nice figures in MATLAB that get me slightly closer to answering research questions.  I’ll have learned a new trick or shortcut, and have read a relevant scientific paper.

However, this peaceful schedule is often disrupted by meetings, labwork, conferences, proposal writing, applying for fellowships, seminars, and requests from help from other students.  I usually embrace these opportunities to walk around and sit in a different location for awhile (and of course- get away from my screen!)

I am learning slowly but surely that I can’t be trusted to focus on a single problem for more than three hours at a time.  I try to plan my schedule accordingly, and get a chunk of ‘work’ (that coding stuff) done once in the morning and once in the afternoon.  Inevitably, I do not always succeed at this.

And while you may now be thinking “Wow, that sounds great, she has it so easy”- it is important for me to note that sometimes deadlines approach and I go back to work after dinner and all weekend.  While my day to day routine is super flexible, I have some very large things that need to be done two years from now- big research projects completed, scientific papers published, and a thesis written.  It is a little hard to ever feel like it is easy with all that over your head!

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