Lessons Learned from My Master’s, Part 2: Good Weekly Habits

Last installment, I touched on 3 ways to improve data organization. Today’s theme is “good weekly habits”.

I always found my weeks filled up quickly in graduate school. There were always experiments to set up and execute, results to analyze, and don’t forget your coursework! However, there are a few things you can do that demand less immediate attention, but have big pay offs in the long run. Attending seminars and other departmental gatherings, keeping up on the literature, and making sure you’re on track are all things that are easy to put off, but you shouldn’t let them fall by the wayside.

1. Seminars and other weekly gatherings.

Departments usually have weekly seminars or other such gatherings. Block that time off in your schedule, and go to them, no matter what the topic is. This is a habit I picked up as an undergraduate, however, when seminar time arrived as a graduate student, sometimes I found myself thinking “I have too much to do right now, but I will go next week”. Even though you might have something that seems more pressing, attending departmental functions is important. Not only is it a good way to meet people (including visiting scientists) and make connections, but it is also an opportunity to broaden your horizons. It can be easy to get “tunnel vision” working on a project, particularly if you’re trying to resolve a tricky problem, but you should not miss out on the opportunity to learn about what others are working on too! On a related note – are you working on a multidisciplinary project? Perhaps that means carving out time for a weekly trip over to another department too!

2. What’s been published this week?

At the beginning of a research project, a lot of time and effort is spent on writing a literature review on the chosen topic. It feels great to get that finished, but it never really is finished, is it? Science marches on, and by the time you get to the end of your project, that first semester lit. review won’t complete anymore. Staying on top of the latest research is a really important weekly habit. Monday mornings are often slow starters, so why not brew an extra large cup of coffee and spend some time looking into what’s new in the rest of the world before jumping into that big list of lab work.

3. What’s done and what’s next.

This is a good Friday afternoon activity. Before you nip off to the pub, spend 10 minutes writing down a summary of what you accomplished, any relevant thoughts, and what you intend to do the next week. You can keep a separate journal for this, or you can put it in your lab book. Assessing your progress on a regular basis can help make sure you’re moving forward, and spending some time reflecting on your work can help solve any problems you are stuck on. One more tip: if you write your summary in your lab book, make sure to make those pages identifiable and accessible (post-it notes, or perhaps mark the upper outer corner with a colour) to make it easy to see how you’ve been progressing. This is especially important if you need to figure out a train of thought you had after some time (for example, you are writing up your results).

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