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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Back-to-School Nightmares

I finished my PhD over three years ago and haven't taken a class since 2006, so you'd think I'd be done with school-related anxiety - yet last night I had a back-to-school themed dream.

I was in the middle of a calculus class and realized that the people sitting beside me had an assignment handed back to them which I had no idea about! So, I got a big fat ZERO on the first assignment. Then, the prof tells the class that all the remaining assignments - which consist of insanely complicated mathematical derivations - are to be done in class in 20 minute periods. Because I hadn't been paying attention in class or taking notes, I had no idea what I was doing, and had to either fail or drop out of the class.

Interesting how all my school-related dreams share the theme of being completely unprepared. 

Do you have back-to-school dreams, whether you're actually going back to school or not?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Before Breakfast

A while back, Cloud at Wandering Scientist wrote about how she had changed up her morning routine after she read a short book called What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Mornings--and Life by Laura Vanderkam. Her post motivated me to buy the book, and I finally got around to reading it this past weekend. 

The book - which took about 30 minutes to read - gives some great advice on how to make the most of the time before breakfast, and why we should take advantage of that time. A couple quotes to summarize:

"...tasks that require self-discipline are simply easier to do while the day is young."

"...willpower, like a muscle, becomes fatigued from overuse."

"There seems to be a general pattern that major self-control failures and other bad decisions occur late in the day."

The more I read, the more I could really understand where Vanderkam was coming from. I have all sorts of motivation in the morning to want to try new things, to bring exercise into my daily routine, to take up drawing, or the piano, or running. But, everything falls to shit once I get home from work and get through the dinner/bath/bedtime routine. Who hasn't started off the day feeling like you can take on the world, only to end up on the couch at 7:30pm, exhausted, with a big bag of chips and some M&Ms nearby? It just makes plain sense that, if you want to incorporate something new into your life, to do it when you're feeling the most positive and motivated.

Vanderkam overviews five steps to take to start spending your time better:

1. Track your time - how do you spend your time? Are you using it efficiently? Are there things you can do to free up time? Are there mundane tasks that can wait until later in the day so you can do the more important things earlier?

2. Picture the perfect morning - what would you do with your morning time if money, logistics, or anything else wasn't an issue? 

3. Think through the logistics - once you know what you want to do, how can you make that happen?

4. Build the habit - start slow, so you don't burn yourself out. Begin by introducing one activity for about a month before doing another. Wake up 15 minutes earlier for one week, then continue to wake up earlier, so as to not shock your system. It's okay "to use bribery at first." (I like that one!) :)

5. Tune up as necessary - Life will change, and so might your new routine, and that's okay!

This book as inspired me to try this out. My big goal right now is to introduce exercise back into my life, and I've had a hell of a time doing it. I have all the good intentions in the world, but fitting it in during the workday doesn't fly when I have impromptu meetings, TAs that need help, or teachers wanting to talk about our programs. After dinner doesn't work because, let's be honest, I'm exhausted and just want to crash with a book or in front of the TV. 

So, my plan is to utilize the mornings that DH wakes up with Evan (we alternate mornings). On those mornings, I plan to get up at about 6:20am - which is actually quite reasonable - and go for a walk or bike-ride. The other mornings, I will spend with Evan as I normally do.

Not sure what I'll do when it starts to get dark and/or cold, but I'll cross that bridge when I get there. I'll update in about a month with how I'm doing at the end of each week with how I'm doing!

As for the book - I highly recommend it for anyone who is looking to make the most of their time. I give the book a 4/5, because I wish it was longer :D

Edited to add:
A friend of mine started waking up earlier in the mornings to work out. Now, she uses that time to do all sorts of things - like prep for that night's dinner, do laundry, and clean up the house. Here's what she has to say about it:

"I'm totally a morning convert now. I always used to sleep til the last possible second, but no more!! I'm too addicted to how much easier nights are with less to do."

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Book Review: The Lost City of Z

Our latest book club choice, and my tenth book of the year (only 10?? I need to get my act together if I want to reach my 2012 goal of 20), was The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann.

This is a non-fiction book that is mostly about the adventures of a 20th century explorer, Percy Fawcett, and his experiences in his search for evidence of an ancient civilization in the Amazon. He never returned from his last expedition, and 100s of people have tried to figure out what happened to him and his team (which included one of his sons).

Interwoven with Fawcett's story is the author's own story of how he became interested, then almost obsessed, with Fawcett and the Lost City of Z, and how he ended up going on his own adventure into the Amazon.

The books was an interesting read, but got kind of boring in the middle because of it's repetitive nature (Fawcett goes on new expedition, some of his men get sick or die, he has no sympathy, they come out of the jungle, repeat). However, the last 50-60 pages got very interesting, when Grann (on his own adventure) finds out what has happened to Fawcett and whether he was right about Z. 

I would have preferred less time spent on detailing Fawcett's expeditions and more time on what has been found in the Amazon. This is why I'm giving the book a 3.5/5.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Office Upgrade

When I started my new job, we were in a pretty decent office. No windows to the outside, but we did have windows along to walls facing into a hallway (they were frosted so people couldn't see in). Unfortunately, that space needed to be used for someone else, so we had to move to this:

Fig. 1: Our old office - 2 people in a box less than 10'x10' with no windows.

It wasn't great, but we made due. Around here, one has to be thankful for any space. But, we could only use it for a few months until some new post-docs arrived (poor schmucks).

Our bosses worked tirelessly to get us a better, permanent, space. And, boy did they come through:

Fig. 2: Our new office. Windows to the OUTSIDE!! Enough space for two desks AND our stuff!! There's even a place (from where I took this photo from) for a small conference table!!

Sometimes it's worth it to suck it up and put in your dues to get something really amazing.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

4-Way Stop: A Review

Depending on the route I take, I can hit up to 5 4-way stops on the way to or from work. I would say about 80% of the time people have no idea what to do, especially when two or more cars arrive at the intersection at the same time. Then you get into the "you go" "no you go" dance, kind of like this insurance ad, or it looks a lot like this:

Fig. 1: The 4-way stop reality (source).

I find it so frustrating, and just wish people would follow the damn rules we all learned in driver's ed. So, as a public service, here is a review of the rules of a 4-way stop:

From Ontario's Ministry of Transportation website: At an intersection with stop signs at all corners, you must yield the right-of-way to the first vehicle to come to a complete stop. If two vehicles stop at the same time, the vehicle on the left should yield to the vehicle on the right. 

Bonus information for London drivers: a red light means stop, not speed up. In the last week, I've seen about 5 cars blow right through an intersection when the lights for the other direction were green for at least a couple of seconds.

Pass it on!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sucking at networking (and that's okay)

One thing I learned about myself at the conference last week is that I absolutely stink at networking in person. Seriously. Worse networker ever.* I cannot go up to groups of people (large or small) and weasel my way into the conversation. I can try to convince myself to do it all day long, but it's just not going to happen.

That being said, I am okay with going up to people who are also on their own. Maybe it's because they're not as threatening, or maybe I feel "in tune" with them more. Regardless, I can do that all day long and feel fine. I'm also very good with carrying on a conversation with people who approach me.

I'm not a huge fan of going to social events at conferences. I do try to stretch myself and go to a couple, but there's no way I'd force myself to go to all of them. In this case, there were four, so I went to two. That's pretty good in my books. 

I think my networking suckage was exaggerated by the fact that I did not know one person at this conference going in. It also didn't help that it seemed that everyone else at the conference has known each other for a lifetime.**

In the end, though, I've decided it's not something I need to work on and/or worry about too much. After all, this is who I am and I'm okay with that. I know it takes a lot of energy out of me to interact with others. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy it (I do outreach for a living!) - it just means I need time to recover before heading back in. Plus, I still get lots of great ideas and contact information of people who would be good collaborators or otherwise - and, for me, that's really the point of conferences.

It's nice to be happy with the way I am.

If this sounds like you - or someone you know - I would recommend the book The Introvert Advantage. I also have Quiet in my to-read pile, another book written about and for introverts.

*I'm not looking for any advice on how to become a better networker here - I know all the things I'm "supposed" to do. I've read the articles and books - it's just not in my nature.

**And before you say it's in my head, the vast majority of the speakers were introduced by saying "and you all know this person, so they need no introduction **insert inside joke here**" followed by laughter of 95% of the audience. I actually wrote about this in the feedback survey because it was so common.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Unique Conference Experiences?

I'm on the organizing committee for a science education conference that we'll be hosting next July. We hosted the first one last summer, and it was a big success.

One of our goals is to be different from the typical scientific conference. For example, we have lots of time set aside for discussion within each session, we have workshops and 30 minute presentation times, all meals are provided and everyone eats together, and we try to bring fun and humor into the mix when we can.

There are a couple of regular conference events that we'd like to make a bit more interesting:

1. Welcome reception
Most conferences have a welcoming reception where people stand around eating finger foods and drinking wine. We'd like to have some sort of an ice-breaker activity in addition to this. Ideas that came up were things like geocaching or a building competition.

2. Banquet
Last time, we had a great speaker at the banquet. It was nice, but very "status quo". We're trying to think of some sort of entertainment we could bring in. Ideas for this that were thrown around were a stand-up comic (who talks about science, of course), a rock/jazz band, Cirque du Soleil (might be a bit over our budget, but an idea nonetheless).

Have you seen something cool done at another conference that might work, or do you have any ideas? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Never Easier?

I'm sitting at the Chicago airport, waiting for my connection down to Tucson for a conference on science education.

I miss Evan and DH already. In fact, I missed them the moment I walked out the door at 5am this morning. Every time I travel for a conference or otherwise, and have to be away from them, my heart just breaks.

Will it ever get easier to go away?

Luckily, I still am able to take full advantage of the alone time!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Mars Curiosity Landing

Back in November, the newest Mars rover was launched from the surface of Earth. Now, right on schedule, it will (finger's crossed) be landing on the surface of Mars inside Gale crater on August 6th at 1:31am.

Here's a great video explaining why it's so cool*

NASA will be showing a live feed of the event on NASA-TV starting at 12am (Eastern) - tune in to witness history in the making!

*Sorry for the video not showing up in the post. For some reason it just won't embed!