The First Quarter: New Years Goals

'Happy New Year! Bonne Annee Mes Amis!' by DaPuglet (CC BY-SA 2.0; link through photo).
‘Happy New Year! Bonne Annee Mes Amis!’ by DaPuglet (CC BY-SA 2.0; link through photo).

Happy New Year! May all of our 2018s be better than our 2017s.

I recently talked about goal-setting on Twitter, and how hard its been to follow through on many of my goals in my PhD program due to the ever-changing nature of the degree. The challenges and stresses are highly variable throughout the year, and I’ve come to the realization that annual goals – at least this coming year – probably won’t make much sense for me. Instead, I’ve decided to try out quarterly goals, with one big and two medium size professional goals to work on and evaluate every three months. For my first quarter (Jan 1 – March 31):

 

  1. Candidacy Boss Battle, Part 1: Plan my first field season and have my first committee meeting
  2. Brain Drain: Get through a round of bee and spider brain embedding
  3. Pest Mess: Run the last few ant trials to get started on that paper (this may extend into May/June)

Now, ‘Candidacy Boss Battle’ probably doesn’t seem like that big of a goal, but I want to give the process, and the emotional toll it’s likely to take on me, the respect it deserves. Here’s what I think that will likely entail:

  1. Reading about 1 paper a day
  2. Scheduling, organizing, attending the committee meeting
  3. Reminding myself to breathe for the 2 weeks prior to the committee meeting
  4. Making significant revisions to the proposal itself
  5. Organizing a field season in an area where I don’t know the facilities or tools
  6. Coming up with a back up idea for if I don’t find the aggregations
  7. Creating a presentation

So, given all the above, I feel like it’s a pretty big goal. Brain Drain is a pretty small goal in comparison, but would give me a cool graphic for my presentations and would keep pushing the spider brain project along as my undergraduates keep chipping away at the backlog. Pest Mess is more ambitious – mostly because it takes a long time to do the work (multiple weeks, uninterrupted), less that it is a lot of work to do. In any case, each of these would keep the lab humming along at a nice pace and my career progressing similarly.

I’ve also been thinking about personal goals for 2018 – 2017 was somewhat unhappy for me and I want to make 2018 better. I think some of this will be hard for me, and realistically won’t happen this year, because changing how you think and what you value is hard. But here are some of the things I’m going to at least try to be more aware of in 2018:

  1. Saying ‘no’ more often.  – I’ve spent a lot of time prioritizing making others happy, helping others, over helping myself. This is, in moderation, a character trait of which I am proud. It has led me to meet amazing people and have incredible, unique experiences. But I also become so busy and stressed that it strains my relationships with those I love, and my relationship with myself. It has given me incapacitating anxiety and led to depression. I need to learn to say ‘yes’ to me, and ‘no’ to others, more often.
  2. Valuing my mental and physical health. – We live in a world where pushing your body and mind beyond what is healthy is romanticized as an incredible devotion to your work. However this devotion hurts, when you take away the Instagram filters. This year, it is time to put my mental and physical health on the priority list – to stop joking about or in any way devaluing the importance of taking care of me.
  3. Bitter or Better. – “When something happens that you cannot control, you can choose to become bitter – or become better. Choose better.” – to paraphrase Sister Karlien from high school. This is something I used to be good at that I’m afraid the past two years have caused me to fall back from. I’ve got a lot of bitterness to let go of, to remember the positive feelings that make me happy. There’s a lot to be grateful for in my life, and even as times are complicated and tough, I need to remember ‘better’ is the way to go.
  4. Accepting my humanity. – Struggling with perfectionism, impostor syndrome, intense fears of failure, and self-imposed unrealistic expectations has only made the graduate school environment even more difficult. This year, I hope to accept my humanity – the process of failure as human, the importance of mistakes, letting go my harsh self-criticisms, seeing others that I admire in a more realistic light.

I hope that your 2018 is off to a good start – and that you use the beginning of the year to reflect on who you wish to become. I am hoping to find some time in future posts to discuss how, after you make a goal, to follow through using different types of step-organizing strategies that work for PhDs and life!

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