Grad Student Experience

Hongping's POSTS: Stay Foolish | Time Management

Stay Foolish, but Don’t be Fooled

I remember two years ago this time, I was typing my Ph.D. application. I started my personal statement with “for me, diving into academic research is the same as pursuing love which I’ve always known I want. It just took me a while to find out what I’m willing to study as finding the right person.” (Yes, you can start your statement in a more creative and personal way.) In the rest of the statement, of course, I told the story of how I found what I love to study – cross-cultural adaptation and educational tourism. What I did not expand on was why I wanted to be a researcher in the first place. I almost took that for granted.

Now after surviving the first-year as a doctoral student and look back, I realize that learning about research is not just for students who want to be a scholar but it helps people to stay foolish, but not being fooled (hopefully).

The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know (Albert Einstein). There are countless times that I say to myself during writing papers, “Oh I didn’t think it through. I wish I know this method. I wish I know that theory” etc. Although sometimes it could be frustrated, knowing what I don’t know is a big step forward.

A good question is more critical than a good answer. As I just said, knowing what I don’t know leads to more questions. You probably have the similar experience in a class. The better you understand the content, the easier for you to ask question about the part you feel confused about. I hate when an instructor asks me which part do you not understand when I totally lost. I guest “could you repeat the whole thing?” Practicing to find a better question is another great thing about research.

Enjoying the “aha” moment. The best part about research is definitely the moment you find the answers to a question. It could be a teeny-tiny question, but now I know a little bit more than before. I see a little bit clearer about a certain thing than others. Let’s be honest, it feels awesome to explain what you found to others, which probably later translate into the passion in teaching.

Learning about research equips me with a way of thinking. With all the asking, searching, re-searching, and reflecting, the whole process gradually shapes my way of thinking, which is a bonus from doing research. It could actually be used by everyone. Whether you want to be a scholar or prefer other fields, we all can use the logic and critical thinking behind research.

All in all, this is why I started my relationship with research, and I wish to share with you my stories. To start, I’d like to recommend an interesting reading: Body Ritual among the Nacirema, because it relates to the most important thing I learned in the past year: always take a step back, and try not to take the things we know about our culture for granted. As an international student myself, how to learn and adapt to another culture is always my number one question. This idea helped me better understand my own culture as well as a different culture. If you don’t know what I’m saying, I invite you to read the anthropology article Body Ritual among the Nacirema, and I assure you that you will enjoy the “aha” moment.

Time Management is Not just about a Schedule

I know this is such a cliché to talk about time management. Let’s face it, whether you are a high achiever or a procrastinator, you can always find ways to drive yourself crazy. I have the same feeling, too. Only recently, I realize, it is not about time management or stick to the schedule, it is about knowing your ability and the difficulty of the task.

I used to wish I could just make a plan and stick to it. It seems that’s what efficient people do. The most frustrating part about failing a time management plan is not being able to be consistent. It looks so simple for some “successful people” to complete things routinely and they can always keep up. I thought it only was because they work so hard, and have such a strong will power. However, what I finally understand is, the things you think that are so hard to complete, are actually not that challenging for your role model. They gradually build up their energy. It is very likely that it will take them less time and effort to complete the same task comparing to a beginner. It is the exact same idea with fitness exercises.

Therefore, a more reasonable way to arrange our time is to first find out how much time and energy we need to save for the most challenging task. As graduate students, our job is to be challenged. We will always get lost in reading theories, methodologies, and analysis etc. This is what we want to do. We want to push the envelope. However, it doesn’t mean we want to struggle every single minute in everyday life. It simply won’t work.

What I would recommend is not to categorize tasks based on their priority or emergency level. I would recommend to group things based on how challenging they are for yourself. Find a certain time of a day or a week when you are sharp, calm, and less likely to be disrupted. This will be the best time for fighting against the hardest tasks. Besides, we also have many other things that needed to be done, but not as demanding. Put those things at the time you don’t have such a peak energy level but can still get things done. For me, my down time is actually in the morning, so I’m not too worried about what I have completed before lunch. I throw trivial tasks in the morning, and I can happily check them off once they are done.

All in all, the most important is knowing yourself. Don’t expect yourself to complete things that you know you can’t make in a certain amount of time. That will make you more frustrated, and spill over to the next task to mess up the whole schedule.