Reflections: 2 months

Two months into the first research project, it’s time to do a reflection.

My first semester was dedicated to coursework. I only did a few things on the side: read 3 papers, learned LaTeX, and kept a personal journal with a few entries (which is the predecessor for this blog). A great deal of effort was devoted to just getting used to studying again. Only until this summer did I start the actual research process.

At the beginning, I got to select among four topics. With a hunch and some exploratory readings, I chose climate variability based on paleo-reconstructed data. The remaining of the first month was spent reading the literature. Through some discussions with my advisor, I developed an interest in stochastic streamflow generation, which is a combination of the two courses that I learned in the first semester (Statistics and Stochastic Processes). This is of course a deviation from the original topic, but not a complete detour, because the two can be combined. At the turning point into the second month, I had an idea and presented it to my advisor. He thought it was good enough, and I proceeded. After some experiments, I realized that I was trying to do something novel without fully understanding the basics. So I kept that on hold and returned to building the foundation: time series analysis and ARMA model. Time-wise, I am now at the start of the third month, and progress-wise, I am at the level of reading textbooks and doing simple experiments.

Reading is hard. I am still struggling with digesting journal papers. I know it’s natural. The first few papers took me so much time – I would reckon a day each at least – because I had to stop at every other line to look up the concepts; everything was brand new, and I had to read them more than once. It is getting better now, as the more I understand, the less I need to look up. But there is still a significant number of mathematical equations to comprehend. The only way to get better is to keep reading. So, push.

I asked myself how I did back in my Bachelor’s and Master’s theses. Well, back then I was more or less told what to do, and I didn’t have as much going on in life as now.

I try my best not to blame the time working in the industry, but rather look at it in a more constructive way. During the past 4 years, as a way of adapting to the nature of the workplace, I had learn to be very practical and very broad. The experiences, especially those from the last year – the most difficult one, have trained me to think of constraints first whenever an idea comes about. I feel that I have become wiser in some sense, but I do need to change now. Doing a PhD is different – I need to think big, and I need to go very, very deep.

I haven’t read the book Mindset – the new psychology of success (by Prof. Carol Dweck), but I’ve read summaries and I know what it is about. Yet, I still have a fixed mindset when it comes to the weekly meeting with my advisor. I kept having this thought that I need to show him some results and prove that I can do research. He is very kind and supportive, so I know well that this is just from within me. Until this week. I had a chat with my wife and she helped me realize that I was being fix-mindsetted (I just made up this word; hopefully Prof. Dweck will approve), and that I am still learning. On the meeting day, I spent the whole bus ride to school clearing my head. As a result, I felt much better during the meeting. When it was over, I shared these thoughts with my advisor and he was very understanding.

Just one last anecdote. I’ve stopped reading PhD Comic. It was fun at first, but now I feel that it’s just too negative while I need to put my head in a more positive frame of thoughts.

What’s up for the next month? More reading and more coding, of course. Keep pushing.

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