Saturday, April 11, 2009

Venting and De-Stressing are Crucial!

Occasionally in graduate school you feel frustrated, annoyed, overwhelmed, undervalued, or some other negative feeling. Generally, graduate students vent about this sort of thing to friends, significant others, or family members. Venting is a very good idea, as it will help you get over it (from putting it out there), see that you're not the only one to ever feel that way (depending on who you vent to), and find a way to move on. It's very hard to be productive when you are overrun with these types of feelings!

Another graduate student in my lab and I have been meeting for lunch each Friday this semester, which we have dubbed something like "weekly-special-psychotherapy-lunch." We are friends as well as co-workers, but we don't see each other much during the week as we don't both tend to work in the same room. So every Friday we find out how the other person's week has been going, give suggestions for how to deal with spoken and unspoken issues, and give overall encouragement. Sometimes I don't even realize exactly what is holding me back from getting something done until I have to verbalize it to someone who isn't my fiance. Yes, complaining to my fiance is my usual way of dealing with stress, but it's very good to have other venues to let it out! A more objective viewpoint (or at least a viewpoint perceived to be more objective) can be very helpful.

Why am I writing this? Well, I think too often people (especially women) bottle it all up inside. Eventually you will start seeing the world in a different way than it really is, and that's when you really start to wonder if you should be doing what you are doing with your life. The answer is almost always "YES, you SHOULD!" but too often we convince ourselves otherwise. Like I said in my last post, a little encouragement goes a long way, and we should always keep that in mind for ourselves and others. Even people who appear to be succeeding can easily be second guessing themselves, or so frustrated with a project they can't see straight. If you are that person, or you friend/co-worker is that person, I highly recommend a weekly special psychotherapy lunch!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Computer Science and Volleyball

One of my few outside-of-computer-science activities that I actually do every week is volleyball. After our intramural game last Wednesday, I was thinking about all of the ways that the two are similar. For instance:

  1. Time Outs - In volleyball, sometimes you just need to call a timeout, mentally regroup, and then get back into it. In our game we were losing 3-9 to a team we had just squarely beaten; I called a timeout, and then we proceeded to win 15-9. What a difference that timeout made! In research it's the same way. Sometimes you just need to take a step back from what you're doing, regroup mentally, and then start off again where you left off.
  2. Team Effort - In volleyball, you have 6 people on the court at any given time. If you don't trust your teammates, you end up running over them to get balls they were perfectly prepared to hit, usually better than you end up hitting them. To really play well, you should back up other people and trust their abilities. In research you also need to trust your group members, but still encourage and back them up when possible. It's all about sharing information, ideas, and letting each other find his/her own way without stepping on each other's toes.
  3. Encouragement - When playing a team sport, you want to try to keep everyone energized and feeling good about their playing. If someone starts to doubt their abilities from a few bad hits, they are going to second guess everything else they do that game. A little "that's ok, you'll get it next time" or "great job!" will go a long way. With research, you should also encourage others even when they are struggling. Everyone needs encouragement in everything they do in life, but especially so in "high" stress situations like volleyball and research!
  4. Practice! - Obviously, if you don't practice volleyball you are not going to retain your skills. Much of it is muscle memory and reactions, which can be learned and refined over time. In computer science research you also need to practice skills such as public speaking, programming, and critical thinking. It may not be muscle memory, but it is still a set of learnable and improvable skills.

It's true that the comparison between team sports and teamwork in school and work has been made many times. However, it's nice to be reminded occasionally that our extracurricular activities really do relate to graduate school, and working on good habits and skills in one can easily help improve the other. All the more reason to be sure to get adequate "play" time in addition to work time!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I love April Fools, all because of Google

The title says it all. Google always pulls really great stunts for April Fool's Day. I especially love this year's CADIE. The entire concept is crazy, as we are definitely nowhere near having artificial intelligence at that level. Google really just makes the holiday so much better for all of us computer folks, because there are even deeper reasons to laugh than the pandas, rainbows, unicorns, and angry faces.

I also love how they incorporated it into so many of their sites: images, blogger, search, etc. I'm also very amused that it is changing over the course of the day; for instance, images had pictures of unicorns, rainbows, etc as the suggested images that CADIE thought everyone would like. Then sometime this afternoon it changed to an angry face, lighting bolt, and other unhappy things (including a glaring panda icon) because CADIE discovered that people in fact don't all love unicorns and rainbows. Hilarious!

For the drab day today has been, Google has really made it much better!