Doing is seeing (work)

This week I am (trying to be) alone.  I’m still blogging – partially because it’s my reward and partially because it’s part of my job.  But I’m removing myself from Facebook, most communication, and all projects (save my class finishing up next week) to work on one thing: my dissertation prospectus.  For those of you who have either been on this road or are currently on it, you know how daunting this is.  I’ve spent the last several months – this entire year thus far in fact – picking a project and finally feeling good about it.  Now, it’s time to put the “petal to the metal” to pull on an old cliche and get it WRITTEN.  I’ve already got some written, but I have carefully avoided it these past few weeks because it feels so overwhelming.  So I finally broke it down and carefully outlined it last week so that I could break it down into chewable pieces.  They’re not palatable to me, but they are chewable at least.  My goal: finishing by the end of Summer.  The only thing is – that happens in about 2-3 weeks.  Yikes.

I get into these zones, however, where I finally just say, “Goodbye world; I’ll see you when I’m done!”  It’s the only way I can seem to get really big projects done.  I’ve finally managed to be a better manager of my small projects (e.g., papers, manuscripts, etc.) over a healthy period of time, but this project is different.  It’s like I’ve come to hate how large it is that I just want to sit in a room with it for a few weeks straight and get it over with.  The funny thing is that I know that just makes me hate it more.  But right now, I feel like the clock is ticking and time is quickly running out.  Why do we do that to ourselves?  Set false deadlines that no one else has set for us but ourselves?  The odd thing is that those deadlines have very real fears tied into them – fears that it won’t get finished in time.  I’ll just pretend that makes me a more productive person.

Perhaps the hardest thing about the dissertation is the confusion that surrounds it.  “What are you doing all day Megan while no ‘real work’ seems to be getting done?  Did you just sit at work all day and think and write?” I can feel others wondering.  Why yes, yes I did.  “And did you get a lot done?”  Well, yes and no.  And that’s why I hate this project.  I know it’s me more than anyone else who believes that doing is seeing results.  Without results, what are you doing?  Nobody else probably even cares or thinks about that.

You see – I’m a checklist kind of person.  I like seeing real progress, which is probably due to my lack of patience for myself and my work.  At the end of the day, I want REAL markers of my progress – a strong draft of a methods and results section in a manuscript, a draft of an introduction, all my reading done for class, a manuscript submitted, a proposal written, etc.  The problem with the dissertation is that you can work on it all day – researching, thinking, and writing – and maybe only get a couple of pages written.  When these few pages exist among a sea of tens if not hundreds of pages, it starts to feel insignificant.  And if you know me, I hate insignificance.  The only problem is that I always seem to find it in my work.  I generally feel I’m not producing a significant amount of work.  When I start to feel like I’m producing a significant amount of work, I feel like I’m producing an insignificant quality of work.  And so it goes on.  Sometimes I wonder if my need for instant or quick results prevents me from being as good of a researcher as I could be.  Perhaps if I added more patience to my work skills, I’d be all the better for it.  That’s my new goal this next year – to invest in some really worthwhile experiments that could produce really strong publications.  But alas, I’m getting side-tracked.

So here I sit, writing and working, isolated from this world for a bit, trying to get the dang thing done.  I may never feel good about the project until its done, and by then I’ll probably hate it like a bad stalker that’s always there when you turn around.  Wait a minute – bad analogy.  I’m pretty sure there’s not such thing as a good stalker.  Anyways, you get my point.  This has been the hardest process for me because I’m having to learn to put a lot of time and energy into a single project that will take years to result in any real “thing” or “product.”  Even then, the results may not turn out and it could feel worthless to me.  But I’m viewing it as an opportunity to work on gaining patience skill.  Patience in my work, in the process.  And who knows?  Maybe some day I’ll actually be a better researcher for it.  I hope so.  I dream so.  But for now, for those of you out there who wonder where I’m at and what I’m doing (which is most likely no one except my crazy imagination) – I’m working, just not on something very visible.  And that drives me nuts.

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About Megan Johnson Shen

I am a social psychologist graduating with my Ph.D. from Baylor University this May and moving to NYC this summer to start a new job as a postdoctoral researcher at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in the Cancer Prevention and Control Department. I love the brain, human behavior, and anything to do with understanding them better. I love research and a good dinner party. Fine wine and cheese - I'm there. Interesting experimental data? I'll probably show for that too. View all posts by Megan Johnson Shen

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