The following is a transcript of a Gmail chat between Shweta, a student blogger and Ph.D. student in Bioinformatics and Natalie Bartolacci, Academic Program Officer at Rackham Graduate School.
Natalie: Hi Shweta! Now that summer has officially started, I thought we could talk about how your summer is going. What are you working on so far this summer with your research?
Shweta: Hi Natalie, The summer is a nice time for research, because I get to spend more time thinking about my projects. I’m trying to wrap up a couple of projects that I started a year ago, and am also hoping to use the time to catch up with the literature.
Shweta: However, I came across this last week and I couldn’t help chuckling at how familiar that seemed.
Natalie: So true that side projects can appear out of nowhere! What are the side projects that have cropped up for you so far?
Shweta: I’m working with a labmate, trying to learn some new techniques from her. Our lab is also starting an analysis of data that looked interesting, so I jumped on to that too. My only hope is that I don’t leave my projects languishing. I’ve been advised against working on too many things.
Natalie: Sounds like you are keeping yourself busy. Since you don’t have the regular structure of teaching or taking courses during the summer months, how do you motivate yourself to accomplish all of the things you are involved with?
Shweta: It’s actually easier. I am a lot more relaxed thanks to the extra time I now have, and there are less things to distract you from work (Summer Festival notwithstanding.) Besides, there’s a ‘deadline’ of sorts that you often set in your head–the end of summer–that keeps you going.
Natalie: This is your second summer in Ann Arbor…are you doing anything differently based on your experience from last summer?
Shweta: Well, I took a month off this time to visit family in India, and that was just the thing I needed. Besides that, I’m trying to plan my week better and be more efficient while at work, so I can enjoy the things we missed during the winter. A stroll through the Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings, a canoe trip on the river, biking on the trails, it feels like there’s a ‘deadline’ for these too (the end of summer), and I don’t want to let them go!
Natalie: I bet it was refreshing to take a break and visit your family. What strategies or tricks have you used to plan your week better and use your time more efficiently?
Shweta: For a start, I’m going back to the basics, and I try to write only what I want to accomplish that day. My work is entirely computational, so it’s quite easy to get lost in the maze of the interwebs without realising it. I’ve been trying to set a schedule for things like checking my mail, and set boundaries on what sites I can view at work and which ones should be limited to home. That’s certainly been helping, though I can’t say I’ve managed to stay within the lines all the time. (at this point, I’m fervently hoping my PI is not reading this)
Natalie: I think that’s good advice for all of us. Do you go into the lab every day? Do you go in at regular times?
Shweta: I do go into lab everyday, but the times vary. Sometimes I find that I think better when alone, and I end up staying back late late (and thus going in a little late the next day.) But I do enjoy the discussions with my labmates that pop up in the course of a day and try to be in lab for at least a few hours during the day.
Natalie: Besides having a little more time and flexibility with your work, what is another benefit of staying in Ann Arbor during the summer months?
Shweta: Can I say everything? Ann Arbor is at its liveliest during the summer, and it’s infectious. It’s a liveliness that’s very different from the sort of rushed intensity that the semester (aka undergrads) brings. It’s such a joyous time of the year, and there’s nothing quite like it.
Natalie: I’m glad you are enjoying it! Last question: what is something that every graduate student should do at least once in an Ann Arbor summer?
Shweta: That’s a difficult question, and there’s much to choose from. I’d say the Art Festival and the Farmer’s Market. The latter may sound prosaic, but the sheer variety and amount of fresh produce is quite something.
Natalie: I agree that both of those things are a must-see (at least once). Thanks for taking the time to chat today. I’ll let you get back to work. Have a great day!