For my last blog post as apart of the Winter 2019 team, I would like to offer my reflection in the form of a list containing my biggest takeaways from this experience. If this was a CD, it would be a compilation album of all jams.
- Time is Money… But So Are Breaks: When Prof. Epstein recommended that we take short breaks after as little as 30 minutes of research, I was honestly shocked. 30 minutes?? How will I be productive enough in 30 minutes to deserve a break? That word deserve is what I (begrudgingly) learned to remove from my vocabulary this month, because with that mentality, you may never allow yourself a break. Something as simple as walking to the water fountain, or playing a round of Trivia Crack in between study sessions could mean the difference between one simple typo and five. Time is a valuable resource, but not as valuable as your sanity.
- When in Doubt Clean It Out: Besides breaks, changing up the kinds of work you do is very helpful. I wish that I had integrated data cleaning into my routine of switch-ups, because it allows you to revisit a seeming dead end relatively soon after putting it down, but also saves time in the mega data cleaning sessions pre-mapping. This could be as simple as going into your spreadsheet and changing all of the addresses to the same format, or filling empty cells to “NA” or “Unknown.” In the moment it will feel unimportant or like a waste of time, but will have to get done at some point either way. Now or later, you decide.
- Skimming Not Optional: When there is only one month to work, good time management is not an option. I struggled with this the most around reading newspaper articles, journals, and books. I wasted more time than I should have reading and rereading sources to quadruple check that I was not missing an obvious piece of information. But chances are, if the information was truly glaring, it probably would have been spotted the first time around. The best solution I found was to turn my brain into a Ctrl+F function. If there are no matches when skimming, let it go for now and try a search somewhere else.
- Walk Away: This group of researchers was amazing. Everyone was motivated, inspiring to watch, and simply pleasant to be around. I think that the reason we were so successful is because we kept encouraging and supporting one another along the way. It was comforting to know that someone is probably in the exact same boat as you. With all of that said, staying to work with the group 100% of the time is not always necessary. I started off feeling pretty intimidated by everyone else’s research techniques and experiences, when in reality, no one was leaps and bounds ahead of everyone else. I learned that stepping away to check in with yourself is just as important (or more so) as checking in with your peers.
- Bring a Fun Fact to Dinner: This one is simple ⎯ if you want to try out the delivery of a piece of information to viewers, tell your friends at dinner. Distract them from studying with an abundance of fun facts. Their reactions can help guide the direction of a project.
- If You’re Not Excited About It, No One Else Will Be Either: This point goes hand in hand with the last. Looking in the reactions of others for proof that research is staying interesting and relevant is useful. But the most important test comes from whether or not you think it’s exciting. This is especially true when dealing with visual projects like maps. If you would not want to play with an interactive map you created, chances are others won’t want to either. Piquing your own interest is hard, but shows how much work it can take to catch the eye of the public.
- Journal, Journal, Journal: At first, the idea of journaling was unexciting ⎯ will I really have new ideas every day? The simple answer is yes, especially after only a month of writing. However, just because there is lots to write does not mean every word produced will be very inspiring to your future self. There are two tips I have learned from this. The first is don’t come to expect the jaw dropping inspiration every time you read a past journal entry. Set the expectations relatively low so that there is less pressure on your past self. The second tip is, if you know while writing, be clear about how the day’s journal could function in the future. For example, if you are listing sources for a later date, simply label it “sources.” If you are free writing after hitting a mental wall, label it “I’m going to vent for a minute,” and proceed.
- Be Realistic: My final takeaway is to be realistic in setting goals for yourself and the group. Push yourself to get more done than the bare minimum of course, but also understand that if it was simple or undemanding to do this kind of research, someone else might have already done it.
Until next time!