Katie over at Minor Revisions just wrote a post about Guidelines for managing work/life/sanity. It's a great post, I'd recommend checking it out. I was especially interested in her guideline for tracking progress/Keeping records.
I'm working on a presentation for a few days from now and I was dreading it because I felt like I didn't have anything to show... until I started outlining the slides and realized I'll be fine. There aren't any major breakthroughs of mechanistic insights into how protein X does function Y, but there are some smaller steps of progress along the way.
Keeping track of small step progress is a weak point for me, I feel like I'm working but like I have nothing to show for it. And since the past several weeks have been a challenge in all sorts of ways, I know for a fact that I'm not being as productive as I should be. I'm setting up experiments that I never take the time to finish, or I'm counting on one or two key things for making a figure for the presentation, and when they crap out on me and don't work (trouble with transfection efficiency it seems, they're experiments that I have very little past experience with, and I think I'm struggling with some technical issues) I'm feeling left stranded. Still I am getting some things done. I'm in the tool building stage of this new project, and I've prioritized tool making over hypothesis testing because of the time frame invovled in making the tools. I'll get my part of the construction out of the way and by the time the finished product is ready, I will have had some time to test out a few more functional experiments. It's a logical decision, but I just wish I had more to "show". It's hard to make a figure of your midi-prepped DNA constructs...
So how can I make it better? I'm already constantly making to do lists, but I find myself adding more to them than I am crossing off, so rather than help me see my progress, they add to my stress level because it looks like I've done almost nothing because what I can cross off the list is so much smaller compared to what I have left to do. I think I should start making a slide whenever I have a finished product to hand off or work with. These are obviously never going to be paper figures, but they will help me for things like group presentations and progress reports. We'll see... for now, I have to get this presentation ready and then get back to the bench for more of those little steps.
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