Shortlog - a log of everyday things



I think this goes down as the most emotional thing I've written here.

The semester in review (or, "the first step is admitting you have a problem"):

This has not been a good semester for me. I've fought depression. I've failed to accomplish anything of value in my classes. I haven't met people outside my lab or classes. I haven't gotten involved in extracurriculars. I've spent more nights in the lab than I can count on one hand, and I've got little to show for it.

I have, however, learned a lot about what being a grad student is like. It's a long series of trial and failure. I've never felt this inadequate in my life. Right now, I'd say I'm about 80% less excited about being a grad student now than before the semester began. I recognize that my ego has never had to deal with failure before. I'm probably better for having to face it now, but I have to say: I hate the feeling. This probably annoys the crap out of the people who have felt like this their whole life. Forgive me, I never understood before.

Here's something that bothers me: in academia, everything you do is basically toward the goal of getting published. And every paper starts with an idea. In fact, every paper consists entirely of an idea. That's the only contribution that's really expected of a paper - an idea, and a little experimental evidence in its favor. And now, having seen these experiments run, these tests devised, I can't help but wonder if everyone is just aiming for the minimum proof needed for publication.

Another problem: you can come up with a ton of neat ideas. And in all likelihood, they won't change much between when you first conceive them and when you put your results into a paper, weeks, months, or years later. Brewer's advice was "know what your graphs should look like before you implement anything." It hurts me that the investigation is basically limited to proving things that were correctly intuited many months earlier. And at such high cost - the systems built to make the proof needed for publication are rarely used outside of academia. This is the price of testing hypotheses, and while I fully respect the need for objective testing of these hypotheses, I can't shake the feeling that it's so damned inefficient.

I'm wondering if academia is the right place for me. Maybe I'm just incurably an engineer, and I belong in the workplace, hacking things together for fun and profit. All I know is this: I feel like I don't belong here. I know (and care) too much about how real things work. I derive little joy out of my work, despite learning much from it. How did this happen? I used to live to learn.

I feel like I've let a bunch of people down, lately.

You all believed in me, and I spent the past five months failing you. No more. I'm getting help. I'm making changes. If I can't make this work, I'll make something work.

Aaaaand it's about now that I prescribe myself sleep and a healthy dose of perspective.

UPDATE: OR I WOULD IF I HADN'T JUST LOST MY WHOLE TERM PAPER. What a shitty way to end a semester.

UPDATE2: Once the panic subsided, I got crafty. I have /home and / on separate partitions. Ran PhotoRec on /home, recovering to a folder in /, set to save .zip files (since .odts are really just a memory dump with angle brackets, zipped up with some metadata), and let it run for a few hours while I slept. When I got back, I scripted opening every .odt file found to see if any of them were my paper. There were probably 40 old versions. Most of them were hopelessly behind, but one such file held my paper in an only-a-little stale state. I finished my paper and submitted; now I'm sleeping for real.