A new paradigm – How to sustain focus ?

There were a couple of people having a boisterous conversation in the lobby just outside where I was working. My laptop fan was whizzing like a jet engine due to the intensive task it was carrying out. All those sounds reached my ears but my mind was concentrated on the task as if it was in Microsoft’s Anechoic Chamber. Although my mobile phone is in silent mode, there were many incoming messages, notifications, and emails to my mobile phone. Aroma of the flavor from the food which was being reheated in the Informatics kitchen was very much distracting. Though I had not eaten any food in the last 6 hours, I was indifferent and was focussed on the task at hand.

I did not bother about whether I am going to finish the task that day or not. I could not care less if I would get any reward or appreciation for it. I did not think, nor plan any contingencies in the case of a failure of the task at hand. I did not know that it would benefit or harm anyone at any point in the future. I had not blabbered about the task, neither complained about it to any of my friends. It may not be super interesting task to most people in the world who were doing such tasks daily neither for those who were starters.

I was simply making my computer crunch a bunch of numbers and perform some large computations. It is neither a humungous task nor a minuscule one. I simply did not care about its size. I was super interested in performing it, though. I felt like I was swimming in the middle of an ocean by myself. I did not know whether I would be rescued, reach the shore, be eaten, or just die of exhaustion. I was not hungry, neither thirsty. I was swimming for the sake of swimming because I enjoy swimming.

Now, this may sound a little extraordinary. One may argue that one cannot be this focussed every day. Trust me this is what I had been learning in my grad school and I have been very fortunate to have discovered the secret to such unadulterated concentration. From the moment I had known the secret, I have been creating wonders. Whatever the task had been, I have been learning to focus and enjoy doing it.

“One has to learn that the result is not important”

Krishna in Bhagavadgita (A mythical God)

The secret is that one should not have the desire for the result. The motivation you may get from the result is temporary or misleading. But if your love for what you do is genuine and unadulterated, not even a tornado can distract you. Of course, each and every task we do would not be so lovely. But, one can develop a genuine relationship with anything in this world. All it takes is practice and giving.

“The mind is restless and difficult to restrain, but is subdued by practice”

Krishna in Bhagavadgita

I was not a great coder, nor was in love with it on the day I started coding. It was intimidating and It took me a lifetime to be a decent coder. I have been understanding myself and coding every single day. Although many situations stressed me, I had been learning to never feel any pressure of becoming the best, nor show any genuine interest in any results from it while enjoying it. When you associate yourself with either an art, a sport, or a person, or anything in the world, without any desire, such relationship would be so pure and would prosper for a lifetime! Not convinced yet? I am attaching a magical video about how a small kid with a growth hormone deficiency from Argentina changed the world of soccer for good. Hi is my living legend, my idol, and one of the greatest Soccer players of all time: Messi. Watch him, till the end to experience a paradigm shift. Now go create wonders every single day!

Please let your thoughts flow in the comments below!

Tricks of the Trade: The Dos and Don’ts of Grad school

As a first year graduate student, I have quickly learned some of the tricks of the trade for surviving the first year.

  1. DON’T isolate yourself during the first year. Grad school is hard enough already so don’t carry the burden alone. This leads me to the first DO:
  2. DO enjoy and get to know your cohort during the first year. These people will be around you (for better or worse) for many, many, many years to come. They will be your future colleagues. Therefore at least some of them should be your support system, therapist, editor, friend or whatever else you needs to get through grad school. BUT…
  3. DON’T start comparing yourself with your cohort or other students. Being a grad student itself is extremely challenging, but once you start comparing yourself with others the challenge can become unbearable. Remember that the first year for EVERYONE is an extremely difficult time, where people start doubting themselves and their ability to be a successful graduate student. It’s also an extremely humbling process, but the struggle becomes more bearable when you are not afraid to seek out help or advice. This leads me to the last rule:
  4. NEVER be afraid to ask questions or seek help from professors or fellow students. If you don’t understand the readings, start a reading group. If you doubt your writing, ask a fellow student to help you with ideas and edits. If you don’t know how to frame your research ideas, reach out to a professor. Remember that no one assumes that you should know everything or that you are dumb for asking questions. After all, if you already posses all the knowledge, then what’s the point of going to grad school?

The Journey from Student to Scholar: A Lesson for Life

As I move into my 3rd year in the PhD program in Sociology, it is becoming more and more evident that I am no longer a student, but a scholar. This is my last year with courses, so very soon there will be a great deal of freedom in terms of time, with which I will be expected to develop my own intellectual identity. And this is not easy.
The first year in my program I was really just surviving because the work and the local culture was very different for me. My second year was somewhat easier as I began to get the hang of things and learned to use my time more strategically. As I enter my 3rd year there is pressure, but now you place most of it on yourself. Ultimately it is on you to pace yourself, gain great mentorship, and more importantly BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. This is all a process and at times grad school can feel very unproductive, but remember every aspect of your graduate education is there to provide you value. You are not only gaining intellectual and discipline specific training, you are also learning life skills. Think about it!

As you continue to present your research, you gain more comfortability in receiving and incorporating feedback. The more responsibilities you take on, the greater understanding you gain in what you are actually able to handle.

The moral of this post is you have no idea what grad school can do for you outside of the obvious training. But grad school, like life, is a process. And if you embrace what you can gain, rather then what you are giving up or missing out on, your journey from student to scholar will be as much a life transformation as it will be a journey in professionalization.

Technology on Campus

Using every and all forms of technology is completely acceptable and recommended in grad school. Indiana University makes it easy for people like me to understand new email interfaces, citation management softwares, setting up wireless printing, and more.

  • University Information Technology Services – the technological support and services for the entire university. I have taken classes on Excel and HTML for my graduate assistantships to help me learn new skills and brush up on others. There are various workshops and trainings you can sign up for through the university.
  • After I purchased my pride and joy, bane of my existence, laptop I had to download some appropriate software such as Office for MAC, Adobe, and the wonderful Endnote. These software programs and many more are available through the university.
  • Questions or issues with software, internet logins, pass phrases not working, or email servers giving you trouble…well the campus support center will answer questions by phone, email, in person, and by chat.
  • There is even a place to purchase hardware on campus right in the Indiana Memorial Union and discounted items through IU Surplus.

What I have described here is only a small part of the tech services and support here on campus. I am still learning about new tips and tricks all the time.

 

Becoming more productive

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Managing your time as a PhD student is exhausting. I often find myself blinking at the sheer number of tasks that need to be completed.  Since the start of this academic year, I have juggled revisions on my parts of my dissertation, learning Swahili, attending research skills workshops, writing conference presentations, teaching, and managing my three non-dissertation research projects. Even though I have experience in these areas, they still take lots of time.  I dream about having a research assistant.  LOL.

I know that there are two types of people in my PhD world:  (1) those who are productive by nature; and (2) everyone else.    This post is for that second group.   Continue reading

Collaboration

When it comes to graduate school, most people’s first thoughts jump to experts in training in a narrow field of study, but further consideration might reveal the truth – graduate school, in fact research and teaching in general, is very reliant on collaboration.  It is a key component that differentiates the good scholars from the best, and is a skill that is carefully acquired and refined throughout a career.  If you need further evidence of this, just take a stroll around the IUB campus – you will see a building constructed especially for collaborative work, which is even named the Multidisciplinary Science Building II (or MSB II for short).

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The recently constructed Multidisciplinary Science Building II (MSBII) on the IUB campus. Photo by Ren-Jay S.

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