XKCD posted a comic (seen below, under Creative Commons license) setting the internal debate on selecting a major to the tune of “Modern Major General.” This was just too good to pass up, so here is the comic, and several adaptations of people singing it from YouTube to start off your weekend.
Every year, the seriousness of politics in Washington, DC turns for a few hours into silliness and comedy. This tradition, begun in 1920 by the White House Correspondents’ Association, has since turned into an annual extravaganza where the Beltway elite gather for a little self-deprecating humor and light-hearted relief.
This year featured Jimmy Kimmel with the customary opening by the President. The video, posted on C-SPAN’s YouTube page, is embedded below.
If you would like to see last year’s speeches, they are also still available.
Such a sacrilegious, isn’t it? But, it is also true. Mark Twain is rumored to have said, “Never let your schooling interfere with your education” but all too often people think they are the same thing. I was lucky enough to attend a liberal arts university for both undergrad and graduate school. As such, we weren’t really given an option, at least on the surface.
Yet, somewhere in the midst of them trying to convince us we needed to study things other than our limited topic, it actually clicked. My family had an influence on it as well, but when all the influences combined, I became convinced that a graduate degree wasn’t enough to make someone a useful part of society. Only so much can be taught in the classroom. There’s an academic education and there is a cultural education. It takes both to make well educated individual.
Luckily for you, you already spend great deal of time on a university campus. That means more than likely, you can begin obtaining this education without too much trouble or expense. This past weekend, just in Milledgeville, we had performances by two symphonies and a choral ensemble. Add in a not-prohibitive afternoon trip to Athens (about 2 hours) and you could have also attended a chamber music concert. Total cost, even if you had attended all four, was only $10, not counting the gas to drive to Athens.
I only attended one, but it was the highlight of my weekend. Being able to sit and watch the results of the hard work of the musicians and how they use their skill to work together with amazing results. While I do not know of a single academic who would dare collaborate with thirty or more researchers, it is inspiring to see that it CAN be done, at least in some fields.
So, pull up your school calendar. If there are other schools within easy driving distance, check those as well. Attend a cultural or fine arts event. It is well worth it, and is a nice break from the research.
I was very lucky when I was going through my program. I had an office (at least most of the time, there was one semester of transition where I worked out of the conference room). But the point was, I had a home base. I had a place where when I got there, I knew it was time to work. And it was wonderful, most of the time.
There was one slight problem. This office was a windowless six feet by twelve feet, and I shared it with two other people, plus who ever had stopped by to hang out or for tutoring. If someone was meeting with one of the other GAs, I was in the way. I was distracted. I couldn’t get my work done. So, office or not, I had to find another location. It turns out, it was one of the best things that happened.
Even if I had been alone in “The Bunker” as we called it, I still would not have been as productive as was necessary sometimes. So, what’s a deadline-pending grad student to do? Unless you’re running code or models and just HAVE to have your office computer, escape. Now, I know not everyone has an official office. But everyone has SOMETHING that is their office. It’s where you do most of your work. It may be a spare bedroom, a corner of your bedroom, or your kitchen table. The principle is still the same. Change your surroundings.
It doesn’t have to be drastic. Sometimes, I’d go use a study nook on another floor of my building. Our library had some pretty nice study rooms that I frequented quite often. But even if your school doesn’t have those resources, there are alternatives.
There are very few college towns I’ve seen without a coffee shop. Milledgeville was actually one of them for a long time, but that has long since changed. Now, in the downtown area, there are three different ones and another on the north side of town. My personal favorite (yes, I’m giving them a free endorsement) is Blackbird. It’s small, local, and was the first to venture downtown. As such, it’s a staple of downtown culture. They have a bit of everything, from students, professors, administration, to other downtown merchants. They have caffeine. They have comfortable couches. They have free WiFi. What more could a nerd want?
There is one other place that I really enjoyed escaping to for study time, or now, research and grading time. I am obviously a self-described nerd. But sometimes, I feel the need to get outdoors. When this happens, I head to the local park. The Oconee River Greenway is along the Oconee River, has walking trails, and plenty of tables and benches to sit and read. On thing that is missing at this park, and most parks, is WiFi. But with 3G technology becoming more and more popular, it’s becoming less of an issue. My netbook comes with 100 MB per month free. Now, that’s not a lot. But WiFi is so popular, I don’t have to use my 3G that often. Most of the time, I just venture to the Greenway when I have something printed that needs to be read.
I know every situation is different, but this has worked for me. I used these escapes to be able to refocus on my work, instead of people constantly stopping by to talk, or for tutoring (after I completed my weekly hours, of course). It was also amazing how many times an new location provided a new perspective on whatever was my task for the day. Sometimes a quick lap around the building, downtown, or the Greenway got the blood flowing again, woke me up, and gave me a chance to thing about what needed to be done without a blank screen glaring at me.