The Idea Book

23 02 2012

During my last year in graduate school, I started noticing that my boss was carrying a notebook with him whenever he went to meetings, talks, poster sessions, journal clubs, etc..  I walked into his office one day and he was browsing an article and writing stuff in his notebook.  I asked him about it and he told me it was his “idea notebook.”  I always (ok not always, but sometimes) take notes during talks, and if I like a poster I’ll get them to e-mail me a PDF or take a hard copy.  In my mind, I was doing the same thing as my boss.  However, I can’t tell you where all of those scraps of notebook paper are or where the hard copies from those posters went.

Now, I am beginning to see my boss’ wisdom.

Since he wrote all of this notes (even transcribing things from hard-copies) in one single notebook, he can easily keep track of all of his thoughts and ideas.  Now that I am all grown up and coming up with ideas of my own, I have started keeping my own idea book.  As I read articles, I write down interesting reactions or molecules (always writing down the reference so that I can find the hard copy when I need it) and any thoughts I have about the paper and any big ideas I walk away with from their paper.  I’m going to my first big meeting as an assistant professor next month, so I will get to test my notebook out during talks and poster sessions.

I am really excited about doing this.  I think it has gotten me back in the mindset of research and has gotten my wheels turning for coming up with my own ideas.

So, do any of you keep and idea book? If not, how do you keep track of all of your ideas (my mind is too cluttered to keep them all up there!)? I’m always looking for ways to keep my thoughts organized.

Original Ideas

7 02 2012

For those of you who have read my blog since the beginning, you know my academic history.  For those of you who are newer readers, let me fill you in on some details that are relevant for this post.  I graduated with my Ph.D. in a subfield of chemistry in May of 2010.  I’ve known that I wanted to teach since early on in graduate school.  I decided (with my bosses approval) to start applying for teaching positions in the Fall of 2009.

I know that many of you are probably thinking, “What! No postdoc?”

My boss and I agreed that since I had no desire to be a big-time PI at an RO1 institution that doing a postdoc wasn’t necessary for me.  He also agreed that if I didn’t find a job during this cycle that he would keep me on a a postdoc until I was able to move on to something else.  This sounded like a great plan to me!  I went ahead and sent out close to 30 applications during that cycle; including applications for a couple of teaching postdocs (which apparently are very very rare in the field of chemistry).  To make a long story short, and to get to the heart of this post, I ended up getting a couple of call backs and ultimately landing my dream job.

The crux of this post is whether or not is was a good idea on my part to forgo a postdoc.  I don’t feel as though doing a postdoc would have helped me any with my teaching ability; I feel that I received plenty of teaching experience during my days in graduate school.  Most chemistry postdocs I know just spend their days slaving away in the lab.  They learn to become more independent researchers and formulate their own research ideas.  This is where I start questioning myself.  In graduate school, I was not responsible for coming up with my own big ideas.  My boss gave me an idea and told me to make some compounds, and I took it from there.  I made different derivatives of my own thinking, but the idea as a whole was his.

Now, as I sit in my nice office typing this post, I wonder, did I do myself a disservice by not going the postdoc route? I am by no means in a high-pressure situation where it is publish or perish, but I was hired under the notion that I could eventually start a small research project much like at a PUI, but this is for a professional program.  Some of our students (primarily those who obtained a B.S. in chemistry as an undergraduate) have already approached me because they know what type of work I want to do, but I have to turn them away because I don’t have a project for them.

I am trying my best to come up with some idea that I can get rolling into a nice little project, but I am not having any luck.  I have some internal collaboration going on right now, but it is in the very early stages that doesn’t require any lab work from me at this time.  I am scouring the literature right now (I really have to make myself read the literature…I hate it!), but anytime I see something that interests me I don’t know how to translate that into an actual project that has legs.

Do any of you have suggestions on how to get the ball rolling on discovering your next research project? How did you discover your first real idea?

How do people do it?

1 02 2012

MULTITASKING! I suck at it! I truly envy people who have the ability to multitask.  I have tried and tried to no avail.  It seems that the harder I try to multitask, they more I focus on one task.  I desperately need to learn to multitask because it really stinks only being able to focus on one task at a time.

I try to multitask while working on powerpoint slides for future lectures, but I end up getting all consumed with making the slide perfect.  “Did I add too much information?” “Is that enough information?” “Can I draw that figure better myself?” The questions go on and on in my mind.

I try to divide my time so that I can get many things done within a day, but I just can’t seem to make it work.  I end up working on one thing for the vast majority of a day.  I will admit that part of that is my fault because I get very easily distracted on the internet.

Anyone have any ideas on how to beat this?