Practice independent study?

One of the hurdles of getting a PhD comes in the form of self-motivation.  I must learn to self-motivate and achieve things despite the lack of course-work and grades.  Last week was spring break.  And I had a practice run for what my life would look like when I finished taking courses and was left to my own devices to get research done.  I didn’t fare well.

In preparation, I made a big list of things I could work on for my courses and my research at the beginning of the week.  I was really excited to have time to do it.  I thought the list would motivate me.  If I was bored, then I could look at the list and do something productive.  I look at my list now and I have completed 20/31 items.  [I will complete 21/31 when I finish writing this post! ]   I’m sure some of you are thinking that my list was just too long.  I don’t think this is the case.  I didn’t expect to finish all of it, but I was hopeful to complete 80 or 90%.  As of now, I have completed 64% of my list.  That’s an D.  Does that mean I essentially failed my “to do” list?

I don’t know if it does or not, but something hilarious happened to me while I was writing this post.  I actually stopped writing and worked on my list items.  When I started writing the post I had completed 14/31.  But when I types that ratio into the last paragraph- I couldn’t bring myself to post it. Some of the items were far enough along or short enough to allow me to cross 6 of them off my list in the last 3 hours.  When I finish this post, I’ll have earned a C instead of an F.  It’s not an A, but it’s a passing score!

I guess I learned a lesson here.   I learned that motivation doesn’t always come in the form of a list.  I learned that my fear of outward accountability is a greater motivator than internal drive to finish a “to do” list.   That and I’m terrified of getting a bad grade…  Although I may have been less successful than I would like on my “to do” list, I had a lovely, relaxing break.  And, five years ago, you could never have convinced me that was worth something- I think that the relaxation will help me more in the long run than a 100% complete to do list.

I guess I still need to learn to be self-motivating, but for now I’m 70% of the way to a productive week.   By the time I have to be totally self-motivated for real I should be all set.  Happy Spring everyone.


About Samantha from SocialMath

Applied Mathematician and writer of
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2 Responses to Practice independent study?

  1. Addicted to Good Grades says:

    Phase 1: My initial school experience (17 years) was marked by poor results and frustration. Grades had little impact on my behavior.

    Phase 2: (Graduate School) I discovered that I could get good grades. I became addicted and would do whatever it took, well beyond any requirement or rational motivation. Regardless, I still regret the single B from this period.

    Phase 3: (Another graduate school) I committed to the goal of not getting As. I only succeed rarely, but celebrated each B. I felt I was breaking the grip of my grades.

    Phase 4: (Yet another graduate school) The As came back.

    In retrospect, I believe this was a ‘positive’ addiction, and anyway it was ‘easier’ the accept the good grades than to break the nasty habit.

  2. Robert E. Harris says:

    If you are serious about getting a Ph.D. and think you won’t need to do independent study in a future job, you are nuts. The main meaning of the Ph.D. degree is that you have shown you can get forward with your own advanced education in a way that is independent of taking more formal courses. Now taking courses is a way of learning new material, and if you are a number theorist and need to learn some aspects of numerical analysis for your work, it may be that taking a course might be the easy way,but I doubt your employer will feel that way.
    Most jobs need to be done pretty much now, whether the job is teaching a course that touches on something you don’t now have under command or the job is one that requires new skills. And most jobs require new skills. The guy who mows our lawn needs skills, as do others doing what you may think are menial and unskilled work. These people figure out what they need to know and learn it. You can do the same.

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