Landing the Plane

The bottom line is, you've been flying for a while now, and your only job is to get the plane on the ground.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Last night's practice talk

All my hubub about practice talks yesterday was because last night I gave a practice conference talk on different material for a conference I'm participating in next week. I was pretty nervous about it, mainly because my advisor was going to be there, and he had not actually heard or read anything from my dissertation yet. (busy professor, you know the drill)

In all it went very well, and I have a week to polish things up, so I'm hopeful about the conference. I've spoken at conferences before, but not actually about my dissertation, and not when I'm planning to be on the job market in just a few months. Even without those other factors, I'm a really nervous public speaker. So, I've been building up this next thing in my head for a while.

In other news, I just found out that I have finally passed through the last ridiculous hoop of flames-- eked my way through, really- and am officially (finally, finally,) ABD.

Still though, something to celebrate.

This weekend I have a very good friend in town for a conference, someone I love a lot and don't get to spend enough time with, so of course I am going to fly to the middle of nowhere tomorrow morning for a wedding Saturday afternoon. Sigh. No big deal- I expect it will be fun, and we are only away for about 30 hours so it shouldn't derail me from work too much. It's not that I would be working all of Saturday if we didn't go, more that the whole travel-see-family thing sometimes throws me off for a couple of days after returning.

It's a beautiful spring day and I am typing this outside- it's not very warm, but it's great to be able to watch the people go by after so many months of empty sidewalks.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Futuristic Catastrophizing

Like "land the plane," another useful phrase that has helped me get through the last five years is my favorite cognitive distortion, vividly termed "futuristic catastrophizing."

Here's an example of futuristic catastrophizing from recent personal experience:

A few weeks ago I presented some material to a group of fellow graduate students seeking feedback for making the piece better before shopping it around at conferences and, if I'm lucky, someday as a job talk. I knew going in to the presentation that it wasn't my best work, was rough, and needed revision. I gave the talk, and unsurprisingly got hung out to dry by my fellow cranky graduate students because, well, like I said, it wasn't my best work. And I go to school with some cranky people.

A rational person would say to themselves, "I just gave a bad talk, I should go back to work and make it better." or, "I should just move on to some other project for now."

A lame, neurotic, anxious graduate student says, "Woe is me, I just gave a bad talk, all of the ideas I've ever had are bad, I'm never going to publish anything or get a job anywhere and I'm going to die an octogenarian graduate student with no friends and no love left in my life." This pathetic specimen then proceeds to eat four bowls of cereal, drink a bottle of $3 red wine, and pass out on the couch.

This second response is called "futuristic catastrophizing." It's like that muppet from Sesame Street, the composer one who bangs his head on the piano screaming, "I'll never get it! never!"

Learning this term a few years ago has helped me recognize the behavior, even if it's often too late to do anything about it.

Landing the Plane

"Graduate school," my wise spouse said to me a couple of days ago, "is like flying a plane. You are the pilot. Of course, ideally you want the flight to be as pleasant as possible, but the bottom line is, you've been flying for a while now, and your only job is to get the plane on the ground."

As corny as it might sound, this analogy has been incredibly useful for me, entering in to what I hope is the last (or, sigh, second to last?) year of a PhD program in the humanities/social sciences. There is no time to go around seeing if everyone's tray tables are in the upright and locked positions; no time to see if anyone wants an extra pack of peanuts. Because now is the time to land the plane.

You could go on forever with the analogy: No one really remembers a bumpy landing as long as they land all right. There will be other flights in the future.

My plan is that the blog will be a useful record of my thoughts during this next year, and a good outlet for anxieties so I can spare said wise spouse (and my many other supportive friends) the full brunt of my craziness.