Progress and Struggles of a Math PhD Student
"Fake it till you make it" is a common catchphrase that means to imitate confidence so that as the confidence produces success. I am gathering information and filling out forms as if I am finishing my degree in December 2012. I have emailed professors about dissertation templates as if I am ready to write and submit my dissertation.
I need to gather my work and thoughts into a publishable paper. This is an especially daunting task, because I have never published a paper. Here is my strategy:
- Divide the topic into manageable sections.
- Write a separate mini paper for each section.
- Convince my advisor to review and comment on the mini papers.
- Have either me or my advisor combine the papers. Paying special attention to flow and uniform notation.
Today I reaped the benefits of yesterday's frustration. I had a quick chat with my advisor this morning. Because of all the seemingly worthless articles I read, I knew exactly what he was talking about.
Day 2 of no teaching was off to a great start. I got a full 8 hours sleep. Woke up peacefully and read the Bible with my husband. Then immediately Skyped with my advisor. Before 7am rolled around, I was pumped and ready to make today great.
Exams are graded and final grades are submitted. Next up research. It has been a long time sense I have worked on my research, so today I recapped where I was and what I was doing.
I have worked for a few years on my topic, on my program, with my own terminology. I don't know what has been done before in my area, what people are doing currently, or the terms already in use for related topics. This is a big problem when I go to write about my own research.
- Make a weekly effort to read at least the abstracts from the premier journals in your field. Choose an article or two to read in depth and critique.
- Make a weekly search to find preprints in your field. Read selectively and critique.
- Attend a research seminar or colloquium series. Listen and critique.
Throughout graduate school I learned the importance of giving your full attention in class. I learned to completely understand the homework, not just find an answer. So why do I still struggle with active listening and reading when it comes to research? I can't count the number of times I have slept during a seminar, or read a technical paper without retaining any of it.
- From where did the author seem to draw the ideas?
- What exactly was accomplished by this piece of work?
- How does it seem to relate to other work in the field?
- What would be the reasonable next step to build upon this work?
- What ideas from related fields might be brought to bear upon this subject?
I have been apart of a great research team in the Interdisciplinary Mathematics Institute (IMI) at the University of South Carolina (USC) for the past 5 years. I started as a summer intern in college. Once I got my bachelor's from Coastal Carolina University, I worked at an insurance company for a year. Then the IMI offered me a full time job. I loved this job and the people. They motivated me to start graduate school at USC.