Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Good? Or Good Enough?

(Glimpse of a rare sunset while at the lab)

I spent last weekend and week back in the lab down south. After comparing notes on the state of our studies with a student I once crashed with, I’ve come up with a new way of thinking about finishing projects. Research is kind of like limits; I mean the math kind (I know, I know, bear with the geeky analogy). When I learned about them, I was told to imagine standing a few feet from the wall. Go half the distance between you and the wall. Then go half the remaining distance. Repeat until you finally – oh, nope, you won’t reach the wall that way.

This project feels a little like that. Hence the concept of Good, or Good Enough. It seems like the most successful researchers are the ones who can identify when a project is good enough, they write it up, and move on. Sounds easy enough, right? But as a project evolves and changes direction, it feels hard to just let it be finished, despite every other part of me that wants it to be done. Everything takes longer than I thought, so then the project must be extra good because it has taken so long, and then Improvement #1 returns something unexpected, and trying one more thing will make the project even better… Devilish logic.

(the science magic in action in the windowless basement lab)

At any rate, the week in the lab went quite well, in fact it was probably the best trip I’ve ever had. Data looked good, my samples were clean, and my pseudo-advisor encouraged me to apply for one of the postdoc fellowships they offer! Yay! That brings the tally of applications/proposals for the fall up to two, and I need to finish off this dataset and paper (I’m starting to sound like a broken record with that goal). And see how much I can get done before fall quarter starts and TA’ing begins again. But having things at the next step to apply for does a lot for helping with the feeling of Good Enough.

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