Learning “Soft” Skills

When the summer began, I believed that the purpose of the fellowship program was to give me the time to work on my project at maximum productivity. Without the distractions of coursework or a job, I would be able to fulfill my potential as a writing machine. While of course getting work done is one purpose of the fellowship, I’ve learned that there were many softer goals as well. I’ve learned a lot about myself as a budding academic and writer, lessons that I will be glad I began learning early once I’m in grad school.

One thing my mentor Dr. Roecklein has helped me to learn how to do is work with lots of projects on different burners. This summer, I’ve been planning and writing my senior thesis project, writing the background of a research project with my mentor and another faculty member, training in clinical interviewing, helping with participant recruitment in the lab, and working on an application for a post-grad fellowship — as well as making new friends, exploring Pittsburgh, and easing back into my normal exercise regimen now that I’m six months out from a hip surgery.

The fact that I took all this on this summer is paralleled by my continuing desire to add more and more hypotheses to the study I’m planning. Both Dr. Roecklein and Dr. Creswell (my other adviser) have urged me not to stack too much on my plate. I know that sometimes the solution is to cut out what’s truly excessive — for example, I originally planned to work in both my advisers’ labs this summer, until Dr. Creswell advised me that might be a little unrealistic! However, using that solution every time I have a new idea or side project I’m excited about wouldn’t be very true to my personality. This summer I’ve honed my ability to keep new ideas on my agenda, but ensure that I don’t get to them until I’m where I want to be with higher priorities.This way, the extra ambitions don’t interfere with the top priorities — but they still get their time in the sun!

I’ve also learned a lot about my own way of working. In the beginning of the summer, I was frequently upset with myself at the end of the day because I hadn’t done as much work as I’d wanted to. I’d be upset at the end of the week that I got a lot done on three days of the week, but strayed from my project on two other days. Although my advisers always tell me I’ve done well when I show them my paper, I couldn’t help but feeling I’d have produced something even better if I worked more or worked the “right” way.

By this time, I’ve begun to realize that my way of working is not “wrong,” but is actually just that: my way of working. If some days I relax during the daytime and get the most done after 9 p.m., if some days I write little by little and take frequent breaks watching Netflix, if some weeks I spend a few days away from my project but work feverishly on Friday and Saturday — as long as I produce the same end product as someone who’s worked in a more traditional way, then my way of working is just fine!

I feel confident that the “softer” lessons I’ve learned will benefit me this year and even in grad school. Although I’ve met my goals for tangible work done over the course of the summer, I’m glad that’s not all I achieved — and that I was able to learn by struggling to get there.