Saturday, September 17, 2011

Slowly pushing forward

My motivation has been pretty low lately.

I really wish I could find the magic that can bring it back, if only because there is so much to get done, and very little actually getting done.

I have been throwing myself at an engineering problem since December 31st, and I have been unsatisfied with the answers that I have been getting. For those who aren't acquainted with how graduate school works, there are no easy answers, straight-forward problems, or clear paths. In undergrad you are given a problem set, you solve the problems with the equations you learned that week, and then you check your answers with your friends. In grad school, you are given a problem, you derive an equation to solve it, and then you run experiments to check and see if it worked. If it doesn't work, your experiment or your equation is wrong, and you chase your tail trying to figure out which is your problem or if both are incorrect. Don't get me wrong, the skill you learned in undergrad will help you, but there is a whole new level of skills you need to reach the next level. At some point, if you ever want to make it as a researcher, you have to be able to transcend getting stuck. From what I heard it changes your life. It isn't something that happens when you are a master's student, the problems aren't hard enough. But in order to get a PhD, you are going to get stuck, because it is hard, so hard it was impossible before you got put on the problem, and you need to cut through all of the crap and distractions and find an answer of blinding correctness, or irrefutably prove it is completely impossible.

I consider myself a finisher. I am satisfied when threads are read, knitting projects completed, books written, gas tanks filled, fractals rendered, and code compiled. I get stressed out when there are too many things going on at once. I don't like reading several books at once, or having 2 knitting projects going on at the same time, or having more yarn than I have plan to use. But ironically it seems like the moment I sit down to work I have 3 different programs running at once, and some sort of audio based distraction. I am trying to cultivate some sort of half in half out state of attention, for something that requires every single drop I've got.

As a result I have never been so frustrated as I have been on my project, so close to being finished, yet horribly terribly unfinished. I try finishing everything but this. For a long time I had to constantly finish other things, because most of my life revolved around something that was unfinished. But now, knowing I am squirming against deadlines and expectations, I can't sit down and do what needs to be done.

I have run into a contradiction between my model and my experiment. So while I have written about both, when I have to combine the results, I am completely paralyzed. I try looking at the model in new ways to find a different way of expressing it, but the answers I get still don't make sense in the context of my experiment, which I know is flawed, but serviceable. The fact that it is flawed is actually why I knew I needed a more complicated model in the first place. The trap itself is ingenious. I am completely devoid of conclusions, so I bounce between all of my data, and then I try to think about any other possible thing than the problem at hand. Writing this blog post now is how I am trying to simultaneously work and not work at the same time. At least doing it this way reminds me that there is a reason I sacrificed a heavenly Saturday afternoon, rather than wandering my usual haunts on the internet. Perhaps it is a painful reminder. I haven't failed yet, though it feels like failure is a distinct possibility.

I know there is so much worth looking forward to, and so much to be happy about right now. I know my current perspective is frankly way out of perspective. Finish it and be free, just a few impossible steps are required first.

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