Lab Spaces has some great topic ideas sometimes. This week’s (month’s?) is “Things I wish I knew when...”. And I would like to tell you about the thing I did end up knowing. I have passed it on to successive generations, and they tell me that verily, it is the word of truth, righteousness, and good preparation.
Not the Bible like you think.
You see, Sci is a really really really really obsessively organized person. I am not kidding. Lately I’ve reached the point where I actually have too many things to be organized about and am slipping. This annoys me more than I can say.
But anyway. At the start of my second year, when I had to start preparing to write an NRSA, I knew I was going to do a lot of reading. I knew I needed somewhere to keep my notes. I bought a BIG honkin’ notebook. And I called it the Bible. Each section was divided into topics, and those into sub-topics. The whole thing was kept organized with tabs.
This book SAVED MY BUTT during my dissertation writing. Thanks to it, and to the preparation that went in to it, I wrote my thesis (it was mostly papers that had already been written but there were a bunch of things that had not) in THREE WEEKS. For a total of 410 pages. I was even able to sleep (most nights).
Because it’s what I put in this book that was amazing. For every paper I read, I put chapter (such as Jones, Smith, et al., 2010) in the margin, and verse (“The blah de blah of the brain mediates long term memory when stimulates in such and such a way”) into that notebook, under the right subject heading (In this case, say, Long Term Memory). Sometimes it went in under several headings. I tried to keep them succinct, about one line if I could.
And then, when I was writing and ended up saying “CRAP! What the heck do I know about Long Term Memory and the blah de blah?” I grabbed my Bible, flipped to the right section, and there it was. This was especially effective when combined with an EndNote library that contained literally every paper I ever read.
This Bible is not just good for dissertation writing, remember. I used it for my NRSA. I used it for every paper I have ever written (or am writing). I used it for my comps. It’s basically a written, detailed account of all the stuff I have ever read, but which my poor, overtaxed brain cannot remember.
I have since recommended this to many other grad students, and all those who implement it say it’s awesome. Many people who don’t implement it wish they did.
And I haven’t given up on my Bible. When I started a post-doc (and switched fields, incidentally), I started ANOTHER Bible. This one is electronic in nature (finally), and that works too.
So give it a try. It takes some time, and it takes some upkeep, but if you keep it with you and keep it updated, you will not be sorry come writing time. Sci promises.