The Hidden Virtues of Wasting Time (Throwback Thursday)

Series note:  The following post is part of the Rutgers Graduate Student Blog Throwback Thursday blog series, in which we will repost one of our most popular blog posts from years past.

For the benefit of the incoming graduate students, my department in college used to take surveys of everyone about what they would do if they were starting graduate school over again.  (They called this “Starting Over,” and it was such a fantastic idea that I shamelessly ripped off the idea when I came here.  Here are our results.)  As interesting as all the comments were, I was always most fascinated by the clear difference between the current student responses and the faculty responses.  The current students tended to dispense wisdom about academics, research, and the minutiae of navigating a Ph.D.  A lot of “study hard for your quals” and “start writing your dissertation early.”  The faculty, though, rarely mentioned such details.  Rather, they focused on…..well, how to stay human.  They tended to submit entreaties to go outside and exercise, to make time for family and friends, to stay healthy, and so on.  Not exactly what we’d expect from a profession that is notorious for its workaholism (which also seems to have led to a serious case of caffeine addiction). Continue reading “The Hidden Virtues of Wasting Time (Throwback Thursday)”

Half Price Movie Tickets!

Many of us love to go to the movies, but it can be tough on the tight grad student budget we are forced to live on. That’s why I want to make sure you all are aware of Rutgers Cinema. It is a state-of-the-art facility featuring three cinema screens each with digital projectors, stadium seating and surround sound.  The best part is, with any Rutgers ID, the price after fees is only $6.50 per ticket! The same movie would cost $12.75 at a nearby theater. At the same time, a non-Rutgers customer can purchase a ticket at the Rutgers Theater for only $8.50, which is still a substantial savings. The only thing you are sacrificing is movie selection but they usually try to feature the highest demanded movies.

This week’s lineup features:

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy
  2. The Maze Runner
  3. Tusk
  4. The Drop

For more information and to buy tickets, you can visit their website: http://www.rutgerscinema.com/

End of Semester Events

As another semester comes to a close there are a few activities being offered to help us relax and recharge both mentally and physically.

– This Thursday May 8th the GSA is holding an end of semester social from 8pm to 12am in the graduate student lounge. This is a chance to come out and meet people from different departments and have some fun. The GSA has obtained an alcohol wavier for the event so bring your ids and your own beer, wine coolers, or cider. RSVP on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/807834569246342/?ref=22

– Rutgers Recreation is also offering free fitness classes for the month of May to let you work off some steam. For those of you who have a flex pass you should be familiar with Bodypump, CXWORX, Spinning, RU Fit, GRIT, BodyAttack, Zumba, Fitness Yoga, and Willpower and Grace. Those of you have not tried the classes in the past use these weeks to try them out. The schedule of classes can be found at https://www1.recreation.rutgers.edu/Events/eventView.asp?EventID=292&CategoryID=3

Get out and enjoy these and the many other activities that are going on, I hope to see you there.

Take a Break and Get Out!

For those of you new to Rutgers you may not be away of all the cool opportunities students can take advantage of with Rutgers Recreation.  Each semester they have numerous non-credit classes open to both undergrad and graduate students.  They also organize day trips for local recreation activities like hiking, yoga, whitewater rafting in addition to trips to visit local cities like Philadelphia and New York.

My most recent involvement was on Friday 9/30/13 when I participated in the RU Muddy 5K obstacle race.  It was a chance to get out and have some fun running through the Ecological Preserve on Livingston Campus while completing obstacles and crawling through a giant mud pit.  Luckily the weather was pretty warm because I was coated from head to toe in mud by the end of the race.  Although I did end up a bit bruised and battered from the obstacles it was a lot of fun and a nice change from the daily grind.

Tomorrow, 10/9/13, I am participating in Illuminate the Knight a 1.5mi run through Livingston campus that culminates in a dance party.  The course will be lighted with black lights, strobes, neons, laser and more.  It is suggests racers show up in neon and white to help light the course.  The after party at the finish line will have a DJ and more Rave lighting.  Registration is still open for anyone interested.

Visit Rutgers Recreation Facebook page to see tons of pictures of recent events, you’ll even see some muddy ones of me.  Hope to see some of you out there tomorrow and at other future events!

Never Alone in Graduate School

Feeling lonely and being alone are two different things in life and the lines can be blurred especially in graduate school. As graduate students we are surrounded by people with various backgrounds and skill levels from expert to beginner. On our journey we come across invaluable lab technicians, seasoned post-docs, crucial admin, fellow students, excitable undergrads, inspirational faculty and the tireless food and maintenance crews that help the university thrive. From choosing an adviser to “What I am going to do today?”, the range of graduate school decisions we must make for ourselves can be daunting without a continuous stream of affirmations gotten from within, “I am enough”, or an occasional “great job” from a colleague.

No matter the stage of our graduate life, it is important to separate loneliness from being alone and to put each in perspective. For example, I can easily feel lonely while I’m surrounded by labmates due to language barriers and/or thoughts such as “I am not on that project”, “Ugh, no one understands me,” or “Do I belong here?” On the other hand, I can be in lab at 10PM on a Saturday when no one else is around, not even the janitors, and not feel lonely. The longer I am in graduate school, the more I realize that I am not the only one who acts or thinks in this manner.

Graduate school is a training expedition of which we were chosen to be a part. We do belong. Spending time by ourselves or having “alone time” to delve into our projects is necessary and maybe uncomfortable. This uncomfortability can be devastating to our progress and heightened by numerous factors. It is through being social, as pointed out by a previous post, that we overcome hardships.

It is our choice whether we seek support or remain reclusive during our struggles and accomplishments. Sharing our feelings with the ones we trust allows emotional freedom, the formation of stronger relations throughout life and the possible entrance of a significant other. There are several social outlets on campus that can help impart a sense of belonging such as becoming a member of the Graduate Student Association (GSA), the outdoors club, or enrolling in a fitness class at the gym. Additionally, we can seek one-on-one help with a Rutgers counselor or read a book written by a Rutgers professor on how to obtain a graduate degree. Most importantly, helping others by listening, providing constructive feedback, and offering several high fives and a few “You’re the best!” to those around you is an excellent way to practice selflessness and build relations. These activities have helped me to stay inspired and rational.

It is imperative that we are involved in the graduate community to help build the self-esteem needed to withstand the solitude sometimes needed for thought and discovery. We are responsible for our graduate outcome and the actions we take. We should not do this alone. Let us take this moment to “start over,” as suggested by a previous blog, and get involved so we can become motivated, productive graduate students regardless of the hardships that pass our way together.

I can live for two months on a good compliment.” – Mark Twain

Of Academic Sociability and Disastrous Storms

Reflecting on this past school year, it is clear to me that the social aspect of being a graduate student is nearly as important as academic production.  While research is often a monastic endeavor, the occasions in which we do get a chance to socialize with other academics allows us the opportunity to form new connections with key players in our disciplines, as well as to further solidify existing relationships.  Leaving the cloister of solitary scholarship also has the benefit of opening you up to unexpected adventures, such as hurricanes and other natural disasters.  Last October, during Super Storm Sandy, I realized how sociability and disaster can work together to form valuable, multi-faceted life experiences.

Academic conferences are typically social events that provide a venue to have a few cocktails and banquet meals, show off your research, and perhaps, most importantly, make the necessary connections that will one day (hopefully!) land you that nice tenure-track job at a top-tier research university.  My experience at the American Society for Information Science and Technology (ASIST) conference Baltimore last October is perhaps an outlier in this regard, particularly because much of the conference was overshadowed by the most significant natural disaster to befall New Jersey in recent memory.  This conference just happened to take place precisely as Super Storm Sandy was hitting the East Coast.  I had decided to stay in Baltimore for the duration of the conference, figuring that a large conference hall likely had generators and would be safer than returning to my home in Jersey City.  In fact, the storm barely disturbed Baltimore, with a broken umbrella the extent of my personal loss of property.  And, after the storm’s passing, the local brew pub was up and running again and things were just fine.  The New Jersey and New York coastline was not so lucky, of course, and finding transportation back to the New York metropolitan area with train service suspended became a challenge for me.  My solution was to rent one of the last cars at the nearby Hertz rental agency, and accompanied with another stranded Rutgers friend, make our way north, as quickly as possible, on I-95.  The landscape seemed virtually untouched, but when night began to fall and we crossed the Delaware Memorial Bridge into NJ, all lights remained dark.  We did not see a single street lamp glowing on our entire journey up the Jersey Turnpike.

Driving across the arched span of the Newark Bay Bridge into Bayonne, which normally provides an unobstructed view of the New York Bay area, revealed only a ghostly archipelago of darkened landmasses, with the opulent glow of midtown Manhattan and its radiant Empire State as the sole beacons of visible illumination on the horizon.  Driving through the darkened streets of Jersey City, we encountered dazed and lumbering storm-survivors, seeking out food, water, and perhaps most importantly, electricity with which to charge their digital devices.  This surreal environment resembled a scene from the zombie-serial, The Walking Dead, with city streets abnormally darkened, and slow-moving pedestrians lurching into oncoming traffic.  Fortunately, everyone maintained peace and civility, and surprisingly little crime occurred during this ordeal.  And when I finally returned to my apartment, my girlfriend was fine, cooking up some excellent stir-fry and sipping wine with friends.  So, thankfully, my fears of a zombie apocalypse turned out to be unfounded, but it would be about six days before we saw our electricity fully restored.

The experience of my trip down to the ASIST conference was clearly instructive as life experience on multiple accounts.  I was able to show off and discuss my academic research, and socialize with new professors, established luminaries, and friends just entering the job market.  Okay, so maybe a calamitous weather event that precipitated loss of life and billions of dollars in damage was not the ideal background for such an experience, but it did prove that traveling away from home and expanding one’s horizons does make the return home an entirely new experience.

Post Script:  Having just returned from a weekend at the Jersey Shore, I can report that there has been considerable work done on moving towards recovery from the damage wrought by Sandy.  There is still much work to be done, especially for private residences, but it is heartening to see how much has already been accomplished.  Even the Pinball Museum in Asbury Park, which is precipitously positioned right on the boardwalk is back in business!

The Hidden Virtues of Wasting Time

For the benefit of the incoming graduate students, my department in college used to take surveys of everyone about what they would do if they were starting graduate school over again.  (They called this “Starting Over,” and it was such a fantastic idea that I shamelessly ripped off the idea when I came here.  Here are our results.)  As interesting as all the comments were, I was always most fascinated by the clear difference between the current student responses and the faculty responses.  The current students tended to dispense wisdom about academics, research, and the minutiae of navigating a Ph.D.  A lot of “study hard for your quals” and “start writing your dissertation early.”  The faculty, though, rarely mentioned such details.  Rather, they focused on…..well, how to stay human.  They tended to submit entreaties to go outside and exercise, to make time for family and friends, to stay healthy, and so on.  Not exactly what we’d expect from a profession that is notorious for its workaholism (which also seems to have led to a serious case of caffeine addiction).

So what’s going on?  These faculty members are presumably the successful ones, so an interpretation of their advice is that they’re (1) expressing regret they didn’t live better when they were younger, or (2) telling us the secret of their success.  The aforementioned study on the working habits of scientists might make us doubt the latter interpretation.  So if you’re looking for yet another reason to feel guilty for not working all the time, well, here you go.  But I think this oversimplifies the situation.  First, one’s optimal work-life balance is not static over time — one’s needs as a graduate student are different from those as a young professional which are different from a mid-career person.  So what might seem workaholic now maybe will be more comfortable in 15 years, or vice versa.  Second, work-life balance has a great deal of person-to-person heterogeneity.  A lifestyle that is balanced for one person may be too overwhelming for another, and too freewheeling for a third.  The effects of this balance on one’s actual productivity are also not as simple as we might think.  I know some folks who seem to work almost all the time, and yet they don’t seem to accomplish a whole lot.  On the other hand, I know someone who has more fun than almost everyone I know, and yet he’s reached a level of professional success most of us can only dream of.  (I’m still talking about scientists, by the way!)

Perhaps the takeaway, then, is not only to take seriously the need for balance, but to consider seriously one’s very individualized needs for it, rather than letting it be determined by cultural or social norms.  The work-life balance you strike should be the result of your deliberate choice, and not the inevitable consequence of external pressures or other choices you make.  If faculty wisdom is to be believed, then it sounds like you won’t regret it.

Around Town

In New Brunswick (and the surrounding area), there are many opportunities to relax, have fun, and get out of the house/office. There are a variety of ways to enjoy the diverse offerings of New Jersey of all types: cultural, recreational, gastronomical, natural, musical, and more. I’ll list just a few of my personal favorites, in no particular order and with no attempt to fairly represent all of the possible local attractions and activities.

The State Theater of New Jersey

The State Theater is especially good for students because Rutgers-affiliated discounts make many of the shows accessible for a good price (and not just in the very back row either). I have enjoyed music and dance performances here, as well as a few comedy routines and at least one musical. There are many different types of acts coming to the State Theater at any given time, so it’s worth checking their schedule periodically for your interests. The theater district of New Brunswick also offers the Cabaret Theatre, the George Street Playhouse, and the Crossroads Theatre Company.

Image source: [c]

The Court Tavern

New Brunswick has had a vibrant local music scene for decades, including many pioneering and influential bands. Although recently closed for a few months, the Court Tavern has reopened recently and continues to provide a venue for local musicians. Nearby places to eat, including Hansel ‘n’ Griddle and Destination Dogs, serve up food suitable for before the show (or between bands).

Image source: [c]

New Brunswick has many bars, pubs, and other venues in that spectrum of eating & drinking, but only Harvest Moon offers beer brewed right on-site, along with its classic fare of dinner options. The vegetarian chili is a hidden gem on the menu, which includes many options that are easy to enjoy. Be sure to try one of their many varieties of beer (they won’t sell you anybody else’s!), and if you like it, take some home in a growler.

There are many other similar restaurants in New Brunswick, including Tumulty’s and The George Street Ale House, both of which offer good beer and nice pub food. Tumulty’s is a nice alternative for a more laid-back and traditional pub experience, and GSAH has a wide selection of beer as well as a more pricey menu of “gastro-pub” fare.

Image source: [c]

Stelton Lanes Bowling Alley

I enjoy spending time with friends bowling. Knocking things over is fun (sometimes). In addition to the enjoyment of time spent with friends, bowling is an activity easy to enjoy even for beginners, but it’s not boring or highly competitive (unless you have really intense friends). You’ll be renting shoes, most likely, so be sure to wear socks! Another nearby bowling alley is the Brunswick Zone.

Image source: [c]

The Edison Diner

New Jersey is known for its diners, often open late (or 24-7) and offering a variety of classic meals, snacks, and beverages. I am a somewhat regular customer at the Edison diner. For those days when there’s no time to cook or it’s too late to do otherwise, this diner is open 24-7 and even has free wifi. Outside peak hours, the diner is sometimes (but not always) calm and relaxed and can be a nice place to get some peace and quiet some days.

A mention should go to another favorite diner of mine, The Skylark Diner. This diner is a bit further away and is not open 24-7, but it offers a more creative/non-traditional menu and a fair selection of alcoholic beverages. (It is thus a bit more loud and crowded, and the prices are a bit higher.)

Image source: [c] You can visit the Edison Diner’s website by clicking this link, but please beware, it is a flash-only website that makes a substantial amount of noise: The Edison Diner.

Middlesex County Parks

It may be freezing out and dark at 5pm during winter, but even in winter it’s nice to spend time in one of the many parks in the area. Donaldson Park in the boro of Highland Park offers many facilities, including walking paths, basketball courts, exercise stations (pull ups, monkey bars, etc.), dog pens, and more. The park is prone to flooding, which we have experienced a few times in recent history, but it is generally scenic and enjoyable. Nearby Johnson Park has similar facilities as well as a sanctuary for abandoned animals rescued by the county.

Image source: [pd]

Images used in this entry are used under fair-use and/or under licensing guidelines set forth by the copyright holder that allow use in this blog, as presented for educational or critical commentary. Images are copyright their respective holders and credit or source is indicated in each caption or in the text of this entry, as applicable.

In and Around

While you are a student at Rutgers there is also an opportunity to get out and experience something new.

New Brunswick

Another venue to code/read.New Brunswick may be small but there are things going on all year. I would recommend looking out for community events happening in New Brunswick and Highland Park: 4th of July, Parades in Highland Park and New Years are just some of them. New Brunswick is the home of the State Theater of New Jersey (as well as other theaters in the Arts district). The State Theater hosts performances all year. Get to see at least one performance there. There is always a chance one of your favorite acts might perform there. A great program to look out for at the State Theater is “Scientists Exploring the Arts”, a free program where you get to see a performance as well as a pre-show talk with some of the performers. The program is open to students who are in specific science programs. Get Connected:

Princeton/NYC/Philadelphia

The great thing about being in New Brunswick is that one can easily get to a number of towns and cities using public transport.

Princeton is very easy to get too and is a great town to visit. Not just for the University but the town itself. Its a great afternoon excursion.

NYC is easily accessible via bus (cheapest) or train. There are tons of things to do. I would recommend the amazing museums and the many cultural experiences that are available. I wrote a guide for International Graduate Student about a year ago on getting to NYC and some options on things to do. You can see it here: Culture: Museums in NYC

Philadelphia is my favorite historical American city. You can take NJ Transit Train and then the Septa to get to Philadelphia. There are so many things to do in Philly that I keep on going back. Historic Philadelphia is a great experience. The art museum is great and the Rocky statue is just a bonus. There is a lot more than I have listed on here but once you start looking at either TravelAdvisor or WikiTravel you’ll have a lot to choose from.

Happy Exploring.

Creating Structure in a Formless Summer

This may be the greatest challenge thrown your way since you started graduate school…it threatens to take you down roads of untold temptation and laziness…it could undo everything for which you have fought so hard…

What is this horror?   A structure-free summer! [Gasp!]

If you are anything like me, you (grudgingly) crave structure. You require a tidy schedule to keep you on track. In fact, a little deadline-related pressure helps you to focus and, in turn, makes you more productive. And since a positive, productive day results in a happier you, this is good! So what do you do when that externally-imposed structure is temporarily absent? And, to make matters more frightening, you actually do have a deadline of sorts, but it feels oh so far away.  You…

Read. A lot. And, in my case, come up with a solid dissertation plan. In your case, it might be to explore possible research topics. Regardless, there is no defined finish line in terms of the quantity of readings. You have three months. Go!  How much is “a lot” and how will you know when you have “enough?”  In lieu of answers to those impossible questions, you can at least make a plan for some self-imposed structure:

1. Create structure by engaging in activities at appointed times, on specific days (e.g., Exercise regularly, cook dinner on Tuesdays and Thursdays, clean the bathroom every Friday afternoon, etc.)

2. Set a goal to read a certain number of hours per day, articles per day, books per week.

3. Set aside an hour or two per week to do further research online, print out articles, etc.

4. Vary your location. Go to the library, coffee shop, park – someplace where you will not have the weight of household chores and “other things” pulling you away from your work.

5. Put the computer to sleep while you are reading. It is so tempting to look something up while you are reading or to answer an email if the computer is on. Make a note to do that online work later.

6. Figure out what time of the day you are most mentally productive. I do well in the late morning and early afternoon. After about 7pm, all I want to do is cook dinner and watch The Twilight Zone.

7. Make time for friends. Plan dates in advance or allow for down time when you can call someone up to have dinner or go to the park. You evolved to be social! Don’t lock yourself into your own head and avoid the world. It’s not healthy.

Of course this advice is all perfectly rational, but frankly, the temptation to be lazy on a sunny, summer afternoon when you are able to live off of grant or loan money for three months and don’t actually need to work a “normal” job, is incredibly strong! So, allow yourself those times now and then. But force yourself to create the schedule so that even your lazy time is somewhat structured. This is advice to myself as much as to anyone else. I am fighting this temptation as I write. Good luck to us all!

TEDxRutgers 2012

Vukosi Marivate

TEDxRutgers 2012 has come and gone (Website). I thought I should put my thoughts up about the event. I was one of the organizers of this and last year’s event. I take events like these as great opportunities to get to know and work with other students around the university. There are always so many things going on at Rutgers on any given day during the semester. Just check the GetInvolved website for the very long list.

Given this great number of things to do, students have a large variety of activities to choose from. My advice is to actually choose something and go with it instead of being overwhelmed by choice. The experience, outside my day to day research, is refreshing and rewarding. You get to meet new people who are not in your discipline, share ideas and potential collaborations in things you had never thought of before.

TEDxRutgers was, for me, one of those rewarding experiences. I started off in 2010 just as an attendee at the first one. The event was and still is run mostly but our great undergraduate students but I saw an opportunity to bring in some of my experience and joined the team as an organizer in 2012. The speakers in 2012 were from diverse backgrounds from in, around and outside the university. You can read more about the speakers here. We had students, faculty and performers.

My main responsibility was management of the website as well as all of the social media. I have a large interest in social media, especially as it pertains to mining data. Aside: Always be on the lookout for the opportunity to attend some of the Network Science/Social Media seminars/talks hosted at the Department of Computer Science or School of Communication. We had a great campaign for the event. Growing the Facebook page to 600 fans and having a reach (potential people who saw our posts on Facebook) of close to 15,000. Twitter was even better with a reach of close to 32,000 people. Below is a snapshot of the traffic generated on Twitter on the day of the event.

TEDxRutgers 2012 Twitter Reach
Uploaded with Skitch!

The only thing I think is heavily missing from the events is more participation of graduate students. Not only as organizers but also as attendees. It really is just a day out of the year but I believe we as grad students have so much to offer given our diverse experiences and the fields we work in.