I think this particular aphorism should go without saying, but it’s something I’m sure we all struggle with to a certain extent.
Graduate school was eye-opening in more ways than one: in addition to receiving a world-class education on a topic whose applications are virtually limitless, I made a significant personal comeback from a lackluster finish at Georgia Tech. I proved to myself that I was better than the two semesters preceding the conferral of my bachelor’s degree, earning passage to begin Ph.D. work in the same field of study in August. The knowledge I gained regarding computational biology is indelible, but even more important are the lessons I gleaned from my own behavior: how I study, how I learn, what works and what doesn’t, and so on.
In essence: what circumstances maximize my effectiveness in a given situation?
It’s been an ongoing battle in this regard, particularly in the last few years. I’ve jumped between so many different tasks that, as difficult as it is to admit, I didn’t accomplish what I should have, what I knew I could do. The 2008 rendition of GSoC comes to mind, in which I failed to put pen to paper. Same with my final math courses at Georgia Tech: I was the point of failure in neglecting to study enough.
The surrounding circumstances were certainly far from ideal; there was a lot (and I mean a lot) of other random crap going on during the summer of 2008 that made it very, very easy to get distracted. I also somehow managed to have two math professors whose personalities did not mesh one single bit with mine. But the key is that, while these circumstances made excelling more difficult, it did not preclude them from being excellence-immune.
That was where I failed: I didn’t know myself well enough, didn’t recognize my habits and their stressors well enough to compensate effectively. I didn’t know how to react in these particular circumstances. And it cost me, and continues to cost me, primarily because I am still encountering situations which take me longer to recognize and adjust to.
But this past spring and summer have been interesting in this regard. My thesis was certainly a jump-start, and now my current GSoC work. My thesis was a culmination of months of hard work, and it gave me a taste of what to expect in August. GSoC has been challenging – feel free to catch up on the entries I’ve posted about it – but I’ve been devoting the needed time and distancing myself from distractions, and consequently have made significant progress over the last four weeks.
It’s still going to be a busy summer: the project is far from finished, and summer is about 1/3 over already. Furthermore, I’d really like to jump back into some of my own work, like my CMS, my Twitterbot, and my long-neglected website (was thinking of using WordPress 3.0, in fact). Furthermore, it’s my last summer in Atlanta for the foreseeable future, so I’m trying to spend as much time with my Georgia Tech friends as is possible 🙂
The upshot here, really, is as simple as the title. To be able to know how you react in situations, to know how to adjust quickly and smoothly, and to be aware of your vices so as to proactively handle them constructively…that’s something special. It’s quite a proud realization when you see it in action.
I’ve been reading a book lately, goes by the name of Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. While I’m barely a few chapters in, the overall theme of the book has been made abundantly clear from the beginning: self-reference, and how it is both logically contradictory and spectacularly revealing. For instance, the infinite staircase makes no logical sense, and yet there it is. But at the same time, any one piece of it makes perfect sense, but really doesn’t give us anything to ponder.
I can’t say this with certainty, but it’s my guess that the book is leading toward the conclusion (or perhaps, one conclusion of many) that everything that’s interesting and worth writing home about can be learned through self-reference, self-discovery, and introspection. Something to think about, I suppose, and I highly recommend giving the book a try.
In the meantime, I leave you with this font of wisdom: