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Archive for February, 2009

Nature of the Problem:

Students have to prepare a thoughtful, concise, engaging PowerPoint presentation which will deliver some solutions and analysis to their clients, who were assigned 4? weeks ago.

Underlying Issues:

Susceptibility of bodies to prolonged virus exposure; crowded space/working conditions; having more issues to discuss and analyze than hours available to do so; fatigue; emotional stress; anxiety over different professors’ different ways of doing things (even though we’re all doing the same thing)

Related Issues:

value of graduate education, length of commuting times to Queens, New Jersey, Brooklyn, malfunctioning MTA/NJ Transit/PATH/MetroNorth, desire for a graduate nap room/infirmary/kitchen/bar, expense of graduate housing, anxiety over any and all employment prospects

Recommendation:

You got me.  Keep on keeping on, and for god’s sake keep some patience and humor. 

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You know, if I had mad skillz I’d craft a matrix for you all, which would just serve to get an ooooh and aaaaah from people like me, who, when a prospective student, assumed that somehow by the time this whole “Lab” experience took place, I would feel so transformed and competent that I would say that while challenging, Lab is like that annoying computer problem at work–something to be dealt and dispensed with, and no big deal.

Instead, we’re worried we’re not where we need to be, then get excited thinking we’ve Figured It Out (HA! behold our brilliance!)–and then we cycle right back to worry.

You do a first rehearsal of your presentation, and then the questions begin, and there are many.  Right then is about when you panic, or stall, thinking  why was that again? and YES we know we have to fix that typo (insert bratty eyeroll from KD, yes, I own it and I apologize).  Meanwhile, if you’re me you have just hacked up nothing good on a raw throat and are so tired you don’t remember the contents of your own iPod, much less why That Great Idea is So Great.  I had some idea as to what I was personally saying, but mostly kept thinking, I’m not “there” yet–I still need to rethink and chop this some more, to get to the essence of the point, and also, frankly, I WANT TO SIT DOWN.

After this first run through, which takes a long time, you go back and start from Slide 1, and work your way through.  Right now that’s what we’re doing, and while on the one hand it is in the realm of telling a story, a process that I love and understand, on the other it’s about data and analysis and the technical side of policy analysis with which we engaged last term.

I am just in no place to evaluate what is happening procedurally right now.  But I can report, happily, that in the midst of a lot of frustration and hard work, we are laughing a lot as a team, too.   Which is good, because if I had to stifle the wacky for this long under these conditions, things would be quite miserable.

-Kristen

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Yes, my friends, that is where your faithful pals and colleagues have been in policy-land: sick and very very tired.

Word of warning: there are now so many rhinoviruses (sounds more menacing than “germs”, doesn’t it?) floating around the Milano building that I would not blink if the heretofore unaffected started sporting scary spaceman outfits, so as to avoid the pestilence.

Maybe my perspective is skewed (entirely plausible, since I am really going only on personal and anecdotal evidence, as well as, you know, Facebook) but first we hit the wall of tired, and then fell limply to a pile of kleenex.  Or something.  Basically, we’re all working 24/7 with our groups, assembling research (even when you know that you don’t have time to do more, there are always these tantalizing reminders of your project, everywhere you go, all day long, prompting you to KEEP GOING past the point of reason) and hopefully analyzing/preparing briefings/assembling our many future documents.

I don’t know.  It’s hard to sum up in any sort of interesting way, because frankly, I’m resisting the temptation to talk more about MY project right now, but we really have gotten to a point where we’re breathing this, and dreaming it, as well as hoping that our solutions are going to be useful in some way.  This is the sort of thing that leaves you very drained, but hopefully feeling very proud about too.  I’m joking about the sickness going around because it’s to be expected under the circumstances, and also, what better bonding moment can you have than diverting attention from The Project to fetch more tissue/handkerchiefs, more tea, and share home remedies?  I’ve just learned about one involving tea with raspberry jam and some sort of liquor, and if it weren’t for the person’s grandma who makes it living all the way in the Ukraine, I’d totally be swilling it by now.  I mean, doesn’t that sound good?   Someone else swears by Sudafed, which makes me so crazed that I’d talk even more than I do now, and now?  Now I talk too much because that is what happens when I’m tired–I babble.  It’s truly unfortunate, and I have apologized many times.  In that sense a sore throat is a small blessing for others because I can’t do it. 

I am enjoying an evening of obsessing over finding some graphics that are really specific (oh, believe you me, I know what I am looking for, internets) for…I’m not even sure.  Just in case.  Whatever.  I’m sure we’ll get to the bottom of it during our late night meeting tomorrow.

Carry on, ya’ll.  And to our friends Out There??  We do miss you.  And we will see you…well, honestly probably not until Spring Break or May, depending.  But when we’re not dreaming about Lab, we’re totally thinking of you.  Honest.

-KD

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I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been a math whiz. In fact, when another woman in my Quantitative Methods class characterized her feelings about math and numbers as “terror,” I knew I could relate. I was bewildered by algebra and bored by my stat class in college. However three weeks into Quantitative Methods and I don’t hate it. This is a BIG step in the right direction for me. What I fnd most helpful is how my professor and the class  attempts to present statistical concepts in a framework that fits with the public service slant of my education. This ultimately answers the never-ending questions of, “When will I ever use this???” I’ve been able to incorporate some of what I’ve learned so far in my readings for other classes (mostly Education and International Development). I won’t say that I have been fully pulled to the math dark side, but I have overcome my “math terror.” (At least for now…) Phew!

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a process story

Each Monday the entire policy lab class meets as a large group, during which time we’re not focusing on our own work, but on more general “how to’s” or skills review.  (Or skills “acquisition”, since we haven’t done some parts of this work before).  Recently we had a speaker discussing group process, and how important it is to what we’re doing, as well as with suggestions on how to make our teams work more efficiently.  The only thing about this is that we’ve already been meeting for what feels like a few weeks (it’s actually going into the third week) and I’m afraid that the advice might have been oddly timed–we already have our group dynamics going, for better or for worse.  Also, at this point task-oriented people like me are in a frenzy over how we will accomplish what we see as the necessary work to be done for our project.  So any and all time spent explicitly discussing process can feel like time spent away from the “real” task at hand.  I always struggle with this issue of process, not because I do not value it, but I worry about getting the job done, and for me that is the first priority.  I’m learning more about how to mitigate this totally task oriented mindset with the reality that other people in the group DO want to talk about process, so that process problems never get to start.

I think that my group is working together well thus far, so mercifully there aren’t the sorts of process crises that make any project more daunting, but to be fair?  The main struggle has been trying to figure out how often to meet.  Some people who are more interested in thorough conversation prefer more frequent meetings (almost daily) while for me, not having at least one day with no meetings makes completing tasks more difficult given my day job!  There is only so much decent work I can produce at midnight anymore.

This week we heard that the work may be getting more intense, and I thought that was, well, FUNNY.  I mean, would I be able to notice the difference right now??  Not likely!!!

KD

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Wait, so it has only been 1 week?

One?  And today is…Sunday?

Welcome to Week 2 of Lab, wherein Our Heroes regroup and mightily (yet nimbly) design and complete “research” for their project, which we will shorthand here for reasons of propriety and professionalism as The Transformers.

The Transformers project is progressing, and though it feels so much longer than a week, I know it’s just that the nearly nightly meetings and quick series of decisions that have had to happen created the sense of disorientation and overall bleariness I know I was facing by week’s end.  The chance to grab more than 5 hours of fitful sleep and take my time getting organized for our first weekend meeting meant that I was much better rested and prepared than I felt I had been in days.

Not that anyone else will or likely has fared much better.  We are all operating under a time crunch like so: in about 4 (or maybe 5…) weeks, each of our groups will have to have a completed series of work products for our clients.  This means, working backwards, that during Week One you are simultaneously calendaring, getting to know your client, getting to know each other as groupmates, and responding quickly to all of the new information that you are uncovering about your project.

So we spent a week figuring out first of all, that our schedules were going to take more than a day or two to coordinate, and secondly, the intellectual appeal of joining students from different policy classes having been taught by different professors is great–and ultimately we’re already fully supportive of the notion–but for those first few days, there were many different “ways” of doing things being tossed around.  

This stuff is like any interpersonal project–it takes work.  So we have, we are, and we will, and before embarking on another week of a work-school-home schedule, I’m trying to take a few moments away from The Transformers and clear my head.

So far my advice to future Lab students goes like this: yes, you will get that tired, and quickly.  Try to come up with one or two 1/2 hour things you can do to loosen up and relax for yourself.  That way, come overwhelming work time, you can take better care of yourself and keep a more level head.  For me, it’s an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” on DVD–a loose, funny show, and then I’m less stressed out.  I also am trying to work in some exercise, in small increments, as much as I can.  The main thing is to try to know what you will need to be able to do your best work under high stress–something to make you laugh, something to help you burn off steam, something calming, something invigorating–and realize that despite your best laid plans, you’ll still likely really “feel” this process.  Welcome to time-honored Milano tradition!

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