Welcome to 2020! After a month-long hiatus, I join many fellow Owls in the flock back to the BRC. In the last semester of our program, I am feeling the excitement and nervous anticipation of graduation around the corner. And that means finishing out our two projects, acing all my classes, finding a job, and (hopefully) maintaining my sanity!
As humans have done since the tide of time, a new year means new resolutions - and the turn of a new decade? Well. That ought to mean some pretty great resolutions! Mine are rather simple. For this blog post, I’d like to share with you some big updates on my last semester here at Rice, and be honest about the lessons I’m learning, both academic and personal, and how I want to apply them post-graduation.
As I finish out the last semester of my academic career, I am faced with a lot of unknowns and choices.Throughout my life I have thrived in uncertainty as a military kid, in fact, I often craved it. But now that the rest of my future is left wide open, I find myself looking for ways to bring back structure and routine. One of the ways I am attempting to do this is to make the most out of the resources around me. I, like a lot of people I am afraid, tend to be overly self-reliant. I want to take all the extra classes, self-assign all the extra group tasks, attend all the events, and do all the things. And when all of these ambitions naturally come to a head, I want to figure out how to accomplish everything without taking anything off my plate or asking for assistance. While this ambition in the moment is fulfilling, it is only sustainable when you effectively prioritize. Balance is key. And while I know this is the self-evident beginning to every self-help book ever, I have found that there is real truth and merit to the principle. Learning to effectively delegate tasks, say no to extra commitments, and prioritize things to get done are life skills that take time and experience to acquire. Along this same vein of thought, deferring to someone else’s expertise can be a great way to recognize when you are burning the rubber with no progress to show. Learning how to seek the advice of others and internalize it to fit your life and experience is really, truly, valuable.
While this ambition in the moment is fulfilling, it is only sustainable when you effectively prioritize. Balance is key.
This semester has come with a lot of added responsibility! For my global project (more information at the bottom...check it out!!) I was made Project Manager which now means I am responsible for planning out our project and ensuring we meet our milestones, along with expanding our stakeholder network and overseeing our progress. And, for my local project (also more information below!) I was asked to be Technical Lead which means I am in charge of doing a deep dive into the technical feasibility of our project, making myself an expert on the technology and making dedicated progress towards a working prototype. I have limited experience in software and image systems but that actually creates an opportunity for me to become an expert in something I am relatively uneducated about. While at first it seemed daunting, I think being new to a problem warrants you fresh perspective with no preconceived notions of what’s “impossible”. I am open to tracking down all possibilities- even the crazy ones! We also recently submitted to the Rice Business Plan Competition and were accepted into the qualifiers! This is a huge opportunity to show our product off to investors and advance our company. It also means I need to prepare for an 8-minute pitch in front of a panel of judges - should be a piece of cake!
While both these leadership positions have definitely added more work, accountability and time-pressure, I fee confident that my teams and I are equipped for the challenges. One of the biggest lessons I’ve had to learn as a leader over the years is how and when to delegate tasks so that the team as a whole is successful. I think most students who come to grad school are used to being the over-achievers who have always had to do the lion’s share of the group work. But that simply isn’t the case anymore. My fellow teammates are motivated, capable and curious - a triple threat. I have spent years taking on the roles of people around me in order to accomplish the task, but it’s been refreshing, and even a little challenging, to accept the assistance of other people. PediRad and Bloodhound are only successful because of our teamwork. Lamiya is incredible at time management and user design both functionally and visually. Luc, is great at facilitating relationships with stakeholders and rapid-prototyping. And Matt, is phenomena lat finding research information and a wizard at computer programming. Recognizing people’s strengths and balancing workload is a form of emotional intelligence that can play a key role in managing teams.
Similarly, both projects have forced us to seek out the expertise of stakeholders and advisors in industry to help validate our ideas and inform us of effective ways to bring those ideas to fruition. I’ve learned you can spend hours researching and attempting to figure something out yourself, or you could use 10 seconds of courage and ask someone who knows what they are talking about. I made a list of all the people in TMC and at Rice who have worked on similar projects to ours and I contacted them to meet and pick their brain. Their combined degrees, years of experience and first-hand observations were unfathomable. I asked questions and from an hour interview I gained perspectives I may have never reached attempting to tackle the problem by myself. I started working with the Doerr Institute and Center for Career Development to tailor my resume, work on job searching and prepare for industry. They have been helping me break down the impossible looming threat of job search into manageable pieces. I connected with people on LinkedIn who had incredible careers and asked if I could interview them. They had years of wisdom and great advice about how to pick my first job out of college. One of the most valuable skills I have learned in this program, I think, is the ability to seek out people to learn from. So many unsuccessful engineering designs occurred because they failed to connect the problem to the people. Bridging that gap by validating your concepts with the relevant people is key. Don’t be afraid to use every resource available to you. It is not a failure if you don’t do it all yourself. Asking for help and giving help when it’s needed is the most effective use of your time. Trust me. We’re humans, we help each other - it’s what we do.
I’ll leave you with this. At the start of this year, my plan for my last semester and approach into job-searching looked a little like “do all the things and do them well.” But as I’ve gained more responsibility, shared my experiences with others and sought out help to accomplish these goals, I’ve adjusted accordingly.
1. Be self-reliant, but not to a fault
2. Be confident in your abilities and do not let other’s perception dictate self-worth
3. Don’t get so caught up in the day to day that you forget the big picture
4. Don’t make super broad goals you can’t actually track…….
Let’s start over:
1. Make my bed every morning (it’s not as silly as you think. watch this!!)
2. Register for the Doerr Institute and check in regularly with a leadership coach
3. Update my to-do list every day and even if it is a horribly chaotic day - do one reasonable task and cross it off.
4. Write every known due date on a master calendar so you aren’t caught off guard while you’re busy putting out other fires
5. Be bold, go up and introduce yourself, message that person and ask to meet up. Make 1 new connection every week
6. Write down the notes from every meeting (be honest-you’re not gonna remember anything you talked about after a few days)
7. Set aside time weekly for a peaceful alone night, productive research nights and fun social nights (like buckey ball!)
8. Dedicate 3 hours every week to researching jobs and writing applications
9. Find your favorite tree and make it a new study spot
10. And lastly, for fun, plan that New Orleans trip you’ve been meaning to take!!
I have a to-do list, and folks-it's color-coordinated. That’s how you know I am serious! Instead of getting overwhelmed by the 7 meetings, 3 homework assignments, 2 business plan applications, job application deadlines and 38 to-do items (these are real numbers, people, - from last week), I’ve learned to tackle them in smaller doses. Set up your calendar. Write out all the due dates. List all the tasks that need to be done. Figure out who is best equipped to handle things. Ask for assistance where it makes sense. Ask for advice and expertise of those who have done what you are doing. Foster relationships that help you when the load gets tough and can make you laugh.
And lastly, stay calm, you’ve got this.
PediRad: When someone is diagnosed with a tumor or cancer, they sometimes undergo radiotherapy - a treatment that uses radiation to target and kill bad cells. During treatment, the patient needs to remain completely still in order to avoid irradiating healthy tissue, which can be particularly challenging for children. We want to create a visual distraction and motion tracking system to help pediatric patients remain still during treatment in order to reduce the use ofanesthesia.
Bloodhound: Laparoscopic procedures are a form of minimally invasive surgery that place all the medical tools into the abdomen through small incisions. One of the inherent risks of surgery is bleeding. We want to reduce the risk of converting to open surgeries by helping surgeons identify areas of pooling blood and highlighting the bleeding source.