Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Mid-_____ crisis

Today it hit me...I'm having a mid-general exam/grad school/what should I do with my life crisis. It's left me feeling unmotivated and tired. I just want to lay on the couch and watch Top Chef.

But I can't. Niggling at the back of my mind is the reality that I have about 70 papers to get through in the next two months. The reading schedule is tight and there's not a lot of room to dilly-dally. What's made it so hard is that I'm reading very broadly initially and then more narrowly later. I planned my reading this way because I hadn't yet decided how I wanted to focus my exam. Now I'm realizing that I'm making the entire exam prep much more difficult as I have to read much more (and much more thoroughly) than I would if I knew exactly where this process is taking me.

I've decided to take the next day or so and read ahead to the more narrow papers I've selected. What I'm looking for is an idea or set of ideas that will trigger the "that's it! that's where I want to go for my dissertation!" The problem is, I've set up some criteria that makes this not so easy: 1) I must be enthusiastic about it, 2) it must lead to a greater goal that will impact rehabilitation in some way, rather than just some esoteric line of research that's light years away from clinical application and 3) it must be feasible, i.e. I don't want to explore an impossible question that's difficult to test.

Here's what I know so far: I want to explore cognitive aspects of aphasia. I'm especially interested in non-linguistic cognitive functions which support language production. I think attention is interesting, but it's hard to test (does not meet #3). Working memory is a more concrete cognitive function that incorporates attention, but I don't know what about it I'd want to test (not sure about #1). There's also short-term memory, which relates to the processing aspects of smaller components of language, but that literature gets a bit tedious (in my experience so far). However, it would tie into my mentor's work beautifully, and the models of short-term memory are very highly regarded. It would be a solid foundation. I'm also interested in visuospatial aspects, but it's too far removed from anything clinical (#2), as well as inhibition and decay during cognitive processing, but that gets into the priming literature that I'm not that fond of (#1).

What I want to happen is to read some specific aphasia/cog function papers in the next day or so, and remind myself what I find really exciting. There is not much worse than forcing yourself to read reams on a topic that's no fun. In my book, if the study isn't fun most of the time, then it's not worth it to do a PhD. And there are so many topics I find interesting...I just need to land on one of them. Once I find my focus, it'll be much easier to drink from the proverbial firehose.

Okay, here goes.