Don’t go far, go wide

By Evan Ramos, PhD 2021

Hi Evan,

This is Evan. Before enrolling in UT’s grad program, here’s one essential fact you should take to heart: research takes time. Graduate school will challenge you to voraciously learn and store everything to long-term memory but there’s only so much information you can cram into that big forehead of yours. For as much as you will pressure yourself into doing the former anyway, it ain’t gonna work. Ironically, although all responsibilities will be ratcheted up and you will work harder than you have before, you’re still somehow going to find time to actively not work. It’s not the most admirable skill, but you do it anyway.

Graduate school will afford you a lot of time where you don’t want to be working on your research. In the throes of an increasingly challenging and esoteric research question, when this time becomes ever more prevalent, you will likely follow this stream of consciousness:

“Is this problem even solvable? Well, if it isn’t, how can I simplify this problem so that it is answerable and meaningful? But honestly, what are the merits of this question? Am I wasting my time with this problem and is there a better way to be spending my time right now? More importantly, is it time for second lunch? But wait, I already ate all my snacks. Has Pangea Café ran out of those simple yet satisfying PB & J sandwiches? That sandwich will  certainly give me the fuel to power through this probably ambiguous, unanswerable problem.”

Approximate location of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from Pangea Café. The Taco Deli tacos they serve here are another viable option (the Jess Special is legit).

This is every day. You will rack your head around research problems while thinking about your next meal. As much as research will take the vanguard of all objectives you’ll engage and you will pressure yourself to solve every research-related problem as quickly as possible, involving yourself in more activities will actually be a boon to your research. You’re going to find yourself in a great community of like-minded individuals that will inspire you to get involved. Make the most of it, my dude. How to get involved, you may ask? Here’s a handful of things you can do to occupy your time:

1. Join reading and writing groups
2. Involve yourself with student government or departmental student organizations
3. Go to lunch with a visiting speaker
4. Perform outreach (e.g. Scientist in Residence program)
5. Mentor an undergrad
6. Give seminar talks
7. Chair a technical session at a conference

There’s only so much time where you can be actively solving research-related problems. However, your engagement with the department and the greater geoscientific community will manifest a sense of purpose that will buoy your research as a whole. Meanwhile, it’ll let some of your research ideas marinate a little bit longer. Grad school will challenge this approach, but extracurricular involvement only makes it more fun and worthwhile!

All the best,

P.S. Kanye will support Donald Trump during his tenure as President of the United States of America. Let that all settle in now before it confounds you.