A bookshelf filled with books and a plant in a white vase, set on a bright white background with a bright window
A bookshelf filled with books and a plant in a white vase, set on a bright white background with a bright window
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

When new graduate students ask me what they should do to “prepare”, I’m confident the right answer is nothing special. Move to your new city, relax, and enjoy your summer (where I am, late August is still “summer break”!). After nagging me about it for a while, I recommend they read. But what to read?

Book lists for grad students often focus on graduate school, writing dissertations, and PhDs. These are all important topics, but some of the best advice I’ve gotten has been in books that are outside of the narrow advice of graduate school and research

In this…


A view looking into Death Valley, CA, one of the hottest places on Earth.
A view looking into Death Valley, CA, one of the hottest places on Earth.
Perhaps Death Valley is an exaggeration of the Valley of Shit, but when you’re in it, it feels relevant! CC BY-NC 2.0 image used, thanks to Fred Moore!

Recently, I was giving feedback on a dissertation draft and paper project. As soon as we sat down (on Zoom), I asked how they were feeling about their progress. Like a cork whizzing off a fizzy bottle of champagne, all these negative emotions poured out. I was met with a litany of reasons why they shouldn’t keep writing:

The whole thing is wrong.

I should start over.

The whole thing is boring.

Why do I do research anyways?

Why do I suck so much?

These comments struck me as odd because the draft I had in hand was good. Like…


A person hand writing on a lined page
A person hand writing on a lined page
“Writing” by jjpacres is licensed with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0. License

Sprint writing sucks.

Most people are binge or what I prefer to call sprint writers. People scramble to fill the pages, wringing every word from their brain in a flurry before a deadline. Not only does this impact students, it also affects older writers too. Dissertation drafts, term papers, conference paper deadlines, you name it, people sprint write it.

I too taught myself to write this way. In college, I had to literally sprint across campus to turn paper copies on time because I procrastinated so badly. When I began graduate school, I kept up the same pattern — putting…


A drawing of a brain that is being converted into a circuit board
A drawing of a brain that is being converted into a circuit board
pspn/Shutterstock

[A shortened version of this post appears on the npj digital medicine website]

Did you know that Facebook has a “suicide prevention AI”? The popular social media website uses behavioral and linguistic patterns to guess if someone may harm themselves. NPR reports that this AI detects about 10 people every day. From there, Facebook can make an intervention to potentially save someone’s life. Now, Facebook isn’t the only one who has used social media data to make predictions about people’s well-being. …


A woman writing in a notebook wearing silver rings. There is a croissant and a cup of coffee next to her.
A woman writing in a notebook wearing silver rings. There is a croissant and a cup of coffee next to her.
Reviewing and reflecting are essential in living a deliberate life. Image from Pixabay.

tl;dr — I conduct an annual review of the past year to reflect, celebrate, and recenter my intentions with a rose/thorn/bud setup. Rather than set New Year’s Resolutions, this process maintains my awareness of larger life and career horizons.

In late December/early January every year, I’ve completed an annual review of the last year for the last 5 or 6 years. In its current form, I use the annual review to celebrate and close out the past year, reflect on what was important and challenging to me, and create themes/goals for the upcoming year.

Let’s jump back in time to…


The cover of Ultralearning (taken from https://www.scotthyoung.com/)

tl:dr; In Ultralearning, Scott Young lays out the fundamentals of helping you quickly learn and retain new skills and concepts. I recommend this book for folks interested in providing practical structure and guidance to independent learning, whether they be for work or leisure. For Ph.D students and academics, this book is useful for explaining how to more effectively DIY learning with proven techniques for learning and retention.

This post uses an affiliate link system with bookshop.org. By purchasing and supporting independent bookshops through these links, I get a kickback on your purchase too.

When one of my favorite bloggers…


“Opioid Epidemic” by DES Daughter is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Takeaway/tl;dr- We studied 1.5 million Reddit posts with machine learning to see how people self-direct recovery from opioid addiction. In a CHI 2019 paper, we discovered that clinically unverified substances were being discussed and used as treatment for addiction. We also found conflicting support and risks for these treatments — some may be effective, whereas others are potentially dangerous. Read the paper here (PDF), or check out the long-form summary below.

Opioid addiction is a serious problem in the US. More people died from opioid overdoses than from car accidents in 2017, and new reports on this crisis indicate that…


Stacks in a library, with many shelves of books
Stacks in a library, with many shelves of books
So many books, so little time! Credit: University of Illinois Library

When I was a new PhD student, one of the skills I struggled with most was absorbing lots of information from many sources. One of the major differences between grad school from undergrad is the sheer volume of facts, formulas, and theory you need to understand to become an expert in your research and field in general (coming from papers, textbooks, quals/comps, class, seminars, advising meetings, just to name a few).

How do you manage all of these sources and actually learn it? What about remembering the techniques and approaches that just came out in the field? And retaining it…

Stevie Chancellor

Professor at Minnesota CS, Georgia Tech PhD. Human-centered machine learning, work/life balance, and productivity. @snchancellor on Twitter

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