Eugene Vinitsky

Quarterly Goals

TLDR: Managing a totally unstructured program is hard so here's a tiny bit of structure that might help.


Given how many possible things there are to do at any time during a PhD, it can be hard to make choices at any time, which can show up as analysis paralysis, procrastination, or cycling between activities without diving into depth on any of them. Similarly, it can be hard to prioritize setting aside time for learning given all the things that you feel that you need to learn and do (or the reverse for those too focused on learning, setting aside time for actually publishing papers). The intent of this document is to help you with simplifying and focus on setting clear goals that allow you to progress towards the long term goals you've set for yourself in the yearly goal doc.

As an additional point to address upfront, I think it's fairly common amongst researchers to feel anti-management. Research is viewed as, and is, a creative act and consequently there's a feeling that it cannot be bound up or systematized. I think this is true for the actual process of forming research insights and many people will have diverse research processes that can not be neatly decomposed in this way. However, the following processes can likely be systematized:

As an analogy, making music is a fundamentally creative act. However, there are many skills that need to be actively practiced and planned to become / remain a good musician. We are trying to do the same for research, creating structured skills and exercises that you do to improve as a researcher. The hope is that eventually you will do all this systemization yourself in some mental background process and then instead of viewing it as management, you'll just see it as a necessary part of your research process. Furthermore, because being put into a box in this way can feel constraining, we're going to minimize how much of your research process this impacts by not using it for the entirety of the research process. It will only apply to a small portion i.e. a single goal.

Finally, what if the goal you've set out turns out to be unachievable, wrong, not what you originally wanted, etc.? Well, this isn't a contract set in stone, we can sit down and adjust it together. However, I will hold you to that. If you want to change the plan, we'll change it together. Think carefully as you're choosing your goals because I will be resistant to changing it too lightly. There are benefits to sticking it through and acquiring expertise in something even if at the time it starts to seem kind of useless. For example, say you set yourself the goal of getting up to speed in online learning. Along the way, you may realize that online learning was not the best tool for your research! Well, there's a lesson in goal-setting there and in figuring out how to set goals you can commit to. At the same time, given that you're six weeks into it, you're probably best off finishing the goal as you may find online learning useful in the future whereas if you abandon it partway you will likely have learned nothing.

As such, we're going to try this out! It's going to be constraining in some ways and helpful in others and as time goes on we'll iterate on it and customize it for each of you. Also, since I do not believe in asking people to do things that I would not do myself, I will be doing this too. Also, in the best case, you will pick goals that are highly aligned with other goals such that this feels helpful rather than a distraction. To give an example, I'll be teaching a deep learning course this Fall so I'll be going through some other courses on generative modeling and creating little exercises and notebooks that test my understanding. These will probably become exercises that I use in the class itself so the goal is extremely aligned with external needs.

Helpful criteria


Skill goal

Skill goal

Outcome goal