Well, this is fascinating. I've run into a somewhat unexpected situation in graduate school, and I'm going to try to write in order to think through it, so this'll be a chronicle of me literally "typing out loud." It's not all that unexpected a situation, but I don't know what other word to use and don't want to say "problem" because that frames it in ways that'll habituate me to jump to a solution. So what's going on?

I read too fast.

No, that's a problem framing. Is there a reading speed that's bad to go above? More accurately state the situation.

I process English text faster than anyone I've come across so far in graduate school.

Okay. I've known I was a fast reader for a while. Once I was in an independent study group, MetaOlin, that decided to collectively learn speedreading. My starting speeds clocked in above the promised end-result speeds, and when I tried to apply the speedreading techniques the rest of the group was learning, I slowed down. But I thought that maybe grad school, where people pretty much read for a living, would be populated with others who did the same. It... seems not.

What are the implications of this? Go.

  • I can consume, with good critical comprehension, papers and books at a rate far greater than expected; given that this seems to be one major way of "acquiring knowledge in one's field" as a beginning grad student, I can catch up on background at a somewhat astounding rate. (Thoughts: I could get through more courses faster, do parallel readings in other fields, finish my core more quickly.) Action item: talk with Robin (my advisor) about the possibility of loading on more classes. Also think of other learning modalities -- kinesthetic, auditory, etc -- I'm not good at and possibly add activities in that domain.
  • The conversations I'm having aren't keeping up with the reading I can do yet. I'm easily bored and frustrated in situations (classes, study groups) that require me to wait while other people finish reading. (This happened in one of my classes yesterday, and was the catalyst for this line of thought.) When that happens, I zone out, withdraw. Action item: set up ways to contribute to the class in the background while you're waiting. C'mon, Mel -- you're from the open source world, you know how to do this.
  • This does not mean I'm smarter or better or anything of the sort than my classmates -- on the contrary, it means I can accumulate way more flaws and errors in my thinking; capacity is no good without wisdom to direct it, and I really, really, really do not have that wisdom. (I'm aware that "wisdom" isn't necessarily "thinking the way everyone else thinks," but when you're new to a field it's awfully useful to be able to know what everyone else thinks as a starting point -- then you can critically examine that to see if you want to think that way too.) Action item: ask Robin if there are ways to check whether I'm veering off track.
  • I often don't take effective notes, because in most cases it's usually faster for me to re-read the whole article or book than to go through my notes, and I'll get more out of it as well. Action item: brainstorm on ways to improve my note-taking.

The last one seems most promising; if I can go along a little faster, why not use that extra speed to share what I'm learning with others, which is a double-benefit because I'll get to have those notes and artifacts later myself?

Problem: RSI hurts a lot. I'm limited in note-taking by how much typing my hands can do each day.

Okay, we're getting at something. I haven't done much about my reading speed because writing is the way I usually process reading, typing is the way I usually do writing, and I have physical limitations as to how much I can type every day even in an ergonomic setup. What can I do about this? Go.

  • Nothing. (Maybe it's not worth it!)
  • Learn how to type faster and more ergonomically. For instance, take that extra time and use it to finally dive into Plover (open source stenography).
  • Output in ways that are not typing-related.

How could I output notes and reflections in ways other than typing?

  • Handwriting. (Problems: typically not searchable.)
  • Using your mobile phone -- tweets and such won't place such a heavy load on your hands. (Interesting -- I could do something like @learnedathbs -- but oftentimes, deep scholarly notes can't be expressed in so few characters... or can they?)
  • Audio or video (Huh, yes -- I have wanted to improve my presentation skills.)
  • Person-to-person (Interesting -- I like the "interact with other people around this idea" idea, but I want to do digital capture because I want my notes, too!)

Okay, that's enough. What can I do with this round of readings tonight?

  • microblog a summary of each paper.
  • Take text notes on each reading and upload them somewhere public.
  • Point the rest of my class to these experiments.
  • Oi, I have so much writing to do tonight too -- stop reading after doing these things and START WRITING. I'm slower at it but I need to buckle down, do that, get faster at it.

That's enough to start from, but after tonight I may be at a blank again for where to go next. Other thoughts, ideas, comments? What am I missing in this thinking-out-loud talking-to-myself?