PKG Fellowships 2020: Einat Gavish, Part II
To read Part I of Einat’s reflection, click here!
A learning moment: What do I do if no one is telling me what to do?
by Einat Gavish
Working on a tool about the most effective individual actions a person can take has been rewarding, interesting, and challenging thus far. I can certainly say that I’ve learned a lot about the greenhouse gas emissions of the different choices we make, become an expert at Zoom meetings, learned how to communicate climate change better, and more. One thing has stood out as a major lesson: how to plan work and reason through challenges without anybody telling me what to do.
Although we are depending on input from many experts, the reality of this project is that it is very independent. There are no real deadlines or due dates besides the ones Matt and I set for ourselves, and we control the vision and outcome of the project. It’s a situation that starkly contrasts with the rest of my academic and work experiences: in a course, I’m answerable to the professor and have specific assignments that I must complete; doing a UROP, my role is largely to complete the tasks given to me by my supervisor; working at a company, I’m responsible for doing my part to help the company execute its larger goal.
On the one hand, I love the independence of being able to work until 2am one night and sleep in the next morning if I want to, or deciding that a certain aspect of the work is particularly important and dedicating extra time to it, but with the independence comes challenges as well. I feel like I never quite finish a task as it could always be better, or I’ll get caught up in details that aren’t always essential. I think I’ve learned to recognize when I’m entering a wormhole (like when I found myself googling the tensile strength of bamboo as opposed to hardwood), but also to recognize when the details are important (like the effect of canvassing on turnout in a presidential race). This lesson goes beyond just working habits.
In the past several weeks, I’ve learned that I have to accept the necessary uncertainty when evaluating solutions. Take the category of politics: quantifying political action is a nearly impossible task. How much does your action matter to get someone elected? How much does that person getting elected affect emissions? The reality is that it is inherently unclear, but I’ve never before been in a position where I get to decide how accurate is good enough. Matt and I are the ones who make the higher level decisions and think about the big picture, forcing me to think about the complexities deeper than I have before. The whole process of figuring out how we want to manage and design this project has been a weeks-long learning moment that I feel very lucky to be able to complete.
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