Friday, August 14, 2009

The postgraduate student’s guide to procrastination (Part 2)

As you know, it's a serious issue that every postgraduate (particularly research postgraduates, who have three-plus years of what seems like unlimited unstructured time on their hands) must face. This week I bring you the continued results of my time-wasting by extending my fabulous list of top-10 ways to procrastinate.

3. Podcasts (eg. from Nature and Science). Jo likes to download and listen to them whilst doing her lab work. Not sure that it makes her more productive but I'm it sure makes the hours fly by! Unfortunately those of us with the attention span of a flea (ie me) are not able to listen to these and concentrate on our experiments at the same time.

4. Thesis formatting. Don’t get me wrong, this is an important thing to do. Hannah Siddle (who, incidentally, survived her PhD), advised “Do not try to format your thesis the week before it is due. This will have an adverse effect on your relationships with loved ones”. The day before her thesis was due she turned up at the office wild-eyed and muttering about outline levels. So we are all well advised to format our theses in advance. However, I have already spent at least a whole day creating a template for my thesis in lieu of actually writing any of it.

Another friend in the Psychology department took two weeks trying to find the perfect quote to put on the fly leaf of her thesis (the quote ended up being from Oscar Wilde: "I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.", which kind of sums up the procrastination process perfectly). Definitely time well spent.

5. Backing up. Again, this is an important thing to do and you should do it religiously as Kao says. However it can get out of control, for example “I’ll back up the entire 4 GB of data on my computer onto this external hard drive. This will take an hour but I really must be here watching it the entire time to make sure nothing goes wrong.” I have also spent hours at the photocopier making duplicates of all of my laboratory notebooks. Jo did point out that without copies of these, you may doom yourself in the unlikely event that the lab somehow goes up in flames. However, I've found that it is also great for that “I’m doing something really constructive” feeling without having to do any actual thinking .

6. Socialising. Postgrad lunches and regular coffees are augmented with our weekly ‘bakeoff’ afternoon teas and Friday night drinks in Sydney and pizza and movie nights in Camden (haven't come along to these yet? You should, they are lots of fun!). Have a moan about how your lab technique didn’t work. Gossip about what such-and-such got up to at the last conference. Talk about your weekend. Plan to have lunch and then have a detailed discussion about what time it should be. Ask for advice on the colour you should bind your thesis in, should you actually manage to finish it.

Next week... that’s right kids, I’m going to 10! Stay tuned...

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