Saturday, October 7, 2006

Watson's Syndrome: procrastination for graduate students

An interesting read on Watson‘s Syndrome at Inside Higher Education:

A continuing and persistent avoidance of engaging in the actual writing and completion of one‘s:

  • Dissertation.
  • Peer reviewed publications.
  • Grant proposals.

This would have been me except for two key things. At the time I was doing my dissertation work my son (who is graduating from NC State in December) was two years old. My spouse contributed to my motivation by going to California to visit her parents. She said, “We‘ll come home when you‘re done.“ Then she called almost every day to check on progress and to nag.

I also had the best major professor a graduate student could hope for. I could meet with him as often as I wanted. He was always available, and when I say “always“ that is the truth. When graduate students were in the thick of writing he would often have you stay at his home. I can remember going to his bedroom door one morning around 3am and asking, “Dr. Kahler, can you help me for a minute? I‘m not sure where to go with this.“ He would also set his alarm clock and get up in the middle of the night just to check on your progress. Mrs. Kahler must have loved this.

Of course, working like that was his own fault. You might meet with him late in the afternoon one day, and then he would say, “I‘d like you to have this completed by 8am tomorrow.” He would give you no choice but to work all night. It was expected. I was very fortunate to have such a committed faculty member. He has passed-away now, but I sure hope he knows how much all of his graduate students appreciated his dedication. He was one of a kind, and none of his students ever suffered from Watson‘s

As this blog is supposed to be about technology I need to throw in this: If there had been the Web (and blogs) in 1985 I would have never finished. Dr. Kahler or not, a person can only handle so many distractions. So my hat-is-off to people who can get through this stuff today.

Finally, Fabio Rojas nailed-it by summing-up the problem with a couple of short lists. These lists work for just about everything, not just dissertation research:

My opinion is that Watson?s depends [sic] stems from one or more of the following beliefs/ personality features:

1. It is better to be perfect than done.

2. Failure is humiliating and should be avoided at all costs.

3. You have all the time in the world.

Instead, people should internalize the following ideas:

1. It is better to be done than perfect.

2. Failure is not humiliating, it is an opportunity to learn and improve. There is no shame in a rejected paper. The real shame is in never sending your paper out for review.

3. Time is scarce. Treat it like money, make sure you spend it in the right way. Spend time with your family and when baby is asleep, get back to your work immediately.

Basically, if you drop the first three attitudes and adopt the next three, you will surprisingly get a lot of work done.

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