So little time… so little to do

September 4, 2007

The eleventh hour

Filed under: arbit,geeky — Priyam @ 1:18 am

People who know me well will put a tick against the box which describes me as a perpetual procrastinator, much to my own chagrin at times. But such can be said of many of my fellow researchers, and I have met a few in my lifetime of grad school, you know the place where people of should-you-not-be-working-now age pose as students. In fact a typical week of many a researcher goes by in the following manner (statement valid only if the person has not struck gold yet with something that he/she has a real interest in doing) :

The meeting with the advisor usually ends with a to-do list as long as your girlfriend’s wishlist. Mind you, in research terms that is not always a bad thing, it quite simply means that there are still alleys to dig for that coveted prize. But then there is the usual overwhelming feeling of so little time, so much to do. So you begin with the most obvious thing that any man racing against time would – procrastinate. After all meetings take up a lot of energy and one needs time to gather ones thoughts to attack the problem. And much more importantly the next meeting is still a whole day or two away. Meanwhile what’s up with the world and did anyone post a message on my orkut or facebook ? In the movie this would be the place where they picture the clock and show it hours hand replace that of seconds, in double time. So ends another fruitful day of research.

Someday after that meeting, not much to go into the next : This would be the time when your brush up on your gathered thoughts, try to find that sheet of paper or the copy where you jotted down all that is expected of you by the next meeting. Finally having found that, you go through the items one at a time, mentally arranging them either by the time that each task promises to take or by the importance of each towards your next meeting. With a long list, this can easily take up more than a while, what with all the messages, mails to reply to and keeping track of the game going on in another distant part of the world. The next task is now discarding all those that you know will not be possible to complete by the next show-down, so why bother. Now that that is sorted out, we begin with the easiest ones which take away the feeling of not having done anything from the boss. Imagine this as the warm-up routine before any game. And from nowhere you are engulfed by this enormous feeling of “wow, I have done so much for one day”. Which brings us to that familiar “P” word.

The night before the meeting : You have obviously slept more than you planned to, procrastinated more than you wished to, achieved less than you hoped to. So now what. This is not the time for the weak at heart. You stare at the clock, making a quick estimate of the time in your hands, and cross check it with the wishlist of work. A further pruning, a few further reading needed comments and we are bang on target with our schedule. Before you loathe the poor grad student, do remember, the list to start with was longer than that of a weary eyed person standing in queue in front of an electronics shop on Thanksgiving. The general feeling of having failed suddenly gives way to the surprise of not having enough time to assemble all the results and thoughts – the fruit of guilty labor. Now one is faced with a new kind of challenge. Of work done but not properly represented in the form of report and presentations. Thus begins the process of recreating the magic of previous days, logging what worked and what did not, and if you are an experienced enough player, you are ready in time for the meeting, albeit high on enough caffeine to drive your eyes red. The feeling of having worked so hard.

P.S. : This is by no means what I do. Ok, not always. A further disclaimer seems necessary to remind the reader than this may be detrimental to the health of your thesis, not to mention the fact that by the time you graduate, your friends would be seeing off their kids to school.

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