Monday, February 27, 2012

79. The tyranny of procrastination.

The problem of procrastination in graduate school is, in part, a problem of perception. When you could be working anytime and all the time (see Reason 62), it can feel like you’re procrastinating when you’re doing anything else. Reading for pleasure, spending time with family and friends, cooking, exercising, and even sleeping (see Reason 78) are hard to enjoy when you’re saddled with the feeling that you should be working instead. Of course, if what you’re doing has the slightest appearance of procrastination to you, it may well look that way to someone else. In the event that your department can only fund half of its graduate students next year (see Reason 17), you don't want to be the one that your departmental chair sees sauntering into a Tuesday matinee as she happens to drive by the movie theater.

But there is also real procrastination. We procrastinate when we are faced with tasks that we do not want to do. Graduate students are masters of procrastination. You can hardly blame them for their reluctance to dive into a pile of ungraded freshman essays (see Reason 56), but they are often just as reluctant to dive into a day of writing. That is because academic writing can be profoundly unpleasant (see Reason 28). Sometimes they procrastinate by turning on the television, but more often than not they create diversionary work for themselves by reading one more book, looking up ten more articles, or spending an extra week in the archivesall in the name of “research.” Sitting down and writing is the only way out of graduate school with a degree, but the great difficulty with which so many graduate students approach this task is your first clue (and often their first clue) that they don’t actually like what they are doing. Unfortunately, procrastination simply prolongs their misery.

Monday, February 13, 2012

78. It takes a toll on your health.

Graduate school is hard on your mental health (see Reason 68), but it is also hard on your physical health. As a grad student, you spend a long time in relative poverty, and healthy living and poverty seldom go hand-in-hand. Your diet is more likely to consist of cheap processed foods than wholesome fare. Your bus rides are especially crowded during the flu season. Your workplace, the college campus, is a notoriously effective environment for the spread of illness. You spend most of your time sitting. And if you are lucky enough to have health insurance, it probably leaves you at the mercy of the student health center.

Especially harmful is the effect that graduate school has on sleep. When you’re faced with a combination of unstructured time (see Reason 61) and endless work (see Reasons 39 and 62), you’re often working when you should be sleeping. On those occasions when you have to meet a deadline, the situation is only made worse. How much sleep do you suppose a teaching assistant gets during a week when she has to read, comment on, and grade 100 undergraduate papers? In college, you might have been able to get away with too little sleep and eating poorly, but your body can only take so much. Graduate school can easily drag on for a decade (see Reason 4), and in the meantime you’re not getting any younger.