Wednesday, November 5, 2014

On work ethics in academia

A really nice (very long, but very thoughtful and useful) post about work ethics in academia:

The post has lots of interesting thoughts, and like two dozens of very vivid and spot-on real life observations, but in some ways it all boils down to this one phrase:

>  I think if the students actually tried to work, but really work, 40 hours per week, a lot of work would get done. A. LOT. The problem is that most students in graduate school do not actually work even close to those hours.

My reply:
(and I think I might have written it before, but I can't help but repeat myself again)

This is very true. I worked in business and in academia, and I can confirm that my productivity was much, much higher in business. The nature of academic work is pretty weird:

1) Our external reward comes some 2-5 years after the effort (not even when your paper is published, but when it gets cited!)
2) Our main activity (thinking) is very similar to daydreaming. It's just so hard sometimes to make sure which one is happening.
3) We are supposed to leave space for procrastination (as you mentioned in one of the comments: it's a creative activity, you have to get stuck every now and then).

So it's really, really hard to get yourself to work. Academic work just goes against the rules of our brain; against all intuitions. In my experience, forcing yourself to work is actually the only thing that matters in research. Or nearly the only one.

The sad part of this story though is that the majority of slackers make the minority of hard-workers suffer as well. Even if you work really well, the sheer amount of slackers doom upon you, press you with anxiety of never getting a job just because of bad luck, or family situation, or something like that. So even those people who have everything in them to enjoy grad school sometimes end up not enjoying it. That's the saddest part of this whole situation for me, and I am not quite sure what I would even recommend to do about it...

(Note: I don't consider myself a hard-worker, unfortunately. I'm fighting this battle daily, and I win only about one half of these skirmishes...)

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