The Sassy Scientist – Race to the Deadline

The Sassy Scientist – Race to the Deadline

After snoozing their alarm for the 50th time, Alex gets started with their day. They should be writing their thesis first thing after breakfast, but instead they write to the Sassy Scientist:

How do you manage to meet writing deadlines as a PhD student?

Dear Alex,

Ah! You have reached the writing stage. I assume then your pin board is full of post-it notes with goals for ‘next week’. But what is this mysterious next week? Which next week? And what do you do when ‘next week’ is in fact 4 weeks ago.

My advice is that instead of sitting down and actually writing, you should first clean your room. Wipe down your desk. Vacuum the carpet. Re-arrange that rock collection. Surely you are a bit hungry too, so go make yourself a snack. Then and only then, the stars and planets will align and you will sit down and just write. This is what I do, and it works just fine for me.

Another planning hack you can try is to make endless lists. And a list with all the lists, of course. You can even make 2D plots with your writing tasks: on x-axis you can have ‘time priority’ and on y-axis you can have ‘importance’. That way you will discover that everything is of high importance and high priority, and the deadline for all your writing tasks is ASAP.

Of course, do not forget to set unrealistic internal deadlines that you will not meet and thus you feel only worse. Works every time. If you want social accountability, you can join a writing-up Zoom group with other PhDs in your institution. They will not know that after 10 minutes you will be scrolling on Twitter, or that you will be writing e-mails instead of your thesis. Of course, no one will notice when you will drop out of the group in two weeks.

Ultimately, your advisor is the biggest drive in terms of social accountability. You do not want to disappoint them, do you? Therefore, keep postponing your meetings and doing needless side experiments. Keep telling them that you will give them your first chapter at the end of the month. Which month? Who knows?!

Yours truly,

The Sassy Scientist

PS: I have done all of the above and they worked wonders for me
PS2: … as you can tell from my timely-fashioned weekly column

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I am currently employed at a first tier research institute where I am continuously working with the greatest minds to further our understanding of the solid Earth system. Whether it is mantle or lithosphere structure and dynamics, solid Earth rheology parameters, earthquake processes, integrating observations with model predictions or inversions: you have read a paper of mine. Even if you are working on a topic I haven’t mentioned here, I still know everything about it. Do you have any problems in your research career? I have already experienced them. Do you struggle with your work-life balance? Been there, done that. Nowadays, I have only one hobby: helping you out by answering the most poignant questions in geodynamics, research and life. I am waiting for you right here. Get inspired.

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