Tuesday, August 8
As has been noted in recent comments, it seems that most posters here believe themselves to be, to one degree or another, procrastinatory frauds. I am not exempt (although mostly I feel like a procrastinator; I have a startlingly expansive ego and rarely feel like a fraud, in part because of what I'm about to discuss here).

I would argue that part of the reason that everyone here feels like a procrastinatory fraud is the academic culture in which we're embedded. It never fails: any time a group of graduate students disperses, they all start wailing about how incredibly busy they are and how they have so much work to do. Meetings with faculty members tend to go similarly, although at least in that case it's easy to see what the participants are trying to prove (grad student: "I'm hard-working!"; faculty member: "I'm important!"). It doesn't matter what the grad students are doing, though; they always have to talk about their incredible workload.

I'm not saying we don't all have a lot to do. I've spent most of my summer focusing on one extremely important task to the detriment of other tasks. There are people who are not thrilled. No doubt I could have worked more and harder. But I am firmly convinced that if I had, I would be a crazy outlier in the working habits of graduate students.

Because no one is actually going home and working their ass off every time they leave a group like that. Many times, they go home and watch some TV, maybe surf a little internet, brush the cat, whatever. The important thing is not to let the side down. Anyone who admitted how much of their time was spent not doing work would immediately be That Slacker Grad Student even though everyone else would know, unless they were in extreme denial, that they're not doing any more than that. I'm sure this continues into faculty life. They're always yammering on about how graduate school is, perhaps most importantly, a socialization experience, and this is probably true, and what a benefit! We've all been socialized to feel guilty about reading something that isn't an academic journal and to believe, deep down, that a single episode of Law & Order will be what keeps us from getting tenure.

Maybe you aren't working hard enough. I don't know you, or how much you produce for X amount of work (another issue here being that you can get away with a lot of slacking if you're more productive/efficient when actually working than the average philosopher or what have you). I certainly could have worked harder on multiple tasks this summer, although it would have been a crazy joyless wistful-for-grape-picking existence.

But the important thing to remember, if you're measuring yourself against your colleagues, is that none of these people are actually working as hard as they claim to be, either. It is all a lie. You participate in the lie, you try to judge your life by the lie--don't do it! Take a sneaky insider's delight in the lie, and tell people very solemnly how much work you have to do before you go out for ice cream.

13 comments:

kt said...

ahahaha -it was so very funny to read this post. I heartily (and hopefully) agree. Although, it's a pretty harsh indictment of academia as a whole, a little bit worrisome...

bittersweet said...

Here, here. I agree. I actually turn off from my fellow grad students' complaints of being "busy"-- we're all busy and,in my opinion, what a boring thing to complain about?

Yes, I slack and procrastinate but I also get done what I have to get done when I need to -- why the need to present ourselves as eternally busy and productive? Is it supposed to mean that we're more successful as thinkers and academics???

Mystery Mango said...

But this is precisely why most of us are in the profession in the first place. The nature of academic work and the ways in which it is rewarded select -- probably more strongly than any other profession -- for hyper-insecure over-achievers.

Among several other reasons I could give to support this: who else would be motivated to do this most unnatural and neurotic, even inhuman, feat which is to keep pushing forward for months and years on end on work for which you get little to no feedback or reward, except the possible hard-to-win and easy-to-lose respect of a very small group of peers, which you yourself don't respect that much in the first place?

So I relish my feelings of fraudulence, contented in the knowledge that it is the very source of my academic success (which, of course, I intensely feel to be non-existent).

Clear said...

I think one of the things that is threatening to some academics about other academics' blogging is that it threatens the illusion that we are all always too busy for anything else. As in, if we would just watch TV or play World of Warcraft instead, then we would be keeping the tacit pact.

Anonymous said...

Have you people ever considered what your friggin' point of reference is? Who actually lives the life that you imagine is the correct one?

Clear, I get it, I do. And you're right. That is the problem. We should solve it.

And Cerise, yes. Everybody's trying to hide what they do with their spare time since they manage it themselves. But, have you ever noticed that you write papers in the middle of the night, on Saturdays, on airplanes, that your Magnum Opus is covered in baby spitup?

THE QUESTION IS NOT, "WHAT'S WRONG WITH US THAT WE STOPPED WRITING FOR A MINUTE?"

The question is: "WHAT'S WRONG WITH US THAT WE KEEP ASING THIS QUESTION?"

My advisor just wrote to me and said s/he was glad to hear I'm not suicidal, following a recent career decision (and s/he meant that warmly, no joke).

GET A GRIP PEOPLE. Give yourself a break! Oh, I see you're taking one now. Good for you!

Gotta run. Break time's over.

twilight blue said...

I think that Scarlet's contemplation of faking her own death as a means of escaping assorted academic obligations signals another motivating factor in the "I'm SO busy" phenomenon. This is that many of us have a hard time saying "no" to things (academic and otherwise) which we would prefer not to have to do...and to plead busy-ness in response to various requests and invitations remains a far more socially acceptable option than pulling a Nancy Reagan (whose admonition, admittedly, was for a more circumscribed set of invitations).

To entirely mis-quote Janis Joplin, "Freedom's just another word for saying 'no' without carrying on about how busy you are."

Cerise said...

anon: That was, basically, my point.

Poppy Red said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Poppy Red said...

This post is exactly right, and *so* needed to be said. I think this is sometimes another form of competition among, as mystery mango says, "hyper-insecure overachievers."

It also seems to me like the people who complain the most often and/or loudly about having too much to do are not people like Scarlet who have a hard time saying no and who commit to a lot of things because they are clearly reliable. Instead the people who complain the most/loudest are usually those who don't ever, *ever* go out of their way to help anyone or contribute anything or serve on any committees. Grrr. I might have a related post on this in the future.

Cerise said...

Poppy, you are like the very slightly redder version of me. :p

kodachrome said...

He-ey! I'm back! Did I miss anything?

Zoinks! Okay. Everybody put down your weapons.

Sorry I missed you yesterday. I had to go do a thing tangentially related to my job that took all day, and still isn't done. I wish I could post about it, but it isn't funny, just frustrating, and reading about unfunny frustration is not very fun, so I think I'll refrain and put up an entry that tries to make light of our predicament.

Oh, and um, right on, Mystery Mango. Was that your smoothy? Don't tell me.

Navy Blue Blob said...

Many good points, but I especially like Clear's point about why some academics don't like to see other academics blog. So right on, well put!

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