May 13, 2008

Making endless decisions -- that's why writing is so hard!


From the Washington Post today:
Having to make too many choices can affect one's ability to stay focused, finish work and do complex mental tasks, finds a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Almost 400 people took part in seven experiments in which some were asked to make choices or rate various products. The more choices individuals had to make and the more time they spent deciding, the worse they fared on later tasks, regardless of the complexity of the choices.

That's what makes writing so difficult. Every word you write, every turn of phrase, every decision to add or omit content -- they all involve decisions. Deciding whether to expand on a point or whether you've done enough explaining can leave you feeling as though you've run a marathon.

This makes it clear why binge writing is so bad for you. It literally drains you of brain power, so that the next day, and the day after that, you feel ill when you consider sitting down to write.

Just writing this has exhausted me. I think I'll go lie down (see my post on sleeping).

And you thought writer's block was bad...

Check out this "Rhymes with Orange" cartoon. Writers aren't the only ones who get blocked.

May 11, 2008

Maybe you need a nap


"Forgoing sleep is like borrowing from a loan shark. Sure you get that extra hours right now to cover for your overly-optimistic estimation, but at what price? The shark will be back and if you can’t pay, he’ll break your creativity, morale, and good-mannered nature as virtue twigs."

This quote, from a post called "Sleep deprivation is not a badge of honor,"by David Heinemeier at 37signals, really caught my attention. Like overwork, some people seem to be proud of how little sleep they get. Yet, as he points out, you pay for the extra time that you eke out by sleeping less. Reduced creativity is clearly one price you pay.

I'm particularly sensitive to this as someone who needs a lot of sleep, and whose husband doesn't.

This NY Times article reviews recent research on the role that sleeping plays in the formation of new memories and in the consolidation of recent learning.

As a matter of fact, this recent study shows that a 90 minute short nap can speed up the process of learning a new task and remembering it long term.

So don't make the mistake of thinking that the extra hours of the day gained by sleeping less are really doing you any good. Better to get adequate sleep, and then approach the tasks that require your creativity and memory capacities with a well-prepared brain.

Academic bureaucracy

From the NY Times: A tenured professor leaves academia in order to enter the world of business. He is now the chief executive of Kelly Services. Here is his comment comparing business to academia:
In business you learn at a faster rate, and there’s a lack of bureaucracy and better pay. I tell associates you don’t really know bureaucracy until you experience academic institutions.

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May 9, 2008

Cover letter and C.V. advice

The American Historical Association's publication, Perspectives Online, has two good articles on C.V. and cover letter creation. This article is chock full of useful advice, as is this article. The advice in these articles is appropriate for people in many fields, so don't ignore these sources if you are in education or economics!

May 6, 2008

Depression in Graduate School

I have just run into two fantastic posts on the experience of having depression in graduate school. The first, "Even Scientists Get the Blues,"is by a science student who puts a personal face on the isolation, lack of structure and open-ended nature of running experiments as you work on your dissertation. The second is a short slide-show/movie with personal comments by three graduate students who are struggling with issues such as the competitiveness of fellow students, the harshness of professors, and the endless hours of work. It's called "Depression in Graduate Students."

I applaud these people for telling their first-person stories. So many graduate students have told me that just knowing that they were not alone in their suffering made them feel less pain while in graduate school.

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