Facing deadlines and having to meet them starts early in life – mostly in school and mostly not that difficult to deal with because they are pretty ordinary. Besides, you and all your buddies are dealing with pretty much the same ones. No problems for years. Go to class, do the assignments, study for exams (yes, all-nighters do work), use some “common sense” and you’ll get through.
So, now you want a PhD. All bets are off. There is no clear path to a PhD. A Bachelors or Masters is a lot of hard work, but often doesn’t require much inspiration. The research needed for a PhD requires not only hard work but also insight, lateral thinking, inspiration and lots of other stuff that isn’t predictable. That all means you’ll spend a lot of time not sticking to the deadlines you set yourself. Douglas Adams summed it up when he wrote: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”
OK then, as long as you don’t panic, and as long as you have a “plan B,” you can miss deadlines that you set yourself and still achieve your objectives – most of the time. Inescapable deadlines, sometimes called “drop-deadlines,” as for research grant applications, abstract submissions, or oral presentations at congresses or society meetings, do exist. Your years of experience help to manage those.
But sometimes there are unpredictable ones, improbable ones that might surprise a statistician, things to do that you would (or would not) have looked forward to doing. Maybe it’s a job interview for a position you had long since given up on. Maybe your boss or mentor meets you at the coffee machine and says “we’ve got a problem. Fix it by next week.” Your colleague or corresponding author says “Here are the journal editor and reviewers’ comments on our paper. Can you manage the response? I want to reply by Monday.”
What’s the point? Well, new, challenging and unexpected deadlines come up frequently and continue long past the time you earn your PhD. Some undoubtedly are drop-deadlines, but a lot of them are not. Many are artificial and, in fact, negotiable. When this happens to you, think about your response. Make a plan. Decide how long it will take to do the work. If you decide that the deadline is truly unrealistic – negotiate. Look at it this way – a sense of urgency and a sense of zen really can be compatible.
Cheers for now,
Clement Weinberger. PhD
The Stylus Medical Communications