Saturday, December 27, 2008

Searching for the Sense of Accomplishment

Alone at my father's house the day after Christmas, I had two choices between activity:

a) Read as many papers on the topic of my comps revisions as my brain would handle, possibly advancing far enough to start writing the new section, or

b) Attack my older sister's former bedroom, which has been used as a storage room for the past five or six years and was knee-deep in assorted junk with not even a clear path to wade through.

I didn't even debate the choice. I went straight to "b", and spent almost the entire day (minus a few hours of television watching during meal times) in physical labor. I didn't have to debate, because the choice was made purely on one criterion, of what I would achieve with my day:

a) A fraction of the reading list read, a page or so of notes on how they might be relevant, some rough attempts at revisions, and the ability to write "Read X papers on comps revision topic" in my upcoming weekly update to my advisor.

b) A disaster area turned into a clean room.

This decision epitomizes the problem I've been having with grad school, which is that it never really feels like I've accomplished anything. There are only ever incremental changes in papers (from the endless rounds to the "submitted pending minor revisions", the only time there is accomplishment is those first few days after a submission is made) and in research (a slow, laborious process whose "end" results are always "here are more questions we're going to be asking in the next research project). There is no sense of "I have taken on this project, I have worked hard for a certain period of time, and now it is done", because it is never done. And I find that I would rather tell my advisor that I got absolutely no research activity of any kind done in the week of Christmas, than tell myself that I managed nothing more than "making progress".

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