April 25, 2011

Time Suck

When I work on my research, one of my biggest fears is that I will spend time on something that turns out to be worthless -- like writing a section that ends up getting cut from the manuscript, or spending weeks on my data before discovering a small error that means I have to redo everything. I also worry that there are more efficient ways to do things that I just don't know about, and that I will do things manually that could have been done by the computer if I only knew how.

Some grad students work with their advisors regularly, but I have a very hands-off committee. They approved my basic plan, but I'm the one deciding what to do every day -- which tasks to prioritize, how to approach different problems, how I spend my time. And since this is my first enormous research project, I'm just guessing at what is best.

My dissertation is going pretty well, all things considered. But I have definitely wasted time in the way that I fear -- I have spent weeks on data only to discover a problem that means I have to redo everything. And I have spent time researching and writing sections that won't make the final project. I know this is just part of research, and if I weren't hitting some dead ends, it would mean I wasn't being thorough enough in my investigation of my topic. But it's so frustrating when it happens. When you realize you could have spent the past week just watching TV and the result would be the same: nothing accomplished.

My fear of wasting time has mainly been a problem when it comes to writing. I need to write drafts of chapters before all of my data are collected, because some of my data collection is long term, and I should really be giving chapters to my committee by this summer (especially because it will probably take them months to get back to me). But I am afraid if I write a lot now, before my data collection is done, I'm going to end up re-writing huge sections of the text, making the original draft a big waste of time.

My committee thinks that I've written more than I actually have, just because I've been working for so long. But almost all of my time has been spent researching, collecting data, and working with data. I know I will be able to give them one chapter by the beginning of summer, because the data collection is nearly done, and I have started writing it. But the other chapters are absolutely nowhere because I'm still working on the research, and I don't want to waste my time on a draft when I don't know where it's going.

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