The Feeling When You Finish An Assignment On Respect

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Life as a graduate student isn’t always easy, but it’s worthwhile (even if it doesn’t always feel that way).

After researching what seemed like a million and one graduate student blogs, the following list was compiled with the common themes present in the daily lives of graduate students.

Read the below to get a laugh, relate and realize that others know what you’re going through.

1. Your meetings with professors are scheduled at the most inconvenient times imaginable. So what if my wife is in labor?

2. Lonely office hours – do students even utilize these anymore?

3.Your life can be summed up in one word: research.

4. The impossible balance between research, school and studying.

5. Trying to remember what you ate today…or was that yesterday?

6. The boredom between courses and qualifying exams…even though you should be studying.

7. As soon as you get a moment to relax, somebody says “thesis” and it’s over.

8. Neglecting to speak out loud for an entire day because your reading took over.

9. Your social life consists of people debating serious issues and philosophical concepts.

10. You consider caffeine to be your favorite food group. The only down side is the twitching and involuntary body movements you now experience regularly.

11. All of your household surfaces are mere extensions of your desk.

12. Carefully grading undergraduate work that never gets picked up by the student.

13. Working wherever, whenever. Your books and laptop are basically tethered to your body.

14. Weekends are no longer filled with fun and excitement. They now contain dread mixed with piles of text.

15. The panic that sets in when you scheduled a task that doesn’t involve school.

16. Looking forward to the week because you only have one 20-page paper to write.

17. Realizing you must choose between sleep, school and a social life. School wins.

18. Being so exhausted that you don’t even have the energy to try to sleep.

19.You actually get excited when you get books for a new semester.

20. Your excitement is short-lived because you realize they don’t fit on your IKEA bookshelf.

21. You start questioning if your life is “normal,” due to eleven-plus hour workdays with no breaks.

22. It’s increasingly difficult to continue a discussion after a person makes a comment you disagree with.

23. You avoid your dissertation advisor like a debt collector since you still haven’t finished the task at hand.

24. Your bucket list consists of making friends outside of grad school, in hopes to maintain some degree of normalcy.

25. Answering the same student questions via email repeatedly.

26. Simple pleasures in life, like purchasing a plant or dry-clean only shirt, become “too much of a commitment.”

27. Feeling as if you’re having a nervous breakdown, then wondering if you’re technically too young to have a nervous breakdown. Better Google it, just in case.

28. Spelling the simplest words suddenly becomes difficult.
It’s m-u-s-e-a-u-m, right?

29. You’re actually grateful when an illness coincides with your schedule.
Thank goodness it was the weekend and I didn’t have to miss class!

30. You either have a million things to do or nothing to do – never a healthy medium.

31. You’ve got a grad school speech ready for when you meet new people: your field, what you study and what you plan to do with your degree.

32. You actually begin to miss having homework during holiday breaks.

33. You feel like a fake and wonder when the other members of academia will catch on and kick you out of the program.

34. Constantly checking your email and, when nothing arrives, demanding someone nearby double check the Internet is working. It is.

35. Your basic human priorities that were once eat, drink and sleep are now replaced with papers, books and due dates.

36. Your thoughts are no longer simplistic – you only have two response modes for conversation: verbal thesis or completely tongue-tied.

37. You give yourself pep talks in your head and one day you catch yourself doing it out loud, in public.

38. You’re constantly trying to come up with clever comebacks to annoying questions regarding grad school. Isn’t it expensive?What kind of job can you even get with that degree?

39. Speaking to people outside of grad school becomes difficult because you now use words that are not applicable to daily life, like “hegemony” or “praxis.”

40. Over-thinking has become a hobby of yours.

41. Anxiety ensues when you’re on break because you keep feeling like you’ve forgotten to do something, even though you haven’t.

42. Rewarding yourself with mundane tasks once you’ve completed a paper, like putting your laundry in the dryer. How exciting!

43. Planning your day around one simple task or errand that you never actually accomplish.
I guess I can do that tomorrow…

44. You now find weird or unfunny things hilarious, like making up ridiculous hypothetical situations involving other students or your professors.

45. Trying to figure out if you aren’t eating regularly because you’re broke or because you’re too busy. You settle on the fact that it’s a combination of the two.

46. You feel fantastically brilliant one moment, which is short-lived because you feel dumb-as-a-rock the next.

47. The professor you want to learn most from seems to dislike you and only you.

48. You realize you have so many books overdue at the library that the fees require a payment plan. Then you remember the ridiculous amount of debt you’ve acquired to attend graduate school and have a mini panic attack about both situations.

49. Trying to figure out what a dissertation actually is while you’re trying to work on one.
You then console yourself with the fact that nobody else seems to know, either.

50. Realizing your work is valuable and the process was worthwhile, even after you’ve been repeatedly critiqued, rejected and denied by countless scholars, publications and departments you respect.

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While I admire your concern for the students, I feel that ultimately your endeavor is quixotic.

To be sure, I see nothing wrong with making your deadline be at 10 pm. It won't change anything, so you might as well. But I wouldn't expect it to have any notable effect, and I would be wary of the slippery slope that leads to you blaming yourself for the students' errors.

The reason I am so pessimistic is that I don't think procrastination and irregular sleep are caused by deadline timing (unless the work demanded is truly overwhelming, ). They are caused by poor personal discipline and bad habits acquired over many years leading up to the present. Regardless of what you do, the procrastinators will still invent ways to procrastinate, because the problem is rooted in their own behavior, not yours. You therefore cannot solve the problem by changing your behavior.

For instance, if you have the deadline at 10 pm, the procrastinator will drop everything that evening to work on your assignment and submit it around 10. Then he will still stay up doing the things he just postponed for the sake of your assignment. Because, recall, this person is not selectively procrastinating on your course only - they have also other courses that have deadlines. Even if all courses had the same early deadline policy, the students would still have their own errands with self-imposed deadlines at later times that they stay up for.

By the same logic that makes you consider 10 pm, we can explore other alternatives:

  • 5 pm is a fair time, since it would presumably encourage students to concentrate their last ditch effort in the typical working day. However, there will also be students who have classes right up to the deadline that day, and if they procrastinate (as some certainly shall) they will now skip class to do the assignment, which is arguably worse than staying up!
  • Noon is another time that sounds like a good idea. Being too early, you might expect that it will make students feel they have no choice but to start working on it early since the morning isn't nearly enough time, and if they can't finish it the night before they can safely go to bed, get some sleep, and finish in the morning. But realistically, the procrastinators who stay up late and hand it in at midnight now will just start working at 1 am and stay up all night to finish it.
  • 9 am can be argued for as a realistic time - it's not like you will start grading at midnight, so there isn't really a point in requiring the assignment by midnight - instead of having the students rush their submission to a deadline just so it could sit in your mailbox for several hours, you could tell them to that you will start grading at 9 am and they should have it done by then. This makes the deadline less arbitrary, since there is now a clear logic to being required to meet it (ie. you will be delayed if they don't do their part). But of course you will again have the same problem of students staying up all night because they procrastinated.

For what it's worth, I think the midnight deadline came about as codification of an unspoken tradition. Often deadlines are given as days, without time - with this, there is always much controversy about what exactly counts as meeting an August 6 deadline: Does it have to be done at the beginning of Aug 6? Does it have to be before the instructor leaves the office? Does it have to be before the end of the day, ie. before you go to sleep? Well, what if you never go to sleep, can you squeeze out a few more hours and still "meet your Aug 6 deadline" by submitting at 3:14 am on [technically] Aug 7?

Even though informally "today" means "until I go to sleep", the convention is that the date changes at midnight, which is also reinforced by how computer clocks show the date. Hence, I think the midnight deadline came about as an extension of this - it's just a date delimiter.

As for the students, since you are concerned about how late they go to sleep, surely you will agree that planning ahead and not leaving everything to the last minute is an important skill to be learned as part of tertiary education. This, then, the students must learn on their own, you cannot help them by tinkering with deadlines, since indeed the deadline is not what is preventing their learning. In fact, one could argue that you should maximize the negative reinforcement, and set the deadline at the worst possible time - say 6 am: The more misery you inflict on the procrastinators, the better they will appreciate how important it is to learn discipline, and the sooner they will take steps to unlearn their bad habits.

Granted, I'm not seriously suggesting you do the above, since it seems like it could go horribly wrong. Realistically, I could instead suggest the following:

  • Set your deadline at some reasonable, early time such as noon.
  • Secretly (ie. do not tell this part to the students) have the "real deadline" (for instance, the one you lose points for missing) be quite a bit later, say 5 pm.
  • In class, say that it is very important they not miss the deadline even by a minute (don't say why), and they should come talk to you if they feel they won't make it.
  • When they inevitably come asking for more time, be liberal with the extensions, but not before making them explain why they were late and lecturing them on the importance of planning ahead. When giving the extension, explain that they absolutely cannot miss the extended deadline, because then you would not be able to meet your own deadline for grading (whether true or not).
  • If anyone misses the noon deadline (but not the 5 pm deadline), confront them about it to discourage submitting late without asking for an extension (which allows bypassing the social discomfort of asking for more time).

With this, you might create something like a low stakes environment (you don't lose massive points just for being a few minutes late) while still creating a fair amount of social pressure to increase the likelihood of a lightbulb appearing and the student thinking, "Hey, Dr. Ward is very nice and reasonable about deadlines and everything, but maybe it's worth for me to try to stop leaving everything to the last minute?". Furthermore, if you force them into an explicit discussion about their procrastination, they have an opportunity to ask you for advice on how to plan their work.

But all of this requires quite a bit of effort from you (much more than just replacing "midnight" with "10 pm" on your syllabus). So if you are not willing to commit the energy, there isn't really much that can be achieved with quick fixes.


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