Kaitlin Gallagher is a PhD Candidate specializing in Biomechanics at the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo in Canada, and a permanent author for GradHacker. You can follow her on twitter at @KtlnG.
“Planning without action is futile, action without planning is fatal”
We receive many positive comments regarding our GradHacker posts, but we also receive advice that warns us (and our readers) that some of our tips will provide people with procrastination mechanisms rather than ways to move their work forward. Think of how many blogs and books provide advice to graduate students. If you implemented all the techniques that you learned you’d be working towards a degree about completing a degree rather than actually finishing the research work you wanted to do in the first place.
As an example, I've been reading a lot about writing over the past year. It has been extremely informative and I have learned a lot about the process….BUT, sometimes I spend a lot of time reading when some of that time should be pointed more towards the ACTUAL writing. It’s great that I’m learning about the process of writing, but it means nothing if I don’t apply it towards moving my writing forward.
You can tell if you are “meta-dissertating” in three ways. The first is determining if you are making more lateral than forward shifts with your work. This can be setting up a new elaborate system that accomplishes the exact same thing as your previous simpler system or re-doing your work without putting your plan into action to test it if works at all. The second is to see if you think you need to apply a new technique to make a decision or if you are avoiding making a decision. Lastly, determine if you are optimizing everything but getting nothing done. There is a time and a place for optimization, but just like an elaborate system that doesn’t make you more efficient than your simpler system, it is a waste of time.
To get out of this meta- slump, first acknowledge that there are a lot of things you can do in that in theory will help your dissertation move forward and spending time planning ways to make sure you are efficient and effective is extremely important. The second is to take action! You’ll never know if your plan will work until you take action. Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t, but at least you know that and you can move on. A lateral movement like that isn’t a bad thing; you just need to make sure that you are moving laterally for the right reasons.
What is your advice to people who spend more time thinking about how to do their work than actually doing it? Was I “meta-dissertating” or promoting it by writing this post? Sound off below!
[Image by flickr user jurvetson and used under a creative commons license]