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Gus Van Horn blog

Reblogged:Grad School Nine to Five?

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This morning, I ran across an article at Next Scientist, which reviews Deep Work, by Cal Newport, from the angle of applying it to graduate school. Based on my own experience in graduate school, the author of the post knows of what she speaks regarding both the expectations that confront graduate students and how these expectations (and common circumstances) can interfere with making productive use of that time.

And, based on the advice within that article, I am intrigued enough by the book that I might go ahead and read it. (I suspect that this will be another Nonviolent Communication for me, based on this review: Worth it, but littered with nonsense.) For example, one piece of Olga Pougovkina's advice closely resembles something I figured out back in grad school and use to this day:

Very few PhDs have the luxury of an individual office. Usually the working area is more like a can of sardines with PhDs almost sitting on each other's lap.

Finding solitude to concentrate in such environment will be challenging but don't let that stop you.

Figure out if there are times when the work area is empty. Early mornings tend to be an unpopular stretch of time.

Yes, get really early out of bed to work on your thesis. I know it's not very exciting, but contemplate the benefits... [bold omitted]
My office wasn't crowded, but my advisor's "open door" policy made that unnecessary: The flip side of being able to talk to him any time meant he felt free to interrupt me any time. To do this, he would silently enter the office I shared with a post-doc through the door at our backs and launch right in to whatever was on his mind. (Yes, I would startle, and he seemed to get a kick out of it.) Fortunately, over time, I developed enough Linux expertise that I had a nice workstation in my apartment. So I spent a few hundred on a Matlab license so I could work from there in the early part of the morning, knowing he didn't frown on people arriving late in the morning. That investment really paid off when it was time to write: Since I could do everything at home I could do at work that didn't involve the lab or meeting with colleagues, I could spend entire days "in the flow". To this day, I use a similar strategy -- waking up very early -- to write. I don't see how I otherwise could have maintained a blog while raising two very young children over the past few years.

Based on those things, the book sounds good, but I would be especially interested in hearing from any passer-by who has also read this book. If much or most of its advice is that powerful, I could probably use more of it. Let me know in the comments or via email.

-- CAV

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