Welcome to Grad School, the place where motivation goes to die.
Seriously though, I procrastinate. I was never much of a procrastinater before I started my postgraduate studies. Now, crippling indecision and a general malaise caused by my lack of success cause me to while away the morning reading papers on subjects that aren’t really related to mine and drinking endless cups of tea. It’s not uncommon for it to be 12 before I start lab work, even if I’ve been in by 9am. I tell myself that this is fine because I have to read and write some time, but really I’m just putting off the inevitable.
The slow drip of procrastination
This procrastination has begun to permeate other aspects of my life. This morning I realised that I had spectacularly missed the deadline to apply for the SEB’s travel grants (irritatingly, the next deadline is two weeks before the conference: it has to be 30 days beforehand or else I would just apply for this one). I often – especially now I have a smartphone – read messages and then plan to reply to them when I’m back at my desk, only to completely put it off.
One such email was around this time last year. I’m not good at saying no to things; especially musical things. I sang and played my way through undergrad, and since moving here I have been part of symphony orchestras, string orchestras, theatre productions, and sung opera, chamber music, choral music, rock music, a cappella and barbershop. I love it all, and I’m appalling at turning down opportunities. Last year I made a solemn vow to learn when to say no.
But rules are made to be broken: right?
Having joined the mailing list three years ago; and started, and subsequently stopped, singing with a barbershop group two years ago, I joined again last year. It’s pretty low commitment and good fun, but there’s also a more hardcore version: the competition ‘crack squad’. I put my name down for an audition, only to realise that three weeks into term I was tired, stressed, ill already and generally not coping. Having talking things over with my better half I knew that it was silly and that I should just pull out. I was absolutely decided.
Except I didn’t send the email. The internet in our house was down and I put it off til the next morning. But the next morning I had some pressing lab work to do and I didn’t even turn my computer on. By lunch time I had forgotten all about it. I continued to forget all about it until that fateful Tuesday rolled around and I still hadn’t cancelled my audition. I figured I would just do the audition (badly, since my voice was shot) and it wouldn’t matter because there was no way I was getting in anyway.
Only I did get in. And I did take up my place. And I did, finally, find my feet in this group. A year on I – in a moment of utter madness – auditioned as musical director and now it’s my turn to run the rehearsals. Last week was the big Come One, Come All rehearsal, and this week is the first proper one. It’s a very strange feeling. Because I know, though I don’t say it loudly, that had I not started singing with the auditioned group I would at some point have probably quit. I did a lot of other high profile stuff last year, and ultimately barbershop was always my ‘bit of fun’. It would have been the first thing to go when I got ill.
Sometimes, there’s a silver lining. My procrastination is not a good habit, and it’s one I’m trying to break. But sometimes even your bad habits can yield amazing results, and it’s worth recognising those results and celebrating them. So here’s piece of advice number 4 for the Grad School newbies. Identify your weaknesses. Look for ways to overcome them. But don’t be afraid to see the silver linings in habits you struggle to crack. Sometimes it makes the struggle seem just a little less hopeless.