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Believing in the Business (of Research): Why Being Self-Directed Might be a Little Like Being Self-Employed

I don’t remember how it was that we ended up deciding to post on Mondays, but today, the least loved of the weekdays really outdid itself – there were fat red-breasted robins, there was sunshine, and when I grudgingly took the dog for a morning walk, I could even smell the heady scent of chlorophyll. It’s starting to look like Spring, and I’m feeling optimistic.

Two reminders for you this week:

  1. We are currently taking applications to become a blogger at Gradifying! Submit your application (in the form of a short guest post) today to gradify@queensu.ca!
  2. 3MT Provincial Championships are already happening this Thursday. Ontario 3MT® is on 18th April 2013, at Queen’s, with a 4pm start in the Kinesiology & Health Studies building, room 100 (28 Division St). Come one, come all, and get edu-tained.

Given the way the earth is slowly coming back to life and luring me outside, I’ve been thinking about time management and the summer months. I know, you probably see the phrase “time management,” a perennial favourite of educational wisdom (eh? get it? perennial…spring? rest assured, I have the good sense to be ashamed of my punning), and think there can’t possibly be any more said on the topic. But there’s a good reason I’m thinking about it.

The other day, I heard, also for what seems like the millionth time, that students dealing with assignment deadlines in some particular situation <x> would have a rude awakening when they got into the “real world.” Ah yes, the real world, where everyone can reliably be expected to obey the same deadline with equal rigor, every time. I blogged a while back for a feminist magazine about pop culture on this issue of “the real world.” This time, a new oddity about the phrase came to mind, one that hadn’t even occurred to me before: I suppose, then, all the TAs, TFs, RAs, professors, and administrators making and working around the same deadlines are similarly exempt from the real world? I expect many would beg to disagree.


I stand by what I wrote in the blog I linked to above – my occupation does not exist in some imaginary land separate from the “real world,” and just because I can be described as a student, the work I do doesn’t just effervesce away into some inert substance that can’t affect said world. But for all my protestations, I have begun to wonder if there are ways in which I succumb to the trap of seeing anything that falls on the side of earning an education, rather than delivering one, as chronically preliminary – permanently suspended in a state of preparation for something else. I wonder this when I observe some of my own behaviour. For instance, I occasionally despair about progress because, for a block of about four years, I have no one’s deadlines but my own to meet and by which to gauge my development. Another example: I balk more at making an investment in my education by, say, purchasing a piece of software or spending on a plane ticket to travel for a conference than I do at budgeting for home renovations or taking music lessons.

I’m curious about your experiences. I know these issues differ, sometimes drastically, by discipline. What about an informal poll: How many of you create a strict schedule for yourself? Set deadlines for yourself? Have them set for you? How many of you work in addition to your stipend? Do you travel regularly for professional development opportunities? Do you think about investing in your education?

I argue against school being seen as separate from “the real world,” but I suspect my actions haven’t always stood behind this argument. What you don’t realize about yourself, you can’t change. You’re witness to a small personal epiphany here; I resolve to become an entrepreneur about my research.

For some additional support in taking your academic work by the reins, consider taking a look at Queen’s School of Graduate Studies Expanding Horizons Workshop Series.

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