Monday, February 18, 2013


My move to University F has been accompanied by a ,huge productivity boost. Being physically  closer to collaborators and in a department that brings in lots of visitors working on closely related topics helps, it turns out. I'm not complaining. 

Before my productivity boost kicked in, I was talking to post doc at a different university about his new job. He mentioned that his PI required all the grad students and post docs in the group to come to the meeting each week with 4 pages of writing done over the week. This struck me as a little extreme. It's not quite the page a day silliness I've heard about writing a thesis, but it's close. 

My colleague assured me that it wasn't. Four pages of writing could be the 20 of the 40 page draft of the article you've been revising, or several pages of code you've been debugging, or 4 pages of speculative work that will eventually get scrapped, or a long series of technical e-mail exchanges with a colleague. The point was for him to see that you aren't getting stuck, spinning wheels and reading literature to pass the time, or getting bogged down by a problem. 

Being forced to write helps me clarify my thoughts, even though the process of writing things up in a clean understandable way seems like a waste of time until I've actually reached a milepost in the project. Then I can pause, summarize and organize my work in the form of bits on a disk. But this reluctance to write on my part leads me to chasing blind alleys for weeks until I get frustrated, step back, and see the flaw in my logic. 

My recent burst of productivity has meant that I've been writing a lot. I've been reaching the mileposts at which it is easy for me to write with some frequency. Being in the habit of writing is also causing me to get in the habit of writing up summaries of productive discussions with a collaborators. All of this writing that I'm doing is helping me keep a clear record of what progress I've made, and where various projects stand. 

This has me wondering... If I actually set myself the goal of 4 pages a week, when the dry spell inevitably comes again, will it help me keep myself organized and pushing through it?

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