Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Scheduling Research

A colleague of mine, who shall remain nameless, likes to schedule time for research, a certain set block of time during the day where he puts off all his todo's and concentrates on science. Sounds good but often his chair will stop by for some discussion or an impromptu meeting. The colleague will say, "Sorry, but I reserved this time for research", but that argument didn't fly, the chair said he could do research anytime. One day he said instead, "Sorry I have a squash game" and the chair replied that they would talk at a future time. Welcome to the academic world, where research gets trumped by a meeting that itself can be trumped by a squash game.

Is scheduling time for research a good idea? It depends on your personality and your research style. If you find yourself with no time to think about an interesting problem because too much else is happening then yes, best to schedule a few hours where you promise yourself you will do nothing else but research during those times. This means more than not preparing for class but also ignoring your computer. Checking email and surfing the web are themselves great time sinks.

In my case, I find it difficult to just start thinking about research at a given time. So I use the rule that research trumps all and when inspiration hits me, or someone comes to my office with a research question, I drop everything I can to work on the problem. Okay, I can't skip a class for research but email, weblog posts, referee reports, etc., should never stand in the way of science.

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