Part two in my series on the daily life of a grad student comes from Justin, who is currently doing his PhD in English. Thanks for a great post based on one of my favourite bands!
Volunteering to write a guest post in this series and being a rabid Beatles fan I couldn’t help but think of the song ‘A Day in the Life’ as I wrote this. You know the one, now you know “how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall,” &c. In a lot of ways, I think that my average day goes a little bit like that song. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the song, here is a link to it. If you aren’t at least familiar with the Beatles, I’m afraid we cannot ever be friends until you fix that.
My academic workday, as I’ve said above, is like ‘A Day in the Life’ in that I always see it from a perspective of looking back rather than ahead to things that I’m going to do, with a weird bit in the middle where I feel really productive and into things. I never have the same day twice — there are just too many variables — so this day in my work life is really an amalgamation of the kind of feeling each day has for me when I’m doing academia. Let me show you.
Phase 1: “I read the news today, oh boy / About a lucky man who made the grade”
I try my best to get up early every morning and be happy about it. This never works in my favour, however. My days usually start fairly consistently: first, I get up way later than I should have, especially if I’ve got nowhere physically to be like, say, a classroom. I need — with significant stress on the word ‘need’ — to shower and be clean before anything else happens in my day. This is not an obsessive thing; it is rather a practical thing. After cleaning comes breakfasting for me and the dog. Then the dog craps outside and I come back in to ostensibly start to do some serious academic thinking work. This is inevitably interrupted by social media and other generic time wasting activities. Ultimately, if it is a weekday, I switch on the previous night’s Daily Show with Jon Stewart and Colbert Report because there’s no way I’m staying up until 1AM to watch them when I have so much important early morning business to attend to. I usually feel like a complete failure by the time Jon Stewart does his moment of zen.
Phase 2: “A Crowd of People Turned Away”
TV procrastinating over and the dog is looking at me forlornly. “No time now, Brody old pal, I’ve got work to do. We’ll play after lunch,” I say, returning to the computer where I have every intention of making serious headway on the day’s tasks. No dice. More social media and, before I know it, it’s lunch time. Let’s look in the fridge for the least healthy choice.
Phase 3: “Woke up, got out of bed / Dragged a comb across my head”
This is the point in the day when I actually get something done. I’ve walked the dog again because a few hours have elapsed since the last time he’s done anything. Have I mentioned how forgiving my dog is? I basically ignore him all day long under the guise of ‘working’ and he doesn’t hold it against me. He’s a good buddy. Seriously, though, I am about now hitting a peak of productivity where I can read, write, or research most effectively. I don’t know what it is about the middle part of the day that does it for me, but I get this enormous burst of productive energy. I’ve always liked to attribute it to the spectacular amount of coffee I’ve consumed up to this point in the day, though I somehow think that works against me. Anyway, if ever you’re looking to get me to do something quickly, well, and thoroughly, I’d suggest you hit me up between the hours of 1 – 4PM if I’m working at home.
It is also in this phase of the day when I find myself having to ‘put off’ my work so as to have dinner ready by the time my wife comes home. In reality, I am glad to quit working to cook.
Phase 4: “Now they know how many holes it takes”
This is the after dinner lull period when my wife and I are both home, have work to do, and, for the most part, get quite a bit done. This is when I usually do any reading I’ve been putting off while intermittently messing around online. This part of the day consists of as many memes as serious academic things. However, it is also the time of the day when I look at what work I have accumulated throughout the day and I feel as though I’ve got a handle on the things I need to have done. And, much like the song, the day usually ends with a barely discernible repetition until it fades away and I go to sleep.
In rereading this entry, I see that I have made my average day out to be more self-deprecating than it actually is. I don’t want to give the impression that I do nothing all day, but rather that it feels that way sometimes. I am in this degree for the long haul and the thing about grad school and academic work is that there’s so much to cover and to know in order to be crowned ‘expert’ some day that I find it helpful to not take it too seriously. Thanks for reading and thanks to Sara for letting me do this on her blog.