PhD: Doctor of Procrastination

PhDs that last 3/4 years can create procrastinators out of the most focused of people. Procrastination can happen at any time, for any number of reasons. For example, if you have a tedious task to do such as count the number of cells you have in an experiment (I know sometimes I would rather do anything, ANYTHING,  including cleaning, than count my cells). Recently, I saw an interesting study that showed that people can also put off doing things that they enjoy doing. Researchers at the Anderson School of Management at UCLA offered two different gift cards to people (for a local coffee shop) both cards were of equal value except one was valid for three weeks and one for three months. The participants were then asked how likely it was that they would use the card before the expiry date (I would have said within 2 hours of getting the card…)  50% of the people given the three week card said they were likely to use it and 68% of the people with the three month card said they were likely to use it. When it came to actually using the card a third of the people given the three week card used it and only a paltry 6% of the people given the three month card used it. Follow up research was done to determine why  people failed to use the vouchers and the answer was – procrastination. People thought they would just use the card later/some other time. So with a short deadline people were more likely to get on with it than with a longer deadline… Applying this to PhDs, breaking up a PhD and setting yourself short deadlines could (in theory) help you achieve a PhD and prevent time wasted by procrastinating.

This study is an interesting illustration of how procrastination can get in the way, when it really doesn’t need to. Think about why you are putting off the task you need to do (are you worried about it?) if there is a reason why you are putting the task in hand off, tackle it head on. For everything else, here are some tips I know that can help…

1.  Break large tasks into smaller parts, so they do not seem as daunting! Large tasks do not need to be completed all in one sitting.

2.  Do not try and work around people that you know will distract you, if you find yourself chatting away when you are in university, plan some time at home on your own (or if you get too distracted by the T.V. at home, do the opposite!).

3. Tidy up your workspace (but do not take too long doing this). A neat environment with only what you need in front of you should help you to concentrate.

Of course, if all else fails and you REALLY cannot get anything useful done. Take some time out. Go to the gym, go for a run. I usually find that swimming gives me lots of thinking time and helps me get back in the mood for work!

Research article : Procrastination of Enjoyable Experiences, Journal of Marketing Research (2010 in press), written by Suzanne Shu


About Heather Doran

I am a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen. My PhD is Molecular Biology and Pharmacology based. I studied Molecular Biology and Biochemistry with a year in Industry at Durham University. I then went on to work in research and development in the consumer goods industry for 12 months. I decided for my long term career and for my own personal interests I wanted to pursue a PhD – so I went for it and I am enjoying (nearly) every minute! I am really passionate about science communication and I get involved in lots of different activities that are available through the University and through being a PhD student. I hope my blog will be useful for people who are thinking of doing a PhD in any subject and also for those that are studying for their PhDs at the moment.

2 Responses to PhD: Doctor of Procrastination

  1. Great write-up around PhD: Doctor of Procrastination Real Life of a PhD Student brbr That is certainly why I personally frequently come back to the site and following consistently.

  2. Sarah Sloan says:

    Hi Heather, this caught my eye, and I thought the study you mentioned really hits the nail on the head. I think almost all of us are guilty of procrastination at some point, especially those of who have been students for so long (guilty as charged!). Sometimes I argue that procrastination can be used to our advantage, which I talked about here Certainly, being aware of it is the first step to making any changes, and I appreciate the tips you offered above. Sarah.

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