I recently came across this picture on Facebook and let out a loud gasp. What a perfect way of depiction, I thought!
Deadline. One of the nastiest words ever invented and the most-frequently-used word I have come across in the last two years of my PhD life. From paper submissions to conference registrations, from assignment correction to course enrollment, this one word has been the be-all-and-end all of my existance. No wonder the office wall (now and forever) overflows with deadline notices, twenty notifications on the notice board stare back, conversations with colleagues almost always revolve around it, and I question myself for the umpteenth time what made me lose my sanity and decide to go into research!
When I started my PhD, two things amazed me to no extent. The #1 was seeing people talking about work and more work during lunch, dinner meets, social gatherings, parties, football matches, concerts and what not. I often wondered if they were crazy nerds whose lives always revolved around work and therefore they had nothing else to talk about or if they really enjoyed talking about work. The #2 was finding people never even caring about those well defined '9-6' office hours and sitting in their offices almost the entire day. Again, I thought of the same two reasons as I did for the first observation. People would often tell me that I would never know when I would start doing the same, and it'd made me laugh. After being in research for almost two years, I now know how absolutely right they were and how ignorant I was. Also, I have realized that there exists a third reason that surpasses the first two in terms of importance- the inability to abide by deadlines, and therefore compelled to #1 and #2.
From my experience, the entire before and after process of 'please-submit/register-by-#date-midnight' has been pretty simple and patterned. Ten days before the deadline, you are as relaxed as a multimillionaire cruising the Atlantic with beer in one hand and a gorgeous woman on the other. Five days before, you are as relaxed as an on-budget traveler traveling across Europe while calculating the daily expenses every minute. One day before, you are as relaxed as a minister the night before the election. You forget to eat, miss phone calls, check the watch every two seconds and panic every second while hoping against hope that everything will work out. You see the office lights of colleagues switched on till almost midnight (and ofcourse also your own), you hear the brewing sound of the coffee machine at wee hours, you get Skype messages from other ill-fated PhD students about why one should never do a PhD, you realize your heart rate going sky-high ten minutes before midnight, you curse yourself for wasting so much time during the day/week/month/year, you swear to God to finish pending work a week before the deadline from next time, and when nothing works, you cry in frustration. Then, if magically you somehow manage to submit/register before the deadline, you feel a strange calmness caressing you and paralyzing you for the next thirty days, until the next deadline arrives. And the process starts all over again.
When Ma used to lecture me on my inability to be disciplined and be on-time, I would always tell her that these things would normalize automatically when I grow up, claiming as if being older and wiser were correlated with being disciplined. Now when I see myself braving those innumerable panic attacks as I did a decade ago, albeit now on a bigger scale, I tell myself that these things would normalize automatically when I would really grow up, always knowing in my heart that one grows up by choice, and not by chance!