Procrastination, flavour I: The fear of the unknown, or the scientist block

If you did a PhD, you are familiar with all the shades and flavours of procrastination.

I am planning a longer piece dealing with it, but for today just a short note on the one, perhaps most difficult type of procrastination that touches our academic lifes.

The block of the unknown.

Yes, we strive to answer all those new questions, we are curious, we are motivated, we crave to discover, optimize, measure, find out! And yet.

Just like all human beings, we like our little routines. We like to repeat techniques and experiments that already work well in our hands.

I have recently observed I tend to postpone and struggle before trying a new protocol. The need to read through every step and prepare all the small reagents and buffers, as opposed to the smooth sailing across the known protocols, has been quite paralyzing. It might be because in my new job I need to optimize a lot. I mean: a lot. Trying a new thing occasionally is easier than having to try new things all the time… One really starts to miss the comfort of a routine experiment.

And yet, truth is that once I finally get set to it and do the new thing, it feels exciting, relieving, it brings on all the enthusiasm of learning something new and different.

And it is not only the labwork that suffers from this little block. Just today I finally launched a submission of a dataset I’ve been working with to a database – something I have feared for weeks just because the first time I looked into it, it seemed so complicated. Well, in the end it took one evening to sort out. And, I’m feeling happy now, because I just learnt something new and I managed.

So, conclusions of today:

  • This new thing you have to do and you feel stuck and blocked about – get out there and start doing it! And you will soon see that you actually can! It might even be fun 🙂
  • What’s more, this new thing, repeated twice or thrice, will actually become an old, comfortable, routine thing 🙂 So, it’s time to tame it.
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