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On the end of the semester and irresponsible writing

My birthday was last week. Since it was the middle of the week, my partying was reduced to making calimochos while watching a few episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender on Netflix. Oh well, I’ll have more time later.

But things started to speed up during the week. According to our internal calendar, last Friday was the last day of the semester, which meant that everything had to be done by then. That includes two critical items for both me and my advisor:

  1. Having a good draft of my thesis so it can be at least read when the next semester starts, and
  2. Making sure the Head of our Department had no more critical work to be done before heading off into vacation time

That led to us working a lot and trying to cover all our bases so that every reasonable request the HoD might have would be covered by Friday afternoon. As some pointed in the catbox, I was in standby mode, ready to see if we received any emails by 3PM. None came and we poofed out of our respective cubicles faster than you can say «about that paper I sent you on Monday…»

Of course, as PHD Comics have pointed out (twice!), the academic life never really ceases. «Vacation» means one can work from a relative’s house or the beach for a week or two. Thus, on Monday I was back and more or less ready to keep on writing.

But something happened on Tuesday. I got restless at night and slept for only 5 hours, waking up at 4.30 AM. I put a podcast and tossed for another half hour before deciding it was pointless to fight it. Got up, opened up my text editor and got to working.

After a paragraph or two I felt completely disillusioned. Turned to the «Random node» link to distract me from the internal uneasiness and browsed the nodegel for a while. I managed to get to a particular node and noticed it sadly lacking. How is it that E2 has writeups in more advanced mathematics, but a simple topic that can easily be linked to popular culture is not there?

You know me. «The Cult of Done Manifesto», rule #6. I started writing what I believed it was an easy target: Relatively simple concepts, high-school level mathematics, not-very-convoluted writing.

Today is Thursday, just a few minutes past noon in local time. During these days the essay has grown to a 3,500 word chapter and it’s far from finished (although it’s been completely outlined). I’ve enjoyed writing this more than my own thesis, by a factor of 10.

I feel terrible for this. I know that these days I’m not «required» to do anything, but I should advance on what is arguably my larger and most important compromise at the moment. But I’ve fallen out of love with the topic and part of me doesn’t want to go back. I enjoy writing silly things, things that interest me, my own feelings. None of these are easy to write, but they flow a lot better, even when I deal with the thorny subject of my introspection.

I fear what’s coming. Last night I had a nightmare about my graduate degree being absolutely necessary for a happy fulfilling life. In my dream I got stuck at my old, crappy job in the call center. I know that’s not going to happen, but… The nagging feeling of doing something that is not what you’re supposed to do is horrible. But somehow it’s balanced with my writing of other, silly things.

I don’t know what to do, or if I should. Perhaps this falling out of love with the thesis topic is common among graduate students; it certainly feels awful.

I just needed to vent… before going back to writing about combinatorics. Thanks for reading.