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Jorge Cham Talk + Misc

And so it happened that Jorge Cham was invited to the Caltech Physics Colloquium to give a talk, on everything related to research except actual research. As expected, it was a talk laced with lethal doses of humor in the usually uneventful halls of Bridge Lecture Hall, but it hit on some extremely resonant ideas with me, some of which I will aim to share below.

PHD Comics puts forth many interesting ideas on procrastination and other ordeals that many grad students have to put up with, and it is precisely through this sort of commiseration that many students find sanity. But Jorge wants more. He wants students to understand that procrastination is healthy. And to do this, an insightful theory on the causes and effects of procrastination must be discussed.

His first major distinction that resonated greatly with me was the distinction betweenprocrastination andlaziness. He described laziness as "never willing to work" and procrastination as "not willing to workright now." Having been flooded with work before, I think this is a really important distinction: it is perfectly okay, even desirable, to sidetrack oneself with some frequency, so long as one is prepared to make up the ground at some later time. This is because productivity is so much less linear a function of time investment than most people seem to think. Why is it that people can always seem to finish before a deadline, or work inordinate amounts faster? This is because they are stressed, but more importantly because their productivity varies as a function of external factors. It is precisely through procrastination that one works at one’s most optimal times as well as boosting productivity during these times (e.g. via gaming, running, de-stressing etc.).

Secondly he pointed out the important contribution ofguilt in the modern stigma against procrastination. People always say "Ishould be working!!" when they procrastinate. But compare this to 9-5 jobs, where people leave their jobs at work and come home and kick back and relax. This is a non-existent concept in graduate school, and it is this power to work wherever, whenever that is precisely the most paralyzing. Instead, There should be a clear distinction between work time and relaxation time, much like a 9-5 job would provide, but one afforded on a more flexible/personal basis. Only in this way is it possible to stay sane and maximize productivity. My dad used to always tell me when I was little "work when you work, play when you play," and only now am I starting to realize the veracity of this statement, among others, that I was always told as a kid. Sometimes, you just gotta burn yourself before you learn to respect the fire…

In other news I’m super excited to be moderating a panel for Caltech "Arts, Athletics and Activities" on Monday! I’ve spoken on various student life panels to prospective students and high school counselors alike, but this is the first time I’ll be moderating! This means I’ll be the guy that asks the panel questions to start us off and fields questions. My first such experience, but I’m pretty excited to see how I’ll pull it off. I know I’ll inevitably end up speaking too quickly, so that’s the big thing I have to watch out for, and I’ll probably have to be marginally more professional than the rest of the panel (assuming they actually open up), but other than these little details to keep in mind I’m mostly just excited to be given both such a responsibility and to be talking about Caltech again. I’d continue being a tour guide if only I still had time left in my day…