Saturday, June 4, 2011

On Deadlines: I'm as bad as my students

I had a deadline yesterday. It was a call for submissions that I came across a few months ago, on otherness and historical fiction. I immediately thought of The Salt Roads by Nalo Hopkinson. It is a book that has following me around for a while now, and this would be the perfect opportunity to finally try and figure out what is going on. I was thinking about how Hopkinson was re-writing or re-inserting the histories of Black women into History. It was due yesterday.

And, I didn't get it done. I debated asking for an extension, but at the end of the day (actually, it was half-way through the day) I realized that taking the weekend wouldn't even help this paper be as good as it needed to be. I had almost ten pages and was barely a third of the way through what I wanted to say. The ideas and analysis were finally starting to come together, but it wouldn't get done on time. So, I gave up, went grocery shopping, and decided that I would take the few days before leaving for Montreal to finish it up.

I'm almost always like this when it comes to submitting papers and answering CFPs: last possible minute, and usually asking for an extension. I've talked about deadlines before when it comes to undergraduates, and we know all about how desperately undergraduates plead with us for extensions. Why can't our students get organized and get their work in on time, we lament. Well, why can't most of the academics I know do the same?

One of the biggest differences between when our students ask for more time and when we as academics ask for more time is that academics tend to actually use the time to make the paper better. One of the other differences, of course, are the stakes. Most of the time, academics are submitting their work voluntarily; we choose where and what we want to submit, apply for, or participate in. Undergrads choose to come to school, but they don't choose their deadlines and assignments. One might argue about the stakes as well: which of the two groups face the higher stakes? Undergrads fear failure, lower GPAs, and everything that comes with it. Academics face not meeting tenure requirements. I don't, but that's a different story.

I guess, for me, I don't have the pressure on me. I'm not being graded, I'm not up for tenure, and I know that even though I've missed this deadline, I can finish the essay and submit it elsewhere. Now, if this was a book manuscript, it would be entirely different; I was late once with my book manuscript and then had to wait three extra years for its publication. In this case, the stakes are higher if only because other people are dependent on my ability to complete my work on time. That not only makes their jobs more difficult if I'm late, but also could impact my ability to get published in the future (do publishers talk amongst themselves about academics who are incapable of meeting deadlines, naming names?).

But I am also all to aware of all of the pressures academics face, all of the demands on their time, each one professing that it is THE most important deadlines. Between students who expect their work handed back to them instantaneously and administrators who keep coming up with new and bizarre reports and measures that need to be filed and reported yesterday, the pit-falls for professors on the tenure-track are perilous. Even off the tenure-track, I find myself pushing my writing down the list of priorities because other "more important" deadlines keep popping up.

But, I am also a procrastinator par excellence. This isn't to say that I'm not working; on the contrary, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I am going to write before finally sitting down to write it. But I wait until the last possible minute to start actually writing. Actually, I find that I am starting to write a few seconds past the last possible minute now. I am still learning how it takes me to write something now. You'd think that after an MA and a PhD, a long(ish) list of articles, a book, and a number of book reviews, I'd know how long it takes me to write. But, apparently, I don't.

As I said in the title, I'm as bad as my students.


  1. Update: I got an extension. I have until Wednesday.

  2. Good luck with the extension. I think you make some good points on the need to get it done.

    Why do we wait? I'm asking myself that question as today I did not work at all on the talk I am giving next Saturday.

    I think I am overwhelmed, and I know you are as well, with all I have to do. Getting overwhelmed means that emotionally we feel unable to complete even the small things.

    So I made four little goals for tomorrow. I am not going to try to finish the whole thing. I'm just going to try to finish my notes. (Other three are on other overwhelming thing--my move.)

    I already know where I am going with the talk. I've outlined it and finishing my notes means I will have filled all the holes. So I'll get that done and then I'll see about organizing the notes on Monday. Then writing it down on Tuesday. Then reading through and editing on Wednesday. Then (possibly) doing PPT on Thursday. Then writing out the discussion portion (for the participants) on Friday. Then giving on Saturday.

    We are as bad as our students. But, it is true, that we usually get it done and our students often do not--especially those who have extensions.

  3. I do work in publishing and sometimes hire academics to contribute to something. While I don't recall naming names, in general it is considered established fact that academics are not especially reliable when it comes to either meeting deadlines or following instructions about the specs for an essay. You work around it and, in the case of egregious or repeat offenders, you move on.

    To be clear, in these cases the academics have signed contracts agreeing to write an essay by a specific time, for an agreed-upon fee. And still, we sometimes give them fake deadlines *and* plan for some extra time reshaping the essay to the specs spelled out. If I had not had a brief career as an academic with a PhD myself, I would seriously wonder about their intelligence.

    Would not normally be anonymous, but it seemed prudent under the circumstances. Also, starting to wonder about revealing that fake deadline thing . . .


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