Sunday, June 23, 2013

on the lack of hurry lately.

from: saturday, 22 june 2013

all i did today was make coffee, read a little, and sort out photos from yesterday. i didn't do any maths.

today is midsummer's day (or juhannus) and yesterday was midsummer's eve. both are official holidays in finland and arguably the most important ones. celebrating it has the same, easy feeling as thanksgiving in the u.s.: you don't have to believe in anything, other than the fact that the longest day of the year is upon us, and one observes it during the closest weekend to it.

i used to work through holidays or, at the very least, try to do so as much as possible .. where "possible" depended on whose company i kept. living in finland these last two years, though, has tempered that desperate feeling.

i'd like to think that i'm a tireless, relentless researcher, but that's hardly true. for instance, i found out that there's only so much time in a single day that i can spend thinking, reading, attacking a certain line of thought.
the truly productive hours are preciously few, in fact: usually two hours in the morning and two in the late afternoon or early evening. maybe the former is fueled by an early surge of coffee and dopamine, the latter by the mere suggestion that the end of the day's work is near and sh-t, i'd better get something done! [1].

it is hard to ignore the regular workday, even if one isn't beholden to it. during the academic year the department is often quite empty by 4pm, if only because that's when kids get off from school and the faculty, most of whom are parents, are off to pick them up!
in contrast, i remember teaching 2+2 during my first postdoc, going home exhausted, and just being too mentally drained to get any real thinking done. [2] i was always struggling to find long blocks of time in order to get something done, only to regularly come up with nothing of consequence.

it got to the point where i really wondered if i was really right for this job, that maybe i wasn't meant to be a mathematician. heck, i still don't know if i'm right for this job. i mean, it's working well enough .. but often i fear for the next dry spell of inspiration. even during holidays now, it's hard to let go completely and just forget.

at any rate, i now know that there's an opposite to the spectrum: sometimes i feel like i have too much time and it's wasted: i can neither use it for research gain, and it's probably not enough to warrant taking on a partial load of teaching duties ..

[1] there are exceptions, of course. if i'm in the middle of a draft of a paper, then the hours fly by and i have to take care, set the work aside, and do something else before going to bed at night .. if only to guarantee that i'll sleep well enough to work efficiently the next day.

there's a difference, i suppose, between the initial understanding and development of the problem and, upon success, the technical implementation of its solution.

[2] it took me a while to get used to the routine of lecturing and developing plans for enough of the standard courses, before i could "shut off" that part of my brain during my non-teaching hours. sometimes i suspect that i'm just highly inefficient at scheduling and multi-tasking.)

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