Tuesday, March 09, 2010

On Productivity

So, I'm really making a liar out of myself by even writing this right now, because I really should be attacking the mountain of reading I've got to do this week (my workload this semester is pretty much all reading; only a couple papers to write, and a little Greek translation, but mostly reading). But I've spent yesterday and this morning getting about half sick, so reading about ancient Babylon, Egypt, and the Hittites isn't really grabbing my attention today, and this has been knocking around in my head for a couple days, so I'll write for a bit, then get back to reading, I guess.

This is the third year of my Ph.D. program and I am taking right now, God willing, the last three courses I will ever be required to take. Ever. I know, right? It's crazy. Now, there's still miles to go before I sleep - exams, dissertation, defense, and so on, all of which I expect to take two more years, but still, it's pretty awesome. But I digress. Anyway, the first two years of my Ph.D. work were a real struggle, both in terms of self-confidence (in a there's-no-way-I'm-actually-smart-enough-to-be-doing-this sort of way), and in terms of actually doing the work. Jenny works full-time (more than full-time, really), which left the primary care of our son (and now our foster daughter) to me. So for the first two years of my Ph.D. work, I was both a full-time student and a stay-at-home-dad. This meant taking G* to a sitter while I was in class, and working around his sleep schedule when I was at home. I worked all through naptime, and for several hours after bedtime. This, as you might imagine, became wearing. It got a little better when he started half-day preschool last year. This year, though, things got much more complicated when we were given a newborn foster daughter. Suddenly (literally, in the span of about four hours) we went from having one child to having two.

I realized very quickly that this wouldn't work: I couldn't manage being the stay-at-home-dad to two kids and being a full-time student. I was, in fact, at the point of starting the necessary proceedings to take a year off from school, when we hit upon the notion of putting G in school all day and M in care for the day. This allows me to effectively treat my schoolwork as a a 9-5 job (usually more like 9-3 or 9-4, depending on circumstances), with the result that I am much more productive, and much happier with the situation overall. I even have my evenings and weekends relatively free - meaning I don't usually have to bring work home, and can spend my evenings doing other things. This usually means cooking and keeping the house in general running order, but it also means that I have some time for more entertaining activities that usually had to just go on hiatus during the semester - video games, reading fiction, and so on.

To be honest, I'm not really sure what the point of all this is, except to say that an academic career is best treated like an actual career (i.e., a job), at least at the level where I currently am. Trying too hard to juggle what amounts to two full-time - and more than full-time - jobs (stay-at-home-parenting** and Ph.D. work, in my case) ultimately doesn't work well. So my advice: if you're a Ph.D. student (or thinking about becoming one), try to get yourself into a situation where you can focus on school with the attention it deserves: namely, as though it were an actual paying job, because it's at least that much work. Also, if you're the friend or loved one of a full-time student, don't hate. We work our butts off. The fact that we're still "in school" and may not earn any actual income for what we do doesn't change that - and can even make it more frustrating.

*Being as this blog (and my Twitter feed) are completely open to the whole wide internet, I refer to my kids by their initial, rather than their actual names. It may seem silly and paranoid, but I'm okay with that. So if you see G and M, that means my son and foster daughter, respectively. (Also, it saves me a few characters when I talk about them on Twitter.)

**Most people have probably heard me say this before, but it bears repeating. I've never been one to disrespect the stay-at-home parent. I remember all too well what royal pains in the butt my brother and I could be at times to take the all-too-common attitude that it amounts to just sitting around the house doing nothing all day. But after a couple of years of doing it myself, somebody who tried to tell me "I wish I could just stay home all day and do nothing," would probably not be able to finish the sentence until after they'd spit out a couple of teeth.