Deep Work

I love podcasts. I was recently catching up on my NPR Hidden Brain episodes and ran across one that is particularly relevant for for young scientists from this past summer. You should listen to it (its ~35 min long) and then check out my commentary below.

My thoughts:

  • Graduate school and science require deep work and deep thinking:
    • Busy ≠ Productive. Being busy doing many experiments does not mean you’re going to get to a paper faster. Don’t be a “busy robot”. Instead, inspiration comes from deep thought. You should critically think through your project and ensure you are doing the best experiments on the most important project. This means you should consider all necessary controls before you do the experiment and take the opportunity to step back and assess whether your next experiment will clarify your model. You should also focus intently while performing your experiments. It might not be best for you to listen to music or podcasts all the time while doing benchwork.
  • Even something that seems like work can be a distraction to meaningful deep work:
    • It is important to answer emails and do lab grunt work, but you should isolate these shallow tasks to specific times of your day so that you are not constantly distracting yourself when you get pinged. While you should be responsive in a reasonable amount of time (and your boss might require it!), your job as a graduate student is not to immediately answer emails but to develop your brain. An incoming email might distract an important thought you are developing or it might distract you while pipetting, leading to a mistake. Don’t give into the temptation to immediately respond!
  • Create boundaries between work and recovery:
    • Science schedules can be unpredictable, and you may not get much recovery time. However, when you do, make this time for deep recovery the most meaningful by letting go of shallow lab tasks. Give yourself time in the evenings or on weekends to disconnect from work completely so that you can mentally recover. You’ll be surprised at you new thoughts and ideas when you come back refreshed!

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