Postdocs talk research and procrastination at Appreciation Day
Event's keynote was by PhD Comics author Jorge Cham
Sher Scott - October 18, 2012
Last week, the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS) paid tribute to the contributions of more than 170 members of the Dalhousie community during its Postdoctoral Fellows Research and Appreciation Day.
Postdocs at Dal are completing the last necessary step before they begin their academic and research careers. They spend many hours in their labs, working on the cutting edge of their fields, but sometimes their enormous contribution to campus research doesn’t always get noticed, says event coordinator Alicia Kirk, grad student services and postdoctoral fellows clerk with FGS.
Hence, the idea of a campus-wide Appreciation Day. In the past there has been separate days for appreciation and for research, sometimes in different faculties, but this year the coordinators brought the events together, to “give postdocs the opportunity to come together and socialize,” said Kirk. The research portion of the event was coordinated by Adrian West, Dal Postdoctoral Society president, who also collaborated with FGS on the entire Appreciation Day event.
The full day of activities featured presentations of some of the fellows’ innovative research projects, a barbecue with music from Dalhousie’s own Daniel Boyd and his band No Longer Hip, and keynote speaker Jorge Cham, creator of the web comic sensation PhD Comics.
Laughing at the power of procrastination
Dr. Cham’s comic — the PhD in the title doubles as “Piled Higher and Deeper” — is a humorous online account of grad student life. He writes from experience: Dr. Cham has a doctorate in engineering from Stanford and a resume that includes working in Robotics at Cal-Tech. The comic was born out of a theory Dr. Cham developed while at Stanford: the "Unified Theory of Procrastination in Academia," or UTOPIA, as he quips.
The talk resounded with the audience as he made light of the day-to-day stresses of the grad-student experience: worries about surviving one-on-ones with advisors, TA sessions, etiquette and oral exams – all part of what he jokingly called the “global misery phenomenon.”
Dr. Cham cited a Berkeley study of grad students that found that 95 per cent have felt overwhelmed during their studies. “In academia, it never ends,” he said. “There is always something you could be doing more of.”
This is where “the power of procrastination” becomes essential. According to Dr. Cham, procrastination is our mind’s way of reminding us that we cannot work 24 hours each day. Everyone should “relax, enjoy and listen to your inner procrastinator.”
Dr. Cham ended his talk on a more serious note, emphasizing the practical application of the postdoc education. In grad school, he said, you learn “to be an independent self-learner, to break things down, to see the big picture and to communicate it to others.” Dr. Cham stressed the last point, reminding the postdocs that they can have an impact on the world around them.
A successful event
As the day came to a close with a barbeque for the fellows and their families, a valuable sense of community was cultivated.
“I heard several postdocs commenting on how they met some people doing really interesting research that they had no idea about previously, which is great,” said Kirk.
With such an overwhelmingly positive response, FGS hopes to make the day an annual event.