Recently I was talking to a young professor who was surprised at the amount of, “what can you call it… s–t shoveling”, involved in the job. What is this activity? Editing! Not too long ago I had polished a bit of writing by this very individual, and while at first I was a bit disappointed by this characterization of such work, I saw the truth in it.

Some days, writing/editing is all I do. Papers, recommendation letters, reviews. Who would have thought this ~20 years ago? Freshman year, after one of the first paper deadlines for a philosophy class I decided I didn’t like two things about writing papers:

1) Deadline stress.

2) There was too much leeway — in writing you could flip the logic this way and that.

I don’t recall writing a single other paper for a class the rest of my undergrad years. At Caltech this was a non-trivial maneuver, as one had to take a humanities or social science course each quarter (they were on to paper-writing avoiding people like me!).

Maybe over the years I have learned to enjoy it more. Yes, the deadline stress, it can be fun. It gives one reason to stay up late, even in advanced age. The leeway – let’s face it, sometimes the way that results are presented can make them, um, more appealing. Finding that structure can be fun.

But compared to doing the actual research, it may very well be s.s. A couple of weeks ago, half way through editing paper #4 for a string of deadlines, I went back to running a simulation and crunching data. As I waited for a plot to be generated, I felt my heart skip a beat in anticipation. Writing a paper does not have that effect.

I relayed this observation to a visiting colleague, who said something to the effect of “Nothing beats the adrenaline rush of seeing that plot for the first time”. Agreed. Now back to some s.s.

  One Response to “S–t shoveling”

  1. Writing paper(s) – that’s the part of research I don’t like a lot (I’m a PhD student in CS).
    But I see some hope in your post that one day I may find some fun in it.
    For now it’s “s-t shoveling”… and squeezing to fit into the limit of pages :/

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