Good academic habits.


I was a spectacularly average honours student in both high school and undergrad. Not ‘average’ meaning ‘hard-working’ or ‘clever’, but a solid B student for most of my academic career. I did the minimum to be kept in my program most of the time; I mean, there were video games to be played, television shows to be watched, and beer to be drunk.

Despite my general lack of follow-through on ambitious tasks (at least not until the very last conceivable second), I still think about returning to academia; however,  five years on, I’m more unsure about my mad academic skillz than ever and even less confident in my ability to stay on task.

I mean, I have a Masters degree, so I am neither stupid nor completely incapable (though, really, my dissertation was definitely far from ground-breaking), but I think I lack that particular drive (for now) to compete with other neurotics, most of whom will possess a greater depth of knowledge in their fields.

The bigger problem is that, like many, when there are big, important tasks to be done, I have (entirely self-diagnosed) temporary attention deficit disorder in times of stress. For example, in order to finish my dissertation, which took a stupidly long time considering it wasn’t particularly good, I had to uninstall online Scrabble.

Seriously. Before I even left Birmingham, I would sit with a pile of 10 library books, including ILLs that needed returning within days, and play Scrabble for four or five hours at a time. Then I’d get bored and go for a walk or to the gym. Then I might come back and take a few notes. If I turned on music, all was lost because I’d sing along. If the TV was on, sometimes I could work for a while, but only until something of mild interest happened. A rerun of Friends I hadn’t seen in a few months, for example.

Eventually, I figured out a solution (of sorts). I found it impossible to work in the library because it was too quiet, so I would spend hours of time in a Caffe Nero in Harborne (making a £1.90 espresso last for an afternoon is one of my truly amazing skills). I needed a din, preferably voices loud enough to hear, but not loud enough to be listened to. That would occupy the restless part of my brain somehow and I could get work done.

Nowadays, I have trouble recreating this. I signed up for an online course recently. I say recently; it was six months ago and I just missed the extension deadline. However, this time around, my distractions have been far greater than a Channel 4 documentary on the strangest things to ever be taken out of a human or a new version of Bejeweled; I have a job. A career (of sorts), even.

Admittedly, I’m no great shakes and staying on task at work all the time either, but I have to concentrate (at least a bit) while I’m in the office, so when I get home, all bets are off. I can’t recreate the Caffe Nero experience in Ottawa (so far); I don’t know if it’s because coffee shops here are louder or what, but that temporary ADD is worse than ever. Occasionally, I am able to get some things done if I have a movie I’ve seen a million times before on in the living room while I study at the dining room table, but most of the time? Not so much.

This, above all, is the biggest threat to my ever coming up with the Next Great Theory on Canadian immigration propaganda in the 20th century or, and I actually proposed this as a dissertation topic, how the Simpsons are this generation’s most important history teachers. A damn shame, really, since those would be truly important contributions to the already bloated historical canon.

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