Fly too high, pay the price

One characteristic that many graduate students have, and people tend to use to describe me, is compulsiveness. I’m often compelled to delve deep into the literature, analyze data, or write on regardless of the rationality of the motivation. This characteristic is not constrained to academic work. Rather, it infects other arenas of my life.

For example, I decided that it was high time to clean my house and everything in it thoroughly. So thoroughly, in fact, that I accidentally suctioned off my tab key right off my laptop keyboard with the vacuum cleaner. The following dialogue with Will occurred after I gutted the vacuum and cut open the bag to retrieve the key:

Me: Look how much lint there is. I just changed the bag!
Will: Did you have to waste that vacuum cleaner bag? It’s practically empty.
Me: What is more important, the tab key or the disposable bag?!
Will: How did the tab key get in there?

Another example. Will asked me to knit him a sweater as a congratulatory gift for his MA thesis defense. He chose a pattern calling for what seemed like endless stockinette stitch, which is relaxing for some,


but intolerably repetitive for me, in Men’s large.

Months came and went with little progress. After some pointed reminders (the defense was in September), I sighed and took it up again. Finally, I proclaimed that I will complete this cardigan on the weekend, even if my hands, already overworked from thesis writing on the computer, throbbed. I finished knitting, then whip-stitched the seams and sewed in a zipper.


Triumphant, I beamed at the detail,

and boasted that I might conceivably even knit another monstrously huge sweater. Then, I noticed this.

The collars didn’t match up. Not at all. How could this happen to me? In my compulsive rush to finish the sweater, I overlooked a major mismatch. I’ll have to rip out one side, block again, and regroup.

By now, you may be wondering what housework and knitting have to do with my research. There is a point, I assure you. It is the distinct similarity in the way I approach all aspects of my life. I intensely focus on doing whatever I do, and sometimes I get so caught up with it that I lose sight of what is important. With the cardigan, symmetry in placement of the zipper is crucial to the utility of the garment. With cleaning, it is no good having a clean keyboard if you’re missing a tab key. So, with my research, I’ve taken greater care. I’ve asked my committee members to comment on an episode of progressive discourse that I’ve characterized, to ensure that they think it is answering my research question, and that the kind of analysis I’m doing is worth continuing. I’ve already had some feedback from my supervisor and research group, so this is the next step to ensure that I do not fly too high and pay the price like Icarus .


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