It’s “That Time” of the Science

I didn’t formally sign up for International Dissertation Writing Month, but I did set myself a couple of goals for November. I’m not sure I’ve done enough to consider myself an InaDWriMo winner yet (though there’s still time!) but I’ve made more than zero progress, so that’s good. However, I still find myself deeply embedded in thesis-related gloom, so it’s nice to find inspiration in my RSS feeds. This time, it’s from Niniane, who is doing the real NaNoWriMo:

The Nanowrimo organization sends out pep talks once or twice per week. Most of them are corny and useless. But last week they had one from Neil Gaiman, which I and all of my friends agree was truly uplifting:

The last novel I wrote (it was ANANSI BOYS, in case you were wondering) when I got three-quarters of the way through I called my agent. I told her how stupid I felt writing something no-one would ever want to read, how thin the characters were, how pointless the plot. I strongly suggested that I was ready to abandon this book and write something else instead, or perhaps I could abandon the book and take up a new life as a landscape gardener, bank-robber, short-order cook or marine biologist. And instead of sympathising or agreeing with me, or blasting me forward with a wave of enthusiasm—or even arguing with me—she simply said, suspiciously cheerfully, “Oh, you’re at that part of the book, are you?”

I was shocked. “You mean I’ve done this before?”

“You don’t remember?”

“Not really.”

“Oh yes,” she said. “You do this every time you write a novel. But so do all my other clients.”

I’m at that point of the science. With this project, I’ve actually been at that point of the science for a very long time. The people around me seem to disagree with my ceaseless proclamations of epistemological doom, though, so I soldier on. I am constantly finding new and creative ways to enlarge my error bars.

What do you do when you’re stuck at that point of the science?


  1. Cosma wrote:


  2. yami wrote:

    Good call!

  3. BrianR wrote:

    For me, I realized that getting to that point is science. So, it’s not about avoiding it, but learning about what you’re doing when you do get there. It’s a critical part of the process. Even figuring out what you’re doing isn’t working is figuring something out.

  4. ChrisR wrote:

    What Brian said. If you’re not at least a little bit stuck, you’re not studying anything interesting.

  5. Wren wrote:

    I got a job, doing more science, which motivated me to finish the old science so I could do new science. At last, a reasonable explanation of the endless psotdoc cycle.

  6. yami wrote:

    Yeah, the problem is really that the “stuck” involves a heavy dose of “and this isn’t even interesting!”

    Wren: yes, needing to finish the thesis is having that effect.

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