Tag Archives: deep work

How to get compliments from someone you admire

(Nota: esse texto está em inglês como parte de um experimento. Por favor, digam-me nos comentários o que acharam)

I had been postponing this task for months. It’s weird, since one of the things I was most excited to do here in Denmark was to be able to talk in person to him, but my shyness was taking control of me, as usual. But I finally sent an email:

Hey, I’ve got some ideas I would like to discuss with you, if you have time.

And he had time. He, in the case, is one of the researchers I admire the most in the world. Since beginning my PhD, I’ve devoured his thesis, I’ve read all his papers, and I even wrote a paper myself largely based on his work. He is one of the definitive references in our field — magnet design for magnetic refrigeration, if you want to know —, and every publication in this area for the last decade cites one or many of his works.

But more important, he is such a nice person.

So here I was, talking to him. I have spent the last two years working on my own magnet design and my own theories. I combined his ideas with concepts from one of his students, plus some other works, and I devised a design methodology that, I believe, has great potential. But I needed his opinion.

He was impressed. Multiple times he said: “I’ve never thought of that” and “Very nice work”. Within minutes we were brainstorming ideas for a joint publication.

I’m a mechanical engineer. Until two years ago I didn’t know anything about magnetism, and now I am talking to an expert in magnet design as equal. How did I get to this point?

The answer, of course, is deep work. Hard, distraction-free work.

One of the greatest insights of my proposed methodology (which needs much testing and is far from finished, I should emphasize) was taken from the thesis of the student of him I talked about. I spent months where I was dedicating whole days to reading it, page after page multiple times, until I could finally understand all concepts. And when I was done, I had to re-teach myself Java, and then spend some other months studying the API from the program we use to do the magnet simulations, so that so I could implement all these ideas. And then I had to test, and fix bugs, and create plots.

Progress was slow, and many times I felt I was actually wasting time. I should be just using other language, or doing the simulations manually, just generating results faster. But if I had done that, I wouldn’t be here, getting compliments from someone I admire.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll repeat: PhD students cannot be afraid of deep diving into theories, even the most fundamental of them. Two years ago I had to buy a (undergraduate level) book on electromagnetism, so that I could understand how currents generate magnetic fields, and how to calculate them — I even did the exercises! Yes, it is a challenge, because we all have meetings, presentations, papers, reports, deadlines. But in the same way as you make time to prepare for a meeting and other time-sensitive things, you have to make time for studying hard things. Study productivity, wake up earlier, stop working with one eye on WhatsApp, live a healthier lifestyle (so that you have the energy to work throughout the day).

Believe me, it’s worth it.