Trabalhando sob pressão


Essa semana estou tentando viver uma semana mais contemplativa, mais conectado a Deus. No meio de toda essa agitação, muitas vezes eu só quero estar sozinho com Ele.

Hoje estamos no meio do feriadão de Corpus Christi. Enquanto eu simplesmente observo a paisagem na janela, tudo parece tão anormalmente calmo, tão diferente de outros dias, e isso me fez pensar sobre minha rotina de trabalho.

Exagerando, acredito que existem dois tipos de pessoas: os que só funcionam sob pressão, e os que quebram. Eu definitivamente pertenço ao segundo grupo: prazos não me fazem ir para frente, eles me paralisam.

Eu me conheço e sei que faço o meu melhor trabalho quando estou calmo, quando minha tela de Hoje no Todoist está vazia, quando meu calendário está deserto. Nesses dias, minha mente está livre para mergulhar em algum artigo complicado que preciso entender, ou para criar um caderno Jupyter e fazer alguma análise mais complexa, ou para começar a escrever algo. Eu quero dias calmos não para que eu possa deitar e assistir Netflix, mas para que eu possa realmente trabalhar.

O lado ruim dessa minha personalidade é que sou um trabalhador lento, uma vez que gosto de deenvolver calmamente minhas ideias. Minha própria solução para isso é começar cedo e ser organizado. Eu não gosto de prazo, mas gerencio-os. Eu tento manter 2-3 projetos ativos, e trabalhar neles um pouco a cada dia até completá-los.

Eu ainda tenho de aprender muito; uma das maiores partes do meu doutorado está meses atrasada, e em parte a culpa é minha. Meu maior desafio: aprender a trabalhar com pessoas que precisam de pressão, e de trabalhar eu mesmo sob pressão nos tempos mais críticos (eles não vão durar para sempre).


Can I work only 40 hours as an academic?

Prof. Marco Mello has published (in Portuguese) some advice for people considering entering graduate school including how “graduate school is not a 9-to-5 job”, and that good doctoral students usually work way more than 40 hours a week.

Similar advice was given by Prof. Matt Might:

Ph.D. school is neither school nor work.

Ph.D. school is a monastic experience. And, a jealous hobby.

Solving problems and writing up papers well enough to pass peer review demands contemplative labor on days, nights and weekends.

Reading through all of the related work takes biblical levels of devotion.

Ph.D. school even comes with built-in vows of poverty and obedience.

The end brings an ecclesiastical robe and a clerical hood.

Students that treat Ph.D. school like a 9-5 endeavor are the ones that take 7+ years to finish, or end up ABD.]

Although I still haven’t completed my doctoral studies, and I greatly value advice from people who are more experienced than I am, I tend to disagree with this sort of argument. My views are more aligned with another Professor, Cal Newport; he argues that you should mantain a regular 9-5 schedule, and you can accomplish this by:

  • Dramatically cut back on the number of projects you are working on.
  • Ruthlessly cull inefficient habits from your daily schedule.
  • Risk mildly annoying or upsetting some people in exchange for large gains in time freedom.
  • Stop procrastinating.

From observing all kind of people working around me, I’ve come to the conclusion that working hours mean very little. If someone maintains two-hour lunch breaks, plus one-hour coffee breaks, plus 2-3 meetings per day, plus endless sessions to process email, he might as well have worked 12 hours in a day without producing any value. On the other hand, if I work say 7 hours per day (as is usual for me, and without including the lunch break), but am able to keep two sessions of 2.5 hours each of intense concentration in an important task (like programming, reading and writing papers, studying some topic), haven’t I worked enough?

Additionally, for a graduate student, work is a subtle definition. If I leave the lab somewhat early to go for a run, and in my practice I listen to some podcast that gives me an idea to try at work on the next day, am I working or not?

I may only “work”, sitting down at my desk, for 7-8 hours each day, but I am constantly thinking about work, about how can I better write some section of some paper, about what does that theory mean, about some result I got from a simulation.

And lastly, there are non-work things that help me to work. I spend almost one hour each day praying and reading the Bible; I could work during that time, but doing this instead makes more calm and more focused than if I simply “worked”. Same for exercising on the evenings, or relaxing while watching a movie on the weekends.

Am I wrong?


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.