Deadlines are tricky things. When you are a young researcher deadlines are scary things that cause sleepless nights and sweaty lab coats. When you are an older researcher deadlines are more suggested, vague and probably for someone else.

The word ‘deadline’ means helpfully pretty much exactly what it sounds like. It’s a line that if you cross you’d be shot dead. In a research lab this is still almost literally true as I’ve worked with people who could kill you with the cold angry look they gave you if you crossed the line into their part of the lab bench.

In recent months I have been particularly bad at meeting deadlines. I would argue that this is because the deadlines are unreasonable. Some are so close to when they are set that it’s hardly worth trying, others are so far away that they were easy to forget. Neither of which are any fault right?

Luckily for me despite missing several deadlines I’ve actually missed very few Deadlines. That is an enjoyably nonsense sentence that needs some explaining.

See for people new to research there are two kinds of deadlines, deadlines and Deadlines (there are also which are similar to deadlines but are ones you were never told about, but we’re not going to tell you about them here).

The first deadlines are soft friendly deadlines. These are the kinds of lines there if you cross them you don’t get shot dead but you might get something else not quite as bad.

Some deadlines are very loose and crossing them might result in, at most, a disapproving look. Examples of this are initial conference submission deadlines. Practically all conference deadlines are extended and so you can be sure that the first date is very much a soft friendly deadline.

Other deadlines are worse and instead of being shot it might result in a Chinese burn or a swift kick in shins. These are deadlines for remembering to submit and invoice on time or filing your self appraisal with your boss. Missing a deadline will make you feel bad but you can see make it up.

Deadlines are by comparison immovable things that if you cross them will result in the research equivalent of being shot, such as having your lab access revoked.

The severity of a Deadline depends a lot on the circumstances and how terrifying the person setting it is. If you miss a Deadline you can sometimes be used as an example to others to make sure that missing a Deadline is a thing to be feared. Public flogging isn’t allowed in labs but making you wear the bright blue ‘visitor’ lab coat because you missed the Deadline for new orders is.

It is pretty common that once you miss a deadline it will be replaced with a Deadline. However sometimes you might get several deadlines before it is upgraded to a a Deadline. Telling the difference is very important.

When are new to researcher is can be very difficult to differentiate deadlines and Deadlines. It is a skill that is practically impossible to teach via anything other than exposure. So when more senior researchers give you lots of deadlines they aren’t being cruel or trying to stress you out its important researcher skills training.

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Categories: ErrantWritings

1 Comment

Jeremy · 30 January 2019 at 17:48

Great post as always Matthew! My go-to strategy for deadlines (or Deadlines) is to get the task done so quickly that everyone *else* starts thinking about their own deadlines. Maybe not the best advice for a procrastinator, but it works for me.

Also, I just wanted to note that your comic isn’t showing up in my RSS feed. I know I might be part of the 0.000001% that uses RSS still, but even when I click on your post here on a computer, the image isn’t showing up. I know you have a thumbnail (I can see the thumbnail), but it’s like the image isn’t actually posted in the piece.

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