Deadline vs. Inertia: Round 1, Fight!

Posted on July 21, 2010 by

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I have to admit, I am of two minds when it comes to deadlines. The cool, rational half of me likes to have things done at least two weeks in advance to allow for revisions, edits, and tweaks at appropriate intervals. This also allows for healthier eating and sleeping habits. The brash, impulsive half of me works better under pressure, only sixty seconds on the clock to either shoot from where I stand, or pass the ball. I suppose the ball-passing metaphor works when drafting a manuscript, considering how different an initial draft and a published article are and how much collaboration goes into writing an article.

In a way, I suppose I have followed both approaches. I had written out a draft before I even had real results, or even before I had collected all data. On the other hand, here I am, reading more articles for structural ideas, emailing others for their input and additional information, and poring over my data to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I hear this song in my head when I wake up in the morning and fall asleep to the sound of a clock ticking at night.

What does it all mean? Just because I may have a solid article draft to shop around to different publications by Friday or next Friday (or one of the subsequent Fridays after that), does it mean that I’m “done?” This isn’t like turning in an assignment for the final result to show up in final grades at the end of semester. After all, I do have that pesky tendency to raise more questions than I can answer at once, sort of like my tendency to not be able to pick between dessert options, resulting in double dessert Thursdays. Yet each question, like each dessert is a different flavor to satisfy different needs. While double dessert may be plausible, triple or quadruple would be a terrible idea.

The current shape of my questions has changed as much as the focus of my to-be-completed article. “How are data housed in different repositories cited and attributed” eventually became “Why is it difficult to find citations and attributions for reused repository datasets?” I went from originally focusing on a quantitative study to writing a perspectives piece. It was as if I wanted to make a tres leches cake, but only had eggs and condensed milk, so I ended up making a flan instead. While delicious and satisfying (and hopefully informative and potentially provocative in the case of my article), it still wasn’t quite what I originally had in mind.

Yet the wonderful thing about science (and cooking) is that there is always room and time for re-evaluation and innovation. I don’t have to have all of the answers at once, and frankly, if I did, that would hardly be credible. This is what I liked about the idea of data repositories in the first place: the idea that all the hours of work that go into collecting data aren’t brushed aside once an initial product has been created (or in some cases, if a product is not created). The last thing I would want is for my data or my ideas to collect dust on a shelf. What if I could come back to it later with a fresh brain and set of eyes with the 20/20 vision afforded to those looking at things in the right amount of hindsight? What if it could help someone else? What if somebody could use it as a base to build off of for future studies to answer questions I either raised, but could not answer at the time or could not even think of raising? It would be like that layered pecan-sweet potato pie I saw once (perhaps in a dream).

However, I do have to have some answers right now, so it’s great that I have a team to work with who’ll tell me if I’m making wild conjecture or if I otherwise don’t have enough data to back up a claim. Either way, the clock is ticking and the oven is preheated. Let’s make some dessert do some science.

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