Me, myself, and my thesis: an extrovert’s struggle

Hi Everyone! It’s me, Katie! Remember me? Chances are you haven’t seen much of me lately. No, I’m not avoiding you, I promise. In truth, I miss you! Really I do! I miss being near you, the sound of your voice, your energy… Ok,  this is starting to sound weird. Let me explain:

I’m an extrovert. I say that in the Jung-ian sense of the word, not the party-animal, center of attention sense that you might be thinking. The dictionary does a pretty good job of describing what I mean: Extroversion-“the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with obtaining gratification from what is outside the self”. Basically, I prefer being around people. I like working in groups, interacting with others, and sharing thoughts and ideas. It energizes me, inspires me, and keeps me focused.

Which puts me in a sort of predicament. You see, not only am I an extrovert, but I’m an extrovert who is trying to write a thesis. Which, by its very nature, is an activity that tends to isolate one from other humans. It’s a solitary pursuit- just me, myself, and my computer, day in and day out. I’ve taken to working at home, because coffee shops always tempt me to spend money I don’t have getting overly caffeinated, and my office is on the other side of the island and lately has often been deserted anyway (and that’s because the Donahue lab is full of hard working go-getters who are always off doing hard work- whether it be field work, research cruises, writing their own theses, or, most recently, housing a tiny human in their body). And it’s occurred to me that my work may be suffering because of it.

An actual picture of me after days in my “home office”

You see, I find my suppressed extroversion manifesting in all sorts of counterproductive ways. I find myself obsessively checking all potential outlets of communication with the outside world- call log, texts, email, social media- all vain attempts at connecting with other humans that only serve to derail my train of thought. I find myself getting stuck on problems in my work, incapable of solving or moving past them. The weird thing is, often when I finally get around to articulating those problems to another sentient being, they often resolve themselves before I can even finish explaining them. People, just by existing and positioning themselves in my general vicinity, seem to make be a better, smarter, more efficient scientist. Even writing this blog, which I promise you is not exactly what I should be spending my time on right now, is an attempt to communicate with the outside world.

Which makes me wonder if there is a way to make thesis writing, or grad school in general, more accessible for extroverts. Group writing sessions? Communal work spaces? Daily coffee hours? Or perhaps just a shift in perspective. Most people come into grad school with the understanding that they will have to sacrifice their social interactions and leisure activities in order to singlehandedly produce the best possible thesis. But since when has the best possible anything been done by one person alone? Perhaps, if instead, incoming graduate students were lead to believe that it’s ok to bounce ideas off of other people, work together, or at least go out and see the sunshine and other humans every once in a while, grad school could be a place where both introverts and extroverts (and everyone in between!) could feel themselves flourishing.

Anyway, all of this philosophizing is actually just to say, if any of your grad student friends come up to you and seem waaaay too chatty (read: me), indulge them for a few minutes. It may just be the most productive part of their day!