Bits of Advising, With a Quick Navel Dip

Just edited a student’s draft. Made over 300 comments in the pdf. Stu will not be happy. Stu is new and seemed quite perturbed when I returned a marked-up two-pager for a fellowship. Apparently, Stu thought my mind would be blown by the quality of their writing. I’m not kidding, Stu pretty much said so. I mean, Stu’s a native speaker, but has got a lot to learn about technical writing (and, near as I can judge, writing in general). We’re not in the Little League anymore. We’re writing as professional scientists.

Stu’s idiosyncrasy: Writing a paper like it is a murder mystery, with these vague hints on  what is to be shown later. You think you, as advisor, have seen it all. Nope.


I, personally, am doing quite well right now, enjoying the lack of buzzing around, delighted that all my trips from this spring and summer are cancelled (I know I should be making those trips, I am on sabbatical, that’s what the sabbatical is for, but I just hate hate hate airline travel), catching up on work, cooking every day, exercising, writing, having enough time with the sprogs, and still some left for reading and/or Netflix. It’s all very low-key and enjoyable. I’m never bored because I have lots of interests. It seems most introverts are doing well while sheltering in place.

The issue of one-track-mindedness came up several times with my students during the pandemic. Some really miss seeing people; some miss certain activities. One student, in particular, Stu 2, is a big-time athlete who has been cut off from training and is  devastated. The sport to which Stu 2 devotes hours each day is the one and only thing in Stu 2’s life besides the PhD. With the sport gone, as it’s not really something Stu 2 can practice within the confines of their apartment, Stu 2 is not doing well at all. All their other hobbies have fallen by the wayside. Apparently, Stu 2 tends to hyper-focus on one thing, which I suppose yields great dividends, but is suboptimal when the conditions are suboptimal themselves.

I’ve had to have this conversation several times over my career: telling the students to remember what they liked as kids, to focus on an art they liked to create or consume, to get back to that. Movies, books, playing an instrument, painting, dancing… There has to be something that can take the edge off.

I only started really, truly appreciating the arts and humanities when I stood on top of that hill of professional and personal milestones and said, “All right. Now what?” I honestly don’t understand how I’d never before then seen the vast importance of art for one’s soul, of the importance of examining the human condition. Actually, I probably do know: I had my nose to the grindstone for decades. There was no time to look up and see the world around me.

I wish I could instill in my kids and my students the importance of arts and humanities. I was an arty and crafty kid, I drew and wrote and sewed, but then it all went away as I focused on STEM. I wish I had awoken from my slumber sooner, I wish that someone had nudged me and said, hey, there’s more to life than work and guys. I think I would’ve been happier in my youth, much less prone to peer pressure and boy-related drama if I hadn’t allowed my early interests to get completely lost.

Blogosphere, how are you doing these days? Are you exploring new or forgotten interests? Enjoying and/or creating art? 


  1. One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever heard (second hand) was that an essay isn’t a joke, so the reader shouldn’t have to wait for the punch line.

  2. I don’t think I’ll feel right again until I no longer have to risk my life and my family’s life by going to the hospital to work every couple of days. Art is nice to appreciate from time to time, but of all of those things I only really enjoy writing, and all I want to write at the moment is rage filled, which only upsets people.

  3. Topic sentences FTW! Say what you’re going to say (intro). Then Say it (body). Then say what you said again (conclusion). Don’t make the reader work! Though, one of my current students has trouble crafting sentences and paragraphs which is beyond my capability. I sent him to the writing center and am hopeful that it will help (but how did he get this far?). He is very smart and good at the technical stuff, so maybe that’s how?

    re: art: I haven’t had time to create other than blog posts (and they’ve been pretty scattered posts). A lot of the stuff I did as a kid I stopped doing because I didn’t actually enjoy it; it was just a way to pass the time. But I’m getting some reading novels and watching youtube in… someone has to consume what people create!

    @omdg– I’ve kind of been appreciating your rage-filled posts.

  4. @n&m – Aw! That is really sweet! This really made me feel better. Thank you for saying so.

  5. She used to be on Ana’s blogroll (if you’re thinking of women doctors with children), but last time Ana did pruning she got rid of all but one of the blogs I liked (other than a couple that haven’t updated in ~a year).

    If you’re looking for good reading, solitary diner’s blogroll is my favorite. No BS, lots of interesting people, and I never feel dirty reading anyone she links to.

  6. I think the commenting problem may be because of your browser. I stopped being able to comment on blogger about a year ago when I was using Firefox or Safari, but it started working again when I switched to Chrome. I’m sorry I wish I knew another way to fix it.

  7. I was a crafty kid too, and it sure has come in handy trying to sew a mask with the most ridiculously inappropriate materials. But I’ll admit it was fun, even if absurd and ultimately scary that I need to do so.

    Introverts definitely are doing better. But as much as I enjoy all my little projects, so many little projects, they still barely take the edge off the fear and anxiety.

    Thrilled to see these new posts xyk. I thought you had stopped blogging.

  8. It is good to have a sewing machine in the house and enough fabric scraps to make as many masks as my wife and I need. I made my two with a curved seam down the front, but my wife opted to make hers with the pleated design from NY Times. I may make a third one for myself using a fold down the front and darts (, because I hate trying to press flat the curved seam. I also 3D-printed a nose piece to keep from fogging my glasses ( The nose clip does not fit my wife’s nose at all, and she declined to have me design and print one to fit her. (I think she’d going to try a doubled pipe-cleaner in a pocket on the mask.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s