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Volume 72, Issue 102, Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Delay studying; read this story

Comic strip creator explains how procrastination can improve graduate school experience

The Daily Cougar

A comic strip creator shed humorous light on graduate school stresses while exploring the causes of academic anxiety and the myths associated with procrastinating for an audience of UH students on Friday.

Jorge Cham has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and is the creator of Piled Higher and Deeper, a comic strip about life in graduate school.

"Generally it seems that the school tends to forget that there are grad students on campus. And in fact it seems that popular culture in general forgets there are grad students. ... So that's kind of what the strip became about: surviving graduate school," Cham said. 

Cham's idea for his comic strip originated during his first quarter at Stanford University when he realized there were a lot of graduate-school stories happening that popular culture was ignoring. 

"I remember thinking at the time that there were all these stories about grad students that aren't really being told anywhere else," Cham said 

Cham's comic strip was put on a Web site and grew from a Stanford University audience to one that now spans more than 1,000 universities worldwide, and he receives feedback from grad students who identify with his strip. 

"‘You make me feel less alone, and your comic is probably responsible for keeping many of us sane,'" Cham read from one reader's comments.

"This type of comment makes me think that maybe, just maybe, this isn't a big waste of time. It's just kind of a medium-sized waste of time," Cham said. 

A recent University of California at Berkley survey found that 95 percent of graduate students have felt overwhelmed, Cham said, and more than 67 percent have felt seriously depressed in their academic careers. 

"That is why I am here today. Because there is another way," he said. "And that way is the way of procrastination."

He explained that waiting till the last minute has developed a worse reputation than it deserves. 

"Procrastination really gets a bad rap. And it gets a bad rap because people confuse it with its close cousin, laziness. ... Laziness is when you don't want to do anything. Procrastination is when you just don't want to do anything now." 

Clinical research has found that overanalyzing concepts or focusing too hard on work can be detrimental, Cham said. 

"When trying to come up with insightful solutions to problems, what you're doing is you're trying to put together concepts in your brain that are not obviously connected," Cham said. "If you think about it too much or focus on it too hard, you can actually suppress some of those important connections."

The talk was part of a series designed to give students "a snap shot glimpse of what graduate school is all about," Dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics John Bear said.

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