May 14, 2004

Dirty Little Secrets

Okay, here is a dirty little secret of SIMS:

Those of us graduating, even though yesterday at 5pm was the deadline for everything, are still working on something today. Extensions, quiet little agreements, whatever. Almost everyone I talked with last night, getting drinks after everyone presented their work publicly for the department, murmured quietly and rather grimly that in fact, they still have more to do today.

SIMS and the masters thing elicit four phases: there's the first semester, where most everyone is slammed with an enormous amount of work in core classes, followed by phase two, the first spring semester, where everyone tries to do everything, break out of the core, experiment, in preparation for the final big project in a year. People are still reading everything assigned, plus a lot that's recommended, and doing lots of extra work just because. 18 graduate units that you complete fully. Burn out by May means you don't get rested up until around July.

August starts, and you start phase three: less reading is getting done, negotiating projects, people, working relationships with profs and researchers, still an enormous number of credits. Phase four, the second Spring semester, fewer credits, the hard decisions, committing to a final project, which is research and theory, making a system, design and usability, documentation and analysis, a huge write up (150 pages until I reduced the font to 10pt to get it to 125) and 30 minute public presentation. And then your classes demand work too and you have to fit that in, though reading the second half of the semester becomes a real struggle. It was very hard to concentrate on socio-technical theory or UI design theory when under the pressure of the projects and finishing deadlines. And yet you do it. Classmates of mine apparently suffered breakdowns, went to whatever the health thing is on campus for some sort of prescriptive calming agent, sleeping pills, etc, for the pressure. People freaking out, stressed. I overheard a project group two weeks ago, where one person said to another (after months of round the clock work) "I don't know what we're doing here, I mean, what does our system do anyway?"

Thank god I was working with two really brilliant guys, and didn't totally freak out, beyond my ten days at spring break, where I couldn't do anything, which took two weeks for catching up, and the guilt almost killed me. But things were cool after that. It is an extremely stressful process, though I can't imagine there is much worse in industry, and therefore, for that alone it was an instructive process, not to mention what we each created is valuable, extremely interesting and really cool to watch presented. I cannot remember my own presentation and have no idea how it went. People said it was good, but you go into a zone and that's it, you deliver. You answer the questions at the end, and then you eat for the first time that day, at 6pm. And you mind is numb.

So, I still have one thing today, before the ceremonious end tomorrow. Will return to blogging in a bit I guess.

Posted by Mary Hodder at May 14, 2004 09:52 AM | TrackBack

"Burn out by May means you don't get rested up until around July."

haha, thanks for the heads-up!

I hope you've got some kind of a vacation ahead of you, because you need/deserve it. Congratulations!

Posted by: Jeff at May 14, 2004 11:18 AM