This is a tricky question to answer. I was going to answer what habits I found “productive” before realizing the question asked for “unproductive”.
The thing is, a PhD is such a program that it, very nonchalantly and very subtly, lights a fire up your behind and takes care of most of your unproductive habits. Most of the time, you wouldn’t even know.
I was very undisciplined when I started my PhD.
During my first year, I would arrive at my lab around 10 in the morning, more than an hour after the last PhD scholar arrived at work, leave on the dot of 5 in the evening, while everyone else still stuck around at work. I’d head home, make myself a cup of tea, walk up to my terrace and enjoy an absolutely gorgeous sunset over the lake. Every. Single. Day.
But then, soon enough, coursework and pilot studies kicked in.
My pilot studies were extremely time sensitive, and I had to run three or four reactions a day, each about 5–6 hours. That meant, I had to start pulling all nighters in my lab, sleep there, using a massive introduction to Raman Spectroscopy textbook as a pillow. Most importantly, that was the end of my 5 pm winding up and getting out.
And then I had to balance my experiments and study for my coursework exams. Yeah. The fire was just getting started.
- Value for Time and Overconfidence
I never used to value my time invested and I was overconfident!
I always felt I could do a lot more that I could actually handle. I felt I could volunteer for the national laser symposium, do my experiments, write my monthly reports, and draft project reports all at the same time within a few days.
Who was I kidding.
My experiments went all over the place. I was not entirely focused on my experiments and screwed up and wasted resources for about 4 or 5 reactions that I should have ideally done without any problems. I messed up my project reports by missing key points and observations in the paper, thereby embarrassing not just myself, but my thesis advisor as well, in front of the doctoral committee.
My thesis advisor, however, was nonplussed! He knew this was going to happen!
Over time, you learn to do all of these at the same time without being overconfident, and without compromising the quality of your work. Overconfidence is a killer!
One thing you do need to remember is your research is your first priority. No one is going to condemn you for not being a part of a conference organizing committee provided you’re a 100% committed and dedicated to your work.
- Value for Money
One of my biggest peeves is the way a lot of research scholars spend their money.
When I was in my fourth year, my stipend ran out. I had managed to save a wee bit and the rest of the money I earned by freelancing. It was a lot of hard-work. But I was committed to my work and to doing a good PhD.
Looking back, those additional 8–12 months that I spent freelancing, made the difference between graduating with 5 papers and graduating with 10 papers.
I’ve seen a lot of research scholars blow up their entire monthly stipend in a week or two and then get money from home for the remainder of the month. Yes, perhaps their parents can afford it and I shouldn’t judge. I wouldn’t have had a problem with what they do with their stipends provided there was some research outcome. But not working and yet blowing up money makes me question the candidate’s seriousness.
That brings me to my next peeve — seriousness, or its lack of.
- Lack of Overall Commitment
I know research scholars who enroll in a PhD because they:
- couldn’t find a job
- wanted to make some “easy money”
- wanted to spend time away from home
- wanted to build their matrimonial profile
- wanted to delay their marriage
- wanted a Dr. before their name
These guys piss me off. I know a guy who, in his sixth year as a PhD scholar, got two papers published in shitty paid journals to fulfill his minimum publications criteria because, otherwise, he’d have lost his degree.
I know a girl who couldn’t find a job after her M.Tech. and enrolled in a PhD. She’s in her fourth year, no papers, no stipend (family pays for her), and parties all the time.
I mean, sure they wouldn’t be worth much in the market once they graduate, but my objection is that they used up a position someone deserving could have made use of.
Skills like collaborations, subject knowledge, setting goals, mentoring, etc., are things you would ideally pick up as you progress through your PhD. a Good PhD would demand everything you’ve got and if your PhD doesn’t test your limits, maybe you should think about what new you’re adding to your field.