My philosopher and I refer to the end of the academic semester as paper-writing season for the obvious reason that it is the time of the semester when all philosophers are buried in mounds of texts and articles, frantically writing papers for all of their graduate courses. Graduate students start to keep even stranger hours than normal and walk around the department with bloodshot and very desperate eyes, hoping that we will host some sort of department event that will have snacks so they won’t have to leave the office to scrounge up meals.
For those of you non-philosophers who are not as familiar with the academic life of your grad student philosopher, their semester is usually structured in the following way:
1. Read really hard stuff for 15-16 weeks of the semester
2. Prepare well enough to discuss the article/book during class periods (usually articles)
3. Either write 2-ish page reading responses (I per week) during the course of the semester, with one long-ish paper at the end of the semester; write two, 10-15 page papers, one at the midterm and one at the end of the semester; or write one 25-ish page paper at the end of the semester
As you can see, the end of the semester is usually weighted heavily with paper-writing.
Your philosopher, especially if they are either a new grad student or a burnt-out grad student, may always look like the kind of grad student I described previously. So how else can you tell that it is, indeed, paper-writing season?
1. When you enter a philosopher’s work space, you may see more papers scattered over the floor or in large, messy piles than usual.
2. You may discover your philosopher asleep within these paper piles.
3. If you were to ask your philosopher when they last ate food, they may either not understand the question or may not remember.
4. Your philosopher may go through periods of intense, existential angst and ask you repeatedly why they ever chose to go into academic philosophy. The best way to handle these periods is to bake them cookies and take them for a walk out of doors.
One of my favorite parts about paper-writing season is a phenomenon I like to call lower-willpower advantages. There have been several scientific studies, one of which you can read a short summary about here, that note that people who expend a great amount of willpower over something (i.e. focus for intense amounts of paper-writing and researching) will have less willpower over everything else.
Since your philosopher will be expending such large amounts of willpower to finish papers, this is the prime time to do things like go out to eat all the time, buy new things, or get your philosopher to agree to doing some activity at a later date that they usually hate to do and turn down (i.e. attend a symphony concert). Your philosopher will probably not have either the willpower or the time to protest about the finances when you say something like, “You are really stressed right now. Why don’t we just go out for dinner tonight?” They will also not notice when you buy new things, which can be very advantageous for those of you—particularly spouses—who like to spend money and dislike it when your practical philosopher gives you a concrete argument as to why you should not spend the money on whatever it is you want. They won’t have the time or energy to argue with you during paper-writing season!
In all seriousness, paper-writing season is very stressful for grad student philosophers, so taking the time to do something kind for them will be appreciated, if not at the time (they may be too stressed to acknowledge the kindness at the time you perform it), then later. Don’t be bad like me and take too much advantage of paper-writing season.
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