Over the course of the last several years, I’ve noticed an epidemic.
Perhaps it’s because I’m a professional researcher (amongst other things), or perhaps it’s because I’m naturally less inclined than others of my acquaintance to ask for help, or perhaps it’s because self-sufficiency is a valuable character trait to me. Whatever it is, this epidemic is prominent enough to bear mentioning.
People would rather ask than find out.
It starts off simply enough; rather than dig through an instruction manual, you ask a friend how to accomplish task X utilizing tool Y. Since tool Y is something you are less familiar with than said fried (who perhaps uses tool Y in his work), this just makes sense. The friend tells you the straightforward answer to your straightforward question and you go on your merry way.
This quickly escalates into phone calls at 2AM from technically unsound persons asking you to effectively tech support their vaguely described problem over the phone for an hour when you should be sleeping.
In my case, I get asked questions about theatre. A lot. Generally I don’t mind these questions because it shows that my friends A) respect my field of expertise, B) like me enough to listen to me talk for a while, and C) are genuinely interested in something I’m passionate about. “Which play should I take my out-of-town friends to see right now?”, for instance, is a great question that I’d love to spend time answering during even my most busy days.
The only time asking questions is really an issue is when I have absolutely no time, every second I spend answering texts is a second I’m not spending reading about Weimar Classicism, and the question I am asked is one which I’ve already answered in a blog post. Recently.
Look, I would love to chat with you about theatre and, chances are, if you have
my phone number you’re someone I like enough to talk to. But right now, I really can’t spare the moment it will take to give you a well thought-out answer to most things. Especially if you can’t be bothered to do the preliminary research yourself to find out that the question you just asked me is something I’ve already taken time out of my day to write a nice, long, thoughtful post about.
So before you text to ask “what do you think of [x Shakespeare movie] or [y local theatre production]?”, take a moment to do your research.
This question, unfortunately, is just a symptom. It’s a symptom of the same disease that causes my students to ask “what does [x word] mean?” instead of looking it up in the dictionary. As a society, we’ve become complacent. I would like to say that this complacency is the death of intelligence, but that sounds far too chicken little for my tastes.
Here’s a care and feeding tip for all of you with over-wrought PhD students in your life: before you ask anything of them, keep in mind that they are working. Hard. All the time. Every little question/text is a moment out of their day. If you would like them to give you information, do them the courtesy of at least performing preliminary google searches for the information which you require before interrupting them with a question that could easily be answered via the internet. These questions entail you asking for a moment of your PhD student’s time; this is a professional commodity. Just like a shopkeeper sells wares, an academic makes her bread off of research skills, knowledge, and the time in which to accomplish these. Chances are, your PhD student is are happy to lend said professional commodity to you because she likes you. But if you’re basically asking for free labor, at least meet her halfway and show that you are respectful enough of her time and energy to utilize this time and energy for something worthwhile.
And now back to your regularly scheduled comps studying.
DISCLAIMER: It should be noted that this particular issue is one which I’ve noticed over time and a broad cross-section of people. In other words: this post isn’t a passive-aggressive attempt to respond to any one text or e-mail I’ve received over the past few weeks, but rather a generalization about the root of this problem.