Tentpoles

Earlier this evening, with plenty of time to spare (a good seven minutes), we made a deadline to submit a paper for a major conference. As usual, the scramble near the end was a combination of tenseness and exhilaration — the former because everything becomes a gamble as a deadline draws near, and the latter for pretty much the same reasons.

As soon as the submission was in, one of the students asked me what we would be doing for the next major conference paper deadline, which is four months away. I hadn’t been letting myself think about that — one deadline at a time is plenty.

But once he asked, I realized I already knew what we were going to work on. Apparently, somewhere in the back of my mind I had already been thinking about that very question.

It strikes me now that each publication deadline forms a kind of tentpole to our research. These are moments that punctuate the time and give it structure, helping to impel the work forward.

If there were too little time between major deadlines we would not be able try something truly new and ambitious. And if there were too much time, we might lose all sense of urgency.

Four months seems to be about the right distance between tentpoles.

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