One of the reasons that the Paper From Hell was abandoned on a shelf for two years is that it was a Hydra. The Hydra is a creature of Greek mythology, a many-headed reptilian monster; every time a head is chopped off, multiple new heads grow to replace it. (If you’ve seen Disney’s Hercules, you’ll know what I mean – although please do not ever use that movie as an actual source of Greek mythology.)
Possessing an equally poisonous (if metaphorical) venom, the to-do list for Paper From Hell could not be conquered by ordinary mortals. Any attempt to check off an item on that list would inevitably result in at least three more. And not little fiddly tasks, either (although those were certainly not lacking). Big, time-consuming, your-results-might-be-meaningless-without-it items.
Eventually, I decided that the toxicity of the Paper From Hell was negatively affecting my research productivity. Hence the banishment to the shelf. But I never fully gave up on the idea of finishing it, if only to prove to myself that I could.
Last week, with a renewed burst of mental energy, I took up the Paper From Hell again. I’ve managed to consistently work on it for a few hours each weekday without falling into the pit of despair, which is a remarkable achievement in and of itself. Abandoning the old to-do list completely, I read through the paper with a fresh eye, determined to do just the barest minimum necessary to finish it off for journal submission.
But then the Hydra reared its heads again.
Something that should be incredibly straightforward is not. Something that the research literature treats as a settled problem has glaring flaws. Numbers that other scientists quote without much thought are incompatible with other numbers quoted by at least as many others. These numbers are not the topic of the paper; they are the basis of a tool far beyond the scope of my research.
This means more time. More plots. More reading, and yet another revision of what my results really mean. I have to tell myself I am capable of chopping this head off, too, though my sword grows heavy and I am tired.
Because if I can do this – if I can drag this monster of a paper kicking and screaming to publication – then maybe, just maybe, I am capable of finishing my PhD.