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Dr. Cham onstage

Dr. Jorge Cham at the 2016 NICHD Fellows Retreat.

Photo by Jeremy Swan.

Dr. Jorge Cham, creator of PHD Comics and co-founder of PHDtv, gave the afternoon keynote address at the NICHD Fellows Retreat last spring. His talk, entitled “The Power of Procrastination,” spanned the creation of his comics to the potential usefulness of procrastination.

Cham began PHD Comics while a graduate student at Stanford University, where he saw an ad in the newspaper looking for help with their comic section. Using this opportunity, he was pleased to share stories representative of the people and the culture of graduate school. Eventually, he posted the comics online, and they became popular throughout the world. He found that these stories of graduate school and research resonated regardless of the academic background or country of origin of the viewers.

Many fans have thanked Cham for his comics, some saying the comics are accurate depictions of academia, and others confessing the comics allow them to procrastinate from their own research. Cham has helped trainees realize that they are not the only ones who feel a certain way about the graduate school environment, a common message he receives from fans. Research and academics can be very isolating work, and the fact that these comics help others feel like they are part of a community has led Cham to appreciate that the comics are more meaningful than he had originally thought.

Cham then shared his thoughts on procrastination. He discussed how procrastination doesn’t equate to laziness, and revealed several examples of useful work accomplished by academics while allegedly procrastinating, such as the creation of Google by graduate students. He also mentioned that time away from work could be important for encouraging creativity.

Ultimately, Cham thinks that the main issue with procrastination is not a lack of work being accomplished, but rather people feeling guilty over using time to do what they want in addition to research. This can be particularly difficult in academe because there is an endless supply of work and not necessarily a regular workweek.

Overall, Cham believes that procrastination is not necessarily a waste of time—it is about the work people actually desire to undertake. Therefore, he feels that it can be beneficial to engage in some procrastination from time to time. Maybe you should try it tomorrow…or next week, or maybe sometime next month…