Warning: Objects in Mirror May Appear Important Because They Appear Closer

I had an interesting meeting with one of my students who has been trying to allocate his time to various commitments, including the project that he’s doing with me. He had been spending most of his time on an assignment for another course and, while this assignment was important, I had to carry out one of the principle duties of the supervisor: pointing out the obvious when people have their face pressed too close to the window, staring at the things that are close.

There are three major things a project supervisor does: kick things off and give some ideas, tell the student when they’re not making good progress and help them to get back on track, and stop them before they run off into the distance and get them to write it all down as a thesis of some sort.

So, in our last meeting, I asked the student how much the other assignment was worth.

“About 10%.”

How much is your project work in terms of total courses?

“4 courses worth.”

So the project is 40 times the value of that assignment that has taken up most of your time? What’s that – 4,000%?

To his credit, he has been working along and it’s not too late yet, by any stretch of the imagination, but a little perspective is always handy. He has also started to plan his time out better and, most rewardingly, appreciates the perspective. This, to be honest, is the way that I like it: nothing bad has happened, everyone’s learned something. Hooray!

I sometimes wonder if it’s one of the crucial problems that we face as humans. Things that are close look bigger, whether optically because of how eyes work or because of things that are due tomorrow seem to have so much more importance than much, much bigger tasks due in four weeks. Oh, we could start talking about exponential time distributions or similar things but I prefer the comparison with the visual illusion.

Just because it looks close doesn’t mean it’s the biggest thing that you have to worry about.

Some close things are worth worrying about, however.

One Comment on “Warning: Objects in Mirror May Appear Important Because They Appear Closer”

  1. T says:

    I did this during my honours year as well (I was kept on track very well, as well, luckily). I’ve talked to others about this and often it seems to come down to “control”. If I can get 1% now that’s 1% done, controlled and out the way even if it’s blocking something worth 50% later on (exam revision is exactly like this too… you do in SWOTVAC because you’ve spent the semester trying to control all the 1% tutorials and 10% assignments).
    There’s also the 40% rule… you can’t drop assignments below 40%… and I know I always had trouble working out how much work constituted 40% (it’s usually not much!) and so would keep on working until I’d know I’d broken that hurdle, then would say “well, I’ve got 40%, I’ll go for 50% and make it a pass”… then 60, then 70 etc.
    So that’s another recent students experience of it… maybe that helps you get inside our heads more!


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