How your work can be just like a TV pilot

pilot_klein(Photo by me)


What happened?

I watched TV. ‘Big deal’, you might think, but for me, this was quite enlightening. But one step back, and I’m going to tell you more. When I feel like nothing I write for my thesis works anymore, I tend to resort to watching DVDs of my favourite TV series. And I get sad when they’re over, so I often resort to the bonus features, which, quite often, come with the rejected pilot of the series. What’s a pilot? It’s a like a test episode of a new series, where the main concepts and characters are shown, and it is generally tested whether these might carry a whole series.

And this is where this gets interesting.

What do I think about this?

Do you know that the big networks often reject TV pilots? Well, rejected is not the right term, as the producers often get a second chance to make it better. A process which is not unlike the interaction between a professor, a PhD supervisor even, who listens to the ideas of their student, might endorse some and reject other, but in the end, who helps to make the PhD student’s work better. I as the student might think that my ideas are great, that they don’t need any polishing, but, oh boy, they always do.

Just like these pilots. As mentioned before, I love watching them, just to compare them with the final product. And I always find that they are very rough around the edges, that certain storylines do not work, that the characters are not as refined as they should be, that some scenes appear to be out of order.

And when I sat there, shaking my head at quite a few of these things while watching the pilot of a series I love, it hit me – it’s just the same with my PhD thesis. I do not write a perfect piece with my first try on spelling my ideas out on paper, not even my first draft is perfect, never. My chapters may appear not as organized as they could be, and it took quite some time to pin down the “story” of my PhD thesis so that it is not only appealing to me, but also to others. Thank God there was my supervisor, being my ‘network’, and talking with me about all this.

I do embrace my ‘pilots’, my very first work, getting it all out. But, whenever I hand something in, present my ideas or preliminary results, I am very grateful for critique, for anyone trying to get my thesis better, for getting a better angle out of my storyline, or my work overall. Yes, that’s the same in television and for PhD theses – you have to have a storyline, and it has to be consistent. The great ideas might all be there, they probably are, but they have to be presented in a way that your viewers, sorry, your thesis committee or anyone else reading your work will get the most out of it. But that’s another story, and reading over this again, the last comment should probably not be here – too bad, even final products do have glitches.


So, all in all, procrastinating can be quite valuable. So, whenever I get anxious about my work, about my first draft and how I did not pin down exactly what I wanted to say, I’m grateful there is the ‘network ‘ in the background, my supervisors, critiquing my work, and helping me see what’s already there. Meaning, it’s not bad if people critique your work – it was only your first try. On to the final product then, right?



Ruhe in Frieden, Steve Jobs

„…the only way to do great work is to love what you do.“ (Steve Jobs)

Auch, wenn dieser Post nichts mit Politik zu tun hat, möchte ich trotzdem meinen Kummer über den Tod von Steve Jobs ausdrücken. Natürlich kannte ich ihn nicht persönlich, aber er war wohl nicht nur für mich eine inspirierende Persönlichkeit, die mir gezeigt hat, was man erreichen kann, wenn man nur dranbleibt und nicht aufgibt. Dazu sei jedem seine Biographie empfohlen.

Inspirierend fand ich vor allen Dingen seine Rede von 2005 vor Studenten der Stanford University auf einer Abschlussfeier. Ich höre sie mir dann und wann immer mal wieder gerne an, und kann jedem,
ob nun Student, Doktorand oder professioneller Boxer, ans Herz legen, sich diese 14 Minuten zu nehmen. Auch, wenn man nun wahrlein kein Apple-Jünger ist.

Das Transkript der Rede findet sich hier.