For some, the final paper is even more dreaded than the final exam. At least with an exam, you can only do so much work in the time given. With a paper, there’s this sinister feeling that you always could have done more. So naturally, you put off thinking about it as long as you can.
I was reading the other day about the Kübler-Ross model, better known as the Five Stages of Grief. I thought I’d overlay the same ideas onto the process of writing a final paper. The comparison was uncanny.
STAGE 1 — DENIAL
“Professor ____ gave us the final today, but I’ve got like 2 and a half weeks to do it. Plenty of time.”
The student engages in a conscious or unconscious rejection of the situation. The disruption of his/her schedule is seen as an opportunity for more active forms of procrastination. His/her sense of time is distorted. The student seeks constant social interaction to avoid engaging with vague sense of impending doom. Bravo reality TV programming suddenly becomes fascinating.
STAGE 2 — ANGER
“What is this crap? 15 freaking pages of this? She barely even covered this in class.”
When the student is ready to engage with the assignment, he/she initially rejects the terms of the assignment as unreasonable. Feelings of outrage may be directed as the instructor, the institution, noisy neighbors and roommates, friends who keep sending emails and texts saying they’re going out tonight, the stupid library, stupid Internet, and stupid Microsoft Word, or perhaps even at the student’s stupid self for signing up for this stupid class in the first place.
STAGE 3 — BARGAINING
“Okay, I’ll start in the morning. One more party tonight, then I’ll get started in the morning, I promise.”
Students may attempt to bargain with themselves, e.g., offering an hour of work in exchange for an hour getting out of the dorm/apartment. They may also attempt to appease a higher power, sending emails to the instructor testing the flexibility of the page count or appealing for an extension.
STAGE 4 — DEPRESSION
“I can’t do this. This is impossible. What is wrong with me? Why did I wait until today. Guhhh…”
The student becomes silent and stares blankly at his/her monitor. Posture is slumped. Head may be flat against desk or keyboard. In the earlier stages, comments may be left on social media networks looking for sympathetic responses. In the later stages, acts of procrastination will no longer feature any elements of fun. The blank Word document will be opened and stared at for an indeterminate period of time.
STAGE 5 — ACCEPTANCE
“I haven’t slept in 36 hours. I’ve eaten three consecutive meals of Kraft mac n’ cheese and Dr. Pepper. I have no idea what I wrote. But it doesn’t matter. It’s done.”
After realizing he/she doesn’t even have the time to be depressed anymore, the student begins the assignment. Without any energy to devote toward emotional reactions anymore, the student pours out a series of stream-of-consciousness thoughts onto his/her keyboard. Stray glances at the clock only confirm that there isn’t time to look at the clock. Upon completion and submission of the assignment, the student receives an inexplicable surge of energy, later followed by an exhausted crash. Sometimes this happen in reverse.