When I began my PhD (in a STEM field; somewhat relevant), I had heard from a few people that most papers in my field get written at the last minute. I kind of took that as a personal quirk that those few people had.

I am now a little over half-way into the program, and have had the opportunity to work with many experienced researchers. Every paper I have been a part of did indeed end up being written at the last minute; sometimes just hours before the deadline. I like to start early and get a lot of the basic drafting done at least a few weeks in advance. This pattern that I have noticed in my colleagues causes me a lot of stress and anxiety, as a lot of things end up being changed close to the deadline, and a lot of my work -- that was initially acknowledged as correct -- ends up needing to be re-done in favor of last minute improvements. So essentially, I just end up doing the work twice.

I have always felt that making deliberate and steady progress was better than grinding. Perhaps academics are just very busy people (?) or perhaps I have only met people who prefer working this way. I would like to get a broad perspective on this from the Academia-SE community.

Is this how academic research is done in your respective fields? Is there a reasonable way to set expectations of myself and of others? I don't want to be pulling all-nighters for the rest of my career, so I look to those who feel the same way as myself for advice on how they make it work.

  • 5
    Are these conference papers? Journals don't usually have deadlines, except maybe for a special issue, and those have been so abused lately that I can't imagine ever publishing in one.
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 1 at 22:02
  • 13
    Well, for one, most fields don't rely on conference papers as a primary publishing venue. Let me guess - you're in CS (or AI/ML)?
    – Bryan Krause
    Oct 1 at 22:43
  • 7
    I get the sentiment behind this question, but the open-ended final paragraph pushes it into being structurally impossible to give one answer to the question as asked.
    – user176372
    Oct 2 at 0:08
  • 7
    @Stef the problem is not OP's time management. The problem is that his colleagues expect him to work and make changes to the paper until the very minute of the deadline.
    – wimi
    Oct 2 at 9:16
  • 3
    @Stef I completely agree, and that's how I always do it. Just wanted to clarify that in this case it is a problem of setting boundaries and not one of self discipline.
    – wimi
    Oct 2 at 12:23

4 Answers 4


Many academics wait until after the deadline to do things. If you include those as "last minute" then it's surely more than half.

A funding agency told me an experimental test was done. They got rid of the deadline for submitting applications. Once it was no longer possible to wait until the last minute, the number of applications dropped very substantially. This shows many applicants are unable to apply if they cannot wait until the deadline to do it.

academics are just very busy people

Doing things at the last minute is not an efficient way to handle being very busy.

Is there a reasonable way to set expectations of myself and of others?

"Lie" to them about the deadline. If the deadline is January 1, tell them "Please help me submit this by December 1." You do not need to actually lie; just present your preferred deadline without mentioning there is a separate, third party deadline.

I don't want to be pulling all-nighters for the rest of my career

Say no. Experiments might require working all night. Paperwork deadlines never require it.

  • 16
    This shows many applicants are unable to apply if they cannot wait until the deadline - or they assumed that their P(win) was much lower; no-deadline solicitations often don't have hard money behind them, at least at certain agencies.
    – cag51
    Oct 2 at 4:17
  • 3
    @cag51 This agency alleged the quality standards were unchanged and the funding level was adjusted proportionately. However, the details were unclear. Oct 2 at 12:12
  • 13
    @cag51 A review of no-deadline approaches found here suggests that removing the deadline from a program is typically associated with lower submission rate in subsequent years, even in absence of other obvious changes to the program: nsf-gov-resources.nsf.gov/2022-05/… Oct 2 at 18:27
  • 11
    Doing things at the last minute is a very efficient way to handle being busy. In computing we have a name for it: the lazy algorithm is one that defers work to the last moment possible before doing it. This is useful because it avoid the situation where you proactively end up doing a bunch of work and then find out you didn't need to. By analogy, If I write up my paper abstract, intro, related work, methodology, and only then do I do the actual research work, I might find out that my paper goes in a completely different direction and I need to re-write all that stuff. Lazy is not derogatory.
    – David
    Oct 2 at 20:47
  • 4
    @David That only applies if the different tasks have dependencies; most academics postpone unpleasant task A to do unrelated task B. Oct 2 at 21:03

I can’t speak for the field (computer science), but I find that to be either an exaggerated claim or evidence of something that really broke in the specific lab.

The written manuscript is an evolving document that changes with the research. It is not (ideally) the result of the research but rather a means of building and formalizing it. In a sense, it is the research.

Thus, it feels unlikely that someone came up with an idea, a model, ran experiments and wrote them up, all within a week of a deadline. At least not while maintaining some research standards.

What’s more likely is that some final results/issues are still worked through, which creates last-minute scrambles. This is not the same as “the paper got written last minute “.

  • 11
    This isn't true for everyone. Some people do experiments and data analysis for a year, then spend one day writing the paper. Oct 2 at 2:38
  • 8
    @bbq Publishing practices vary a lot by field so if you want specific answer, you'll have to mention a specific field.
    – Stef
    Oct 2 at 7:47
  • 1
    @bbq: This isn't the platform for that: academia.stackexchange.com/help/dont-ask
    – Ben Voigt
    Oct 2 at 21:52
  • 1
    @bbq: Bullets 2 and 3 of the avoid list apply, and only because you're looking for "breadth of perspectives"
    – Ben Voigt
    Oct 2 at 22:15
  • 4
    @bbq But the meaning what a conference paper is is very different in different disciplines. In Physics and Mechanical Engineering I went to several conferences where many authors presented work that they already published in journals before and invited the audience to read those papers. Oct 3 at 8:56

Some research is never 'finished'

One issue of artificial deadlines is with respect to the (many!) kinds of research reports where the boundaries are fuzzy enough that deciding when to publish is effectively an arbitrary choice - in such papers you're reporting your findings and progress on a topic where one can always do more.

For papers like that, you're effectively reporting the "best known result as of this deadline" and it doesn't make sense to prepare the data and analysis in advance if you're not going to publish it right now, since a month later you'll have better data from newer experiments. This leads to intentionally planning the project explicitly working backwards from the deadline, expecting to finish at it, but not leaving much extra time.

The other reasonably frequent situation is to plan based on the end of some funding grant, where you'd want to wrap up all the work (including the publication) by a specific deadline after which you stop paying the involved people to work on that project - and again, you want to report on all the experiments you manage to complete within that project, so the paper can only be finalized close to the last minute.


When it comes to conference papers it really depends on your field. In chemistry true conference papers are almost non-existent, and conference abstracts are really almost always written shortly before the deadline and also without much care (they are usually not even considered a decent publication, but merely an intention about which topic one wants to speak about), while in computer science conference papers are usually fully worked out research reports. For full papers I know the need to write them for a deadline only in regard with intermediate/final grant reports or sometimes themed issues of a journal, especially if meant to honor someone's birthday. One cannot always prevent this madness, unless one is the leader of one's own group (but then there are still the grant reports). So, from my experience, it is not the standard in my field, and many colleagues of me, and myself too, prefer to write their papers without any deadlines, since, in my opinion, this kind of slower writing can help to improve the paper in many regards. Sometimes one just needs time to think, and scientist should claim this time irrespective of any deadlines.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .