PGSA Newsletter Editorial: June
Kia ora Postgrads,
As a PhD student in my final year of research (yes final, no one say it too loud thanks), I’ve recently found myself taking a quiet moment among the waves of stress to think about what I’d do differently if I were to embark on a PhD journey again. It’s been a bit of a recurring theme during my university life that I have a similar conversation with myself annually, ‘*insert previous year* was SO easy, what was I thinking’ – me, circa every single year of university so far.
Eventually I felt those thoughts may pass, alas here we are, seven years deep thinking back to how exams during honours were kind of fun (what!?). Eventually I moved on to more productive reflection, on how I have become far more proficient at knowing when to quit.
Now I definitely don’t mean quit and give up, rather the ‘this isn’t working and I need to try something else’ kind of quit. It can be difficult as student, particularly when you add in emotions like imposter syndrome, a dash of new researcher nerves and a touch of Type A Personality, to know when to speak up and determine something isn’t working. Your supervisor may have all the brilliant ideas that seem straightforward, but at the end of the day you’re the one on the shop floor getting that work done, so what do you do when it doesn’t work?
It’s important to understand that ‘quitting’ and moving onto a different idea/version/trial in research isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, often you’ll uncover something that works differently and answers the question anyway, allowing you to come full circle and really nail research life. When your ‘full circle’ turns out to be more like a squiggly limp line, focus in on your research question to ask yourself ‘how is this helping me answer my thesis question?’ If the answer isn’t so straight forward, perhaps a fresh perspective and some colleague communication will bring you to a different way to proceed.
Research at any stage can be a long, hard and frustrating grind. Don’t get me wrong, it’s full of amazing achievements and wonderful highs of discovery and enlightenment, but usually those aren’t the parts that keep you up at night. If I could go back and give myself a two-minute pep talk prior to embarking on PhD life, ensuring I was working on the skills to determine when I needed to change tack would definitely be a key point. When you pour your heart and soul into an idea, it can be hard to step back and acknowledge that ‘that one’ didn’t work. But I urge you to let those go, remind yourself of your key question, take a fresh look and I can almost guarantee you’ll find a new solution.
So I conclude my fellow postgrad friends, hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing but in the world of research so is foresight.
Go well and good luck.