A word about motivation and discovery: reading and writing a PhD

So what it is like writing a PhD? When one starts a research project it can feel exciting. More often than not thought it can feel terrifying.  It is becoming a running joke in my office about how many books arrive from Amazon on weekly basis. How many can I go through? Lots. I love the smell of new books. The knowledge that is hidden behind every new edition entices me into the new worlds of information. I consider myself enthusiastic about new projects and hungry for new insights, eager to press on with my work and life. However, as my dear friend and past work colleague recently pointed out whilst enjoying our tasty breakfast: ‘many people get excited about new things, but only few take their projects to the end’. Phew, I thought to myself, I am fortunate enough to finish my Phd as a big part of me is a completer finisher according to Belbin survey profiles. However, my mind still wandered off. How easy is it to draw a line behind a PhD research project? And can it ever be ‘finished’?

Gap finding

Writing a PhD is challenging from many aspects. One of the most difficult tasks for me is the famous ‘gap finding’, to contribute to the existing research with new insights. Finding that something that has not been theorised about as yet… In the current information obsessed era, I can safely say, it is becoming a test of my endurance. Sometimes, I feel like a little entrepreneur in pursuit of new ideas, chasing life for what it is worth.

When I embarked on my Phd journey in October 2013, I was looking into workplace stress interventions. Although the nature of my research has changed considerably since, I came across some wonderful stress related publications, one of which is The Stress of Life by Dr Hans Selye. When Dr Selye started his research in laboratory settings, he was not the first person to talk about stress. Although he was researching this phenomena since early 1930s, and this area was seriously under-researched back then, he came across many of those who did not believe in his mission to devote his life work to stress. He was not scared, however, of making bold decisions, of the gap finding exercise:

“When someone starts out in a research career, it is somewhat discouraging to think that, because through so many centuries so many outstanding minds have explored the salient problems of medicine, presumably most of the important things have already been discovered” (Selye, 1984, p.41).

We all are creative individuals. There will always be new stories to tell, as long as we keep our desires up and keep believing in pursuing something greater than we are. Every research is unique, since only you can put together the literature in the way you have done, making your critical voice to be heard. Shout out loud enough, scream if you need to, but keep looking and learning.  I am out there too, searching with you… The unique contribution surely must be on its way.

Writing process

When you are a researcher, the moments of accrual of new knowledge are undeniably thrilling experiences. However, a true wisdom lies behind sharing that knowledge. As Dr Selye would put it, “to discover does not mean to see, but to uncover sufficiently that many may see and continue to see” (Selye, 1984, p.39). Writing process is therefore the necessary companion of every researcher. But what about if one is not borne to be a writer? What about if one does not speak English as a first language and is expected to write academically? There is no magic formula. Write every day. Then read. And write again.

But how can one motivates themselves to write astonishing 80,000 words of a research project? Try imagining what it will feel like when you will have finished your work. What will you know? Who will you be? Will you have discovered a new yourself?

If you don’t know where you are going, you will end up somewhere else. Keep reminding yourself of your ‘why-s’, of your motivations to start studying, of the reasons you are doing this work, of your contribution to knowledge, or day-to-day life. Many people are put off by difficult, or even unrealistic goals, as Tim Ferris would put it. So they end up sitting on a sofa and watching TV. I believe that it is the taste of happiness, the feelings of self-development, one’s growth that could be achieved through the PhD process that should keep us going for a little longer.

Final remarks about hard work

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi  (2002) points out rightly that when one wants to achieve a state of ‘flow’ one has to be in control of their mind. In order to enjoy the moments when the time stops and you find yourself in a maximum engagement with your work or life, you have to work hard. The best experiences usually occur, not when one is in a comfortable state, but when they are willingly stretching themselves “to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2002, p.3). I would like to conclude this blog post with a wonderful Slovak saying: without work there is no cake.

So let’s pick up that next book and see where it will take us… Good luck to my fellow researchers!

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