A little over a year ago I went to a workshop in my research area, and one of the speakers gave their advice on getting through graduate school. They voiced an opinion I’ve heard expressed many times – that graduate school requires monastic levels of dedication, and any outside interests just distract you from the goal at hand.
This advice came to me at a time when my faith was wavering in my research abilities, and I thought that maybe I had shown a lack of dedication to my work. There was certainly some truth to that, as some days I’d spent more time looking online at, say, photography equipment than doing research. So I figured I would take this person’s advice and work hard to make research my top priority in life. I cut way back on my other interests, even going so far as to block several photography-themed websites from my browser at work.
As with many forms of self-improvement, I didn’t expect to enjoy every step of the journey. For example, when someone starts an exercise program, they often have to resist the urge to stay in bed with all their strength. The exercise itself has its own difficult moments. However, the benefits that make all the difficulty worthwhile eventually start to appear.
One thing has increased with respect to my research: I’ve written more since August 2016 than I have in probably the 2 or 3 years before that combined. But said writing has not led to publication. While originally my faculty mentors were saying I just needed to polish the implementation of my work, we’ve now reached an understanding that there seems to be a more fundamental problem.
In a nutshell, the last 8 months or so have been some of the worst of my life. Although maybe I didn’t need to pursue my external interests to the extent I did, it turns out that stuff was helping keep me sane. Some people find a deep support network among their fellow graduate students, but that just hasn’t been the case for me. There’s a variety of possible reasons for that, none of which are anyone’s fault or particularly relevant here.
I don’t know if that workshop speaker is right or wrong. I do know that if they’re right, I’d rather walk away than torture myself for a diploma.
For the record, I haven’t given up on graduate school yet. My co-advisor is out of town for a few weeks, and I’m supposed to propose a revised research plan upon their return. I’ll post updates here as they happen.
At least some good news has emerged out of all this. The first piece, if you haven’t already guessed, is the reminder that I need to honor what’s best for me. The second piece of good news: although my research has not been well received, my writing ability has been. Pretty much every paper I’ve submitted has been complimented extensively for the writing.
So what does this mean going forward? For one thing, it means that I’m not going to treat this kind of writing as a distraction anymore.
What am I going to write? For now, I’m just going to write about whatever’s on my mind. I know a lot of the conventional wisdom says you’re supposed to have a niche and stick to it, but Jeff Goins proposes an alternative: rather than find a niche, articulate a worldview and build your platform around that. I like this idea a lot, in part because there’s no way I’m going to stick to one topic. Evenutally I’ll worry more about who my audience might be and all that, but for now, I’m just going to write regularly and see what happens.
I’d love for you to join me.