One of the biggest lessons that I learned during my master’s thesis process was the fact that things don’t always go according to plan. Not exactly an epiphany, I know, but the profoundly valuable lesson for me lay in realising that success is dependent on learning how to navigate the many detours of the academic research process efficiently with dignity and grace.
Funding issues, missed deadlines, surprising outcomes, participant drop out, supervisor conflicts are just a few of the causes of potential deviations, setbacks and detours in the research process. As these issues arise, it is easy to get caught up in the notion that this shouldn’t be happening and that we are failing. The reality is that it is happening and it happens in most if not all research projects to some degree. Managing these setbacks and detours is a fundamental part of the process.
I think of an ice-hockey player who needs to get the puck across the rink – they have to weave and swerve and sometimes double-back as they face numerous obstacles, challenges and challengers. They get pushed and shoved and knocked over, but they keep getting up and moving their puck toward their goal. So too, we have to weave and swerve and double-back as a part of our research process.
I have to confess that for the most part, dignity and grace eluded me during my master’s research. I was a tight ball of desperate angst most of the time and more like the proverbial “bull in the china shop” than a proficient and skilled master sportsman, but thankfully, during my subsequent degree and projects, I have learned to apply my mindful practice to the process.
I have learned to STOP. To stop, take a breath, observe and then to proceed. This allows me to accept what is happening, to notice my reactions and resistances, to see things from different perspectives, to be compassionate with myself and those involved and to make a calm and informed decision about the best way to proceed. I realise that it sounds more like a snail than a zippy ice-hockey play, but with time and practice, the whole process becomes a reflex that is quick.
This is not to say that it is always smooth and that I don’t get upset when there are setbacks or time pressures. I still get anxious and frustrated when things don’t go according to plan, but I recover more quickly and I am able to see the opportunities to deepen and enrich my research and my experience through the twists and turns that the detours take me on.
For more information about how to mediate the emotional rigours of part-time post-grad research; have a look at De-Stress Your Dissertation: A Mindful Approach to Mediating the Rigours of Post-Grad Research