Part-time post-grad research degrees are known to be tough and the attrition rate is well documented. Mostly this is due to the emotionally demanding and isolated nature of the experience. Knowing that the process is emotionally taxing may not be helpful in itself, but it does allow you to prepare.
Preparation involves assessing your own emotional reserves and resources alongside some of the necessary requirements for emotional resourcing for a part-time post-grad research project or degree. In this article, I will outline some of the emotional resources which will be particularly useful to you during this process. It is, however, important to remember that any experience is subjective and if you lack any of the resources that I refer to, you will have other resources which you will bring to the process. Remember too that as long as you can maintain a healthy level of self-awareness, you can develop those resources which you may need as you go long. So, in essence, all you need to start with is self-awareness and an openness to ascertain and acknowledge your potential limitations and to grow and improve on those limitations.
Although the following list is by no means exhaustive, it is a good foundation on which to begin enriching your emotional resources for your research experience.
Research is a pioneering activity in that we venture into areas which have usually not been explored before. This pioneering requires a significant dose of courage and confidence. Because you will be introducing new material to the academic world, it needs to be scrutinized and challenged to ensure its quality and integrity. During this process, you will need to have the confidence to stand up for your research and defend it in the face of this scrutiny. You will also need to present your work at workshops and conferences so confidence in your work and yourself are crucial. Presenting your work to your peers for scrutiny is daunting, but it is also exhilarating and this too will help you to produce the best work that you can.
Again, if you lack confidence, you can work on it and build it up as you go along. Building your confidence can be tricky, because if you do it alone and try to fake it ‘til you make it, it can backfire and leave you feeling even less confident. I would recommend that you work with someone supportive and take it slowly.
Another reason that you will need confidence is that you will need to challenge your supervisor, the person who’s holding your hand through the process, the person you look up to. Your supervisor’s role is to guide you in the principles of research methodology and help you to turn your research into the best that it can be, but it is still your research and you need to ensure that it doesn’t get “moulded” out of all recognition. Creating and maintaining these boundaries requires respectful and assertive, confident communication.
Flexibility is also invaluable as you will need to be able to accommodate many people and many different scenarios and being flexible will allow you to do this with good grace. Planning is important, but if you can change your plans and be responsive to the reality which faces you in any given moment without being thrown, you will be far more productive and you will have fewer setbacks. Having said this, it is important to recognise that even setbacks are an opportunity to take stock and review and potentially improve on your plan and your research.
Perseverance is equally important if you want to be able to keep your momentum going throughout this long process. When you stop or falter, it takes that much more effort to get going again, so try to keep working. There will be times when you get bored or dejected or annoyed or you may even just be waiting for your supervisor or the ethics department or for results or something else and you will be tempted to just wait – don’t! Commit to doing a certain number of hours every week or even every day and stick to that no matter what. Read, work on your literature review chapter or ask your supervisor for guidance, but keep working. If you get derailed, watch a few TED talks or Youtube clips related to your work.
You may think that humility is a contradiction to confidence, but it is not. You can be confident and humble. True humility requires a great deal of courage and it allows you to accept feedback and even criticism without getting upset, angry or defensive. Many people will have a point of view or an opinion about what you’re doing and if you get defensive, you may miss valuable input or feedback that could help you and make your research that much richer. A humble and gracious presence of mind will allow you to take what you need from the feedback and leave what you don’t.
Lastly – if not completely – you need a sense of humour. You need to be able to laugh and create opportunities to laugh about yourself, about your research, about your supervisor about the admin department and anyone else who has the potential to get under your skin. If you take it all too seriously, it will be no fun at all and you’re investing a significant part of your life, your money and your time in this process and making some serious sacrifices to do it. None of these investments or sacrifices are worth it if you hate it from beginning to end…so laugh even when you want to cry. You have made a choice to do this project and ultimately, you can choose how you experience it so choose wisely.
The above list is far from complete, but it begins to highlight the vast array of different emotional resources which you may need during this process. It should also highlight the fact that you have taken on something which is very demanding and it is important to be kind and gentle with yourself. You need to be strong and resilient and you are unlikely to get stronger by beating yourself up so nurture your emotional self, shine a light on that which you wish to grow and ask for help when you need to.
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