Romance your Research | Lex Academic Blog
Sometimes research is hard work. Not fun, tricky, knotty, engaging brain work. Just a hard, tedious slog, not helped by the fact that academics and researchers are pressured to chase citation metrics and to publish or perish. The battle to get an academic job or even to keep the one we’ve got can drain the pleasure and passion out of even the most ardent research lover. It often feels like it’s impossible to enjoy our latest publication because the next should already be forthcoming, and it’s not.
It’s hardly a surprise that some days you want to walk (run) away from your research out of boredom and frustration or seek a get-out clause in the desperate hope that absence will make the heart grow fonder. But escaping from the relentless admin and tedious Teams meetings that sit alongside a research career would also mean leaving your one true love.
Running for the hills is not the answer. Instead, I am advocating for something completely different. The opposite in fact. I think you should spend more quality time with your research. I am not arguing for Frankenstein levels of monomania, as becoming so obsessed that you don’t stop to think whether creating a monster is actually a good idea is clearly unwise. But we do sometimes need to take stock and re-frame our relationship with our research, and this involves effort.
All relationships require attention, even the happiest ones, and your relationship with your research is no different. When the going gets tough and you’ve lost that loving feeling, you will need to take your research to relationship counselling and rediscover why you care. The first step to putting the magic back into your relationship with your research is to return to the start. Do you remember your earliest encounters with your research? Were the first flirtatious glimpses in an archive when you opened up its dark and dusty volumes, or did they occur as you fired up the Bunsen burners in your lab coat? Think of your passion as buried treasure and follow the clues inscribed on your old pirate’s map (or research journey) to unearth it.
Treat your research well and recognise its value. I don’t mean its value in your field or to humanity as a whole when it provides the formula for world peace. I mean the value it holds for you, the researcher, on a personal level. Reminisce about the joy and pleasure it can bestow upon you. We can rapidly resent the demands our research makes on our time when it is slotted between endless committee meetings and funding applications. It requires, and in fact thrives on, attention.
If the hours you spend with your partner are only spent slumped in front of the TV grunting about taking the bins out, then you will soon be trapped in a distant or, possibly worse, resentful relationship. Our partners deserve our time, respect, and love, as well as a slap-up dinner somewhere fancy every now and then. The same is true for our work. It’s so easy to get bogged down by chores like referencing and checking grammar that we lose sight of what attracted us to our research in the first place. So don’t take your research for granted; instead, take it somewhere else! In fact, take it on a date. Grab an article or book and snuggle up on the sofa with candles, chocolates, and blankets in front of the fire. Dive into the mysteries of a scientific equation over a bag of chips at the beach. Whisk your philosophical problem out for a delicious meal or find a secluded park bench to wrestle with a biological anomaly in the spring air. Changing our environment enables us to see things with ‘fresh eyes’, which can lead to unexpected, sparky, risky, and quite frankly brilliant ideas.
If you can’t work elsewhere, or even if you can, cuddle up to an aspect of your research that you’ve always loved. Maybe the sexy contours of an old topographic map set your world on fire or perhaps obscure Medieval French poetry brings out your more chivalrous side. Whatever it is, allow yourself an indulgence this Valentine’s Day and dip into something that’s a real treat.
Your research doesn’t need just time, it deserves quality time. Snatching a moment to quickly scan an article between seminars or getting distracted by incoming emails and texts is not good enough. A date with a person who is constantly checking their phone and looking for the exit will not lead to a relationship. Give your research the gift of your focus. Turn off your phone or use a blocker such as Forest App or Freedom to limit your distractions. When the solution to a particularly thorny problem refuses to reveal itself, offer it space and patience. Sit with it. Listen to it. Play with it. Have fun. Enjoy the process and, eventually, your research will reward you for your consideration.
Celebrate your research. Remember when you met that special someone and you couldn’t help but drop them into conversation at any tenuous opportunity? Extol the virtues of your research in the same way. Don’t hide it. Share your excitement. Teach someone else what you’ve learnt. Big it up. Be passionate. This is your quest and your love, and they deserve to be shared.
And so I urge you to fall (back) in love with your research project. Take it out somewhere new, show it a good time, and reacquaint yourself with the curvaceous lines of a Cartesian graph or gentle undulations of a Sankey diagram. Remind yourself why you fell in love in the first place to reinvigorate old passions and fire up new ones. Reignite the academic spark!
Dr Jo Parsons is a writer, editor, and lecturer in English and Creative Writing at Falmouth University.
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