Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Catharsis of a research scholar part 7 - Thesis detatchment

Many have told me this before but you never learn certain things unless you experience them and I am an experiential being. I always took my thesis quite seriously. I believed I was saving the universe with my work. I know many of you who have done this would be laughing right now and the rest would be wide awake wondering haven't I thought the same?  The thing with atleast some of us in Social Sciences is that we pick up topics close to our heart so we live them all the while. When we read the newspaper, a novel, watch a movie or hear a friend narrate an incident, we look for insights and that's how researchers are. Or atleast that's how I was. I would keep telling my hubby- "They need some lifeskills", "You corporates are screwing the education system". He trained himself to accept he was dealing with a passionate researcher. The next level would be consoling oneself not being able to put down all those running thoughts in one's head and not because you are cognitively impaired or grammatically incompetent (though your supervisor would attribute so) but because you feel anything you write is obvious or known to all. Yes, you end up believing the whole world grew with your obsession in the past few years you dedicated to research. And then you hit the pothole- I hate research phase. Days you read anything but work related, wish you studied something uninteresting, days you find some new literature and you panic because you never found it earlier. And you reach a phase I call - Thesis detachment.

I have recently realised the problem here is  that you never detached work and life in the first place. And you made the mistake or blurring the walls between life and work. It happens a lot in India and to women especially, when they are single or when they don't live with family. You have the world's time and resources and you get used to your one bedroom life so you read everything necessary and unnecessary and finally you end up feeling overloaded and detached. Now having said this - How does one stay away from this phase?

To a certain extent I think it's fine. But when I look back I regret for continuing this track so for fellow researchers there's few tips I would love to give you. 

1. Don't put all your eggs into one basket.  Don't mix research and life. Learn to stop thinking of work sometimes. Anyone who told you he works 15 hours a day is a liar. Man is not a machine, man runs machines. Science students claim they run experiments for hours. I have seen my friends set their set ups and then read something else. Unfortunately for social science students things don't work that way; we read all throughout. So it's obvious you don't do other stuff like read, go out (some do, but I have seen most don't) or enjoy. Learn to dissociate yourself for few hours a day and do something different from research.

2. Learn a new skill. I regret quitting violin, for not signing up more baking courses because those were the moments I experienced sanity. You won't lose time  from research when you engage in activities you like butu rather you will be in control of the detatchment phase.

3. Travel during weekends, meet new people. This seldom happens with people living in hostels inside campus. This is something I saw friends in Europe do and they all managed to complete their work. Something to look forward to helps us finish our work efficiently and also gives us space to detach ourselves from our thesis before it bores us. Researchers often end up asocial because we lose track of time once we start research. We end up being our sole companion and it's also irritating to talk to the same crowd who is constantly paranoid and anxious. Meeting people outside reminds us we live inside a bubble and there is a world out there.

4. Always remember your work is not for a nobel prize, it is just an academic exercise, no matter what anyone tells you. I admire people who look at research like a 9-5 job. They work only between those hours but they do full justice to their job. What I appreciate about this crowd which comprises mostly of married women is the fact that they get the better part of both their lives - research and family. They pick up topics that are reasonable and can switch off their minds as soon as they step off campus.

5. Do something everyday for your soul. Be it a jog, or buying a rose, reading a science fiction novel, reading a cartoon strip or grooming yourself. Make sure you do something for your soul. There are times you feel low because of the behaviour of others (supervisor, colleagues, journal editor or family) and that makes it even more  important that you bruise that esteem of yours.

6. Avoid negative people, negative vibes that takes you closer to thesis detachment. You will get that a lot in research life. People who scare you with their work schedules, achievements, relationships advises, big shots in their area and the job offers they get. It is also possible people overtake you and you feel lost. Beware of these people. It's an illusion, it's set up to pull you down. I use the term 'dementors' from Harry Potter for such people. They suck all the happy memories and feelings from you and make you determined to quit. But the fun part is using the 'Patronus charm' and evading the dementors.

So now you know what's causing the detachment it becomes easier to tackle. Always remember the degree you get is not for the knowledge acquisition, it is for the endurance and tolerance to a lot of these issues and for behaving professionally (that's how academics define it). It is for waking up every morning and asking yourself " Can I push it a little forward today?" and frankly it's for that you get the degree after 5 years, everything else was just part of the game.

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