Since I am nearing the end of my Honours course I figured now is the time to write a little something for all the fresh-eyed Undergrads going into research. (Also I don’t want to look at my thesis right now, so this is one of those productive procrastination incidences.)
So first things first. Dear UnderGrad pay attention to the following:
- Actually believe when other people (and by that I mean other HDR/Higher Degree in Research students) tell you how gruelling research is going to be. Real life research is very different from what the movies would like to tell you. Though you still get into accidents but it’s usually without the perks of superpowers. Some days you will be excited to start an experiment, other days you would just want to hide under your desk (true story). And then there will be days when nervousness at trying something new will battle it out with the urge to just get it over with. These are all valid emotions. Research for all it’s reliance on numbers IS emotional. You will experience a wide range of emotions, from frustration to pure elation and every miserable thing in between. Remember that ridiculous chart with faces to rate your pain? That chart is you. And you are experiencing most of those feelings all at once on any given day.
- Make full use of all the support systems available to you. These include guidance counsellors on campus, your best friend, your significant other (if you have one), your family if you are living close to them (unlike me who is in another country) and your official/unofficial mentors. It’s always a good idea to have an unofficial mentor outside your supervisor/PI who you can go to should things go hay-wire (or even if they don’t). And your program co-ordinator. Seriously, get their contact info and know that they are the one who usually have your back (at least in my experience).
- Get a hobby. Research can be physically, emotionally and psychologically draining (see #1). You are going to need something you can cling to when you are going at crashing speed. It can be knitting, writing a blog, photography, gymnastics, cooking… the list is endless.
- Be prepared to learn, unlearn and relearn a lot of things. These may include things in your field and/or things about yourself and other people. Evaluating and re-evaluating things in light of new data is part and parcel of science. Embrace it.
- Get on twitter. No, I am not kidding. The scientific community on twitter is beyond fantastic and I probably owe them some form of internet-cake for being there for me, be it related to science or science-induced frustrations. They are phenomenal and you should be a part of this community too. It also helps to remind you that you are not alone.
- Pace yourself or you will wreck yourself. It’s good that you are invested in your work but please prioritize yourself first before everything else. Think about it this way, if you are feeling wrung out and tired then your productivity drops and you feel even more tired and frustrated and the cycle goes on. You don’t have to do everything all at once, talk to your PI if their expectations of your progress feels unrealistic or is coming at the cost of your mental and physical well-being.
- Do NOT compare yourself to others. One of the beauties of being in research is that it is, to some extent, free of the tight schedules of a normal UG semester and is at it’s core, flexible. This means that everyone can set their own pace (again #6) and move accordingly. Just because a fellow student is at a place where you are not (yet) doesn’t mean you have to panic and push yourself to the brink of exhaustion. That will get you nowhere.
- Sleep. Just try to get 7-8 hrs of sleep please. Break them down into small periods for all I care, just get some sleep everyday.
- Attend other people’s thesis defences, mid-year candidature reviews, final year presentations and if possible journal club meetings. Also, bring a piece of paper with you because you will get so many ideas that you might want to write them down.
- Ask questions. That’s the entire reason why you are here. So ask questions. Lots of them.
An extra tip:
Enjoy yourself. Despite all the anxiety and headaches I can honestly say I enjoyed the last 7 and a half months. They were, against all odds, fun!
And a question:
Do you need a hug?