What motivates you to do research? 9 Researchers share their thoughts
During my undergraduate and postgraduate years, my circle of friends included a few people who were pursuing their PhD degrees. It was easy to see how our lives differed. My days were filled with classes and assignments (and quite a bit of free time), while theirs was mostly free time. Or so I thought. They got paid for studying, while I made no money off of my efforts. So, the grass definitely seemed greener on the PhD patch.
However as time passed and my friendships became deeper, I realized how many strings were attached to pursuing a PhD. It was not a simple matter of choosing a question or an area that one wanted to focus on and diving in. There were important aspects that I had failed to consider — like the importance of the dynamics in the relationship between a supervisor and a PhD student, funding problems, the struggle to get published, the uncertainty of being able to secure a professional future within academia, demands from other parts of their lives having repercussions on their research, etc.
Despite it all, some of my friends managed to integrate it all, work through it, and submit their theses. This seemed nothing less than a Herculean feat to me, a struggling post-grad who could barely balance her course-load and the rest of her life!
Today, my work with the Editage Insights team has brought me back to researchers again. The more I look, the more it seems that the five-or-longer years of research life are a quagmire that very few manage to escape unscathed. The initial enthusiasm almost always seems to get replaced by a sense of cynicism and depression. I became curious about what kept researchers motivated on their journey. I mined through websites and blogs and came across a few researchers who had somehow managed to (for the lack of a better word) form a whole that served them. I reached out to a few of them, looking for answers to a couple of simple questions:
- What motivated them to pursue research?
- What do they love most about being researchers?
The thoughts they shared with me were not very different from some Tweets I had found and I share both in this piece. Here’s a quick round up of some interesting answers to the questions I was asking:
Assistant Professor of Practice, NYU-ECNU Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University, Shanghai, People's Republic of China
“When it comes to basic sciences, research is full of potholes waiting to trip you, setbacks waiting to strip you of confidence, and few and far between these troughs, the sudden, unexpected glimpses of success. In fact, it is the rarity of triumphs in research problems that make them so alluring, and draws me in with an unwavering determination and vehemence. Even if in the end success eludes me, the process of exploring a mathematical problem is a remarkably rewarding journey. Besides, you would have to be sufficiently obsessed about the subject in order to be a good researcher. Growing up, I would get nudged gently into the yet-uncharted territory of advanced mathematics by my parents, and they would firmly but not unkindly dissuade me from looking up solutions or asking for their help. Cues, yes, but never a complete solution. Their guidance somehow woke in me the desire to keep hitting my head on the problem until it gave way to little chinks of light and hope, to small but much-cherished revelations. The passion to keep delving deeper and deeper into the realm of mathematics was kindled in me at a rather tender age. Even though, back then, I understood very little of what it would be like to be a researcher, and make no mistake, there are plenty of challenges and hurdles to surmount on this journey, what never failed to inspire me was the utter wonderment of exploring the world of mathematics, much like strolling through the beautiful, mysterious, unfathomably vast and intricate expanse of a forest.”
Freelance science-communication writer
I love staying curious and be able to always learn something new and fascinating. Love to design experiments and test hypotheses. I enjoy good collaborations, conferences, literature search and even scientific writing. #ScientistByHeart— CS Heil (@cs_heil) October 13, 2019
An Editage Insights community member; participant of the
Max Craig Kusovitsky
Clinical Social Work/Therapist, LCSW, CASAC (also currently a doctoral candidate in clinical social work at New York University)
“Although I’m not completely confident as to what variables led to my research genre, I am certain that what coalesced is authentic to me. That is to say, some permutation of my interests and my training, my clinical experience, and extracurricular education emerged as this ‘good fight’ to involve and celebrate psychoanalytic ideas in an interdisciplinary fashion. Accordingly, my research is most relevant vis-a-vis psychotherapeutic training and the philosophical bedrock permeating the ‘whys’ beneath the hows and whats of treatment.
Though this remains a proverbially uphill battle, it may be more accurate to label it an up-cliff war. Yet, in the face of insurance limitations, opposition in academic psych and national governing bodies steering towards their own connotation of evidence, I am invigorated by my patients and treatment myself. Frankly, the synergy between liberating myself and patients from unnecessary suffering, from compromised conscious experience, from faux-limitations operating as inviolable gospel, from costly defenses, is what keeps me going. That is ultimately more fulfilling than anything else.”
PhD Candidate and Social Entrepreneur in North Carolina
1) I'm always learning new things from amazing people and cool papers.— Susanna L Harris (@SusannaLHarris) October 13, 2019
2) My plampts don't mind when I smell bad after a workout.@manisit_das @_DaniBeck @cynthiaLdarnell @CA_AstroComm https://t.co/eP75fLE3Ae
EL – An Editage Insights community member; participant of
“The quick answer is that I love being a researcher because I love the natural world and have a great deal of curiosity.”
Ndayisaba Pierre Celestin – An Editage Insights community member; participant of the
“I love being a researcher because I am naturally curious, eager to learn new things. A job of a researcher was my dream job.
I am motivated by being convinced that knowledge driven economies are relatively sustainable. There is nothing else which can be a big achievement for myself than contributing to the pool of knowledge on the basis of which policies can be designed and changes can happen.
What keeps me going through all the ups and downs is being modest. It means not expecting too much from my environment. When things are good, it is time to celebrate. When things are bad, I accept them, learn from them, and move on looking forward to experiencing better days ahead.”
Director, The Cercle Schlumberger Foundation for Education and Research
“I defended my PhD more than 10 years ago, but I still vividly remember the challenges I faced. I had for example to completely drop my main topic 1.5 years into my PhD, and restart on what was at the time a "Sunday side project". I was devastated and thought research was over for me.
What kept me going was the insatiable curiosity. I wanted to know the answers to the questions I was asking. Elaborating ways to crack open biological mysteries, the thrill of discovering something new is something that is hard to compete with. And dedication paid off. This “Sunday side project” turned into a PNAS paper and I then joined the lab of a hero of mine for my postdoc. I discovered later I would get that same thrill for other projects I was passionate about, like changing the research culture regarding outreach and education. What I learned as a researcher though, how to ask the right questions and be rigorous about how to solve them, is still with me every day and I’ll never regret this journey.”
PhD Candidate at University of Virginia
“PhD is a journey in which we, learn to fail, fail to learn, and eventually learn from our failures.”
The whole that I had referred to before is basically the researcher’s approach to making sense of the different elements of their journey. The thoughts of those who had shared quotes with me were not very different from the Tweets I found. They all have in common an innate belief in their work and its place in their life. The focus is not so much on the product, i.e. the thesis, but on the process or the journey as a researcher or academic, which includes everything that they go through from the moment they decide to take up research.
I would also love to hear from you. So feel free to reach out and let me know what brought you to research and what keeps you or has kept you motivated through the years.
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