Final week - takeaways and lessons

Did 6 whole weeks really just happen?!

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My research journey, focusing on finding thermoelectric materials to power wearable devices with body heat, has been a fast learning curve. As this is my week 6 round off, I've bullet-pointed a few of the lessons I've learnt and they may somewhat resonate with you.

  • If like me, you did your research completely online and have never met your supervisor (in real-life), you might be able to relate to some of the pros and cons this scenario offered. The pros looked like: complete time management freedom, location freedom and self-accountability. The cons looked like: complete time management freedom, location freedom and self-accountability. 

My bad joke is getting at the bitter-sweetness of working for yourself and by yourself. From the get-go, I adopted the conventional schedule of 9-5, Mon-Fri. This arbitrary but popular work-frame felt like a good place to start. And it was... a starting point. Throughout my six weeks, I learnt that research (for me) is less supported by time boundaries but more by simple intention. For example, I wasn't going to achieve what I wanted if I worked at a particular rate for a certain number of hours and then as the clock strikes 5pm, I'm fully accomplished for the day - a robot is better suited. My productivity was a lot more nuanced than that - I needed to cultivate a sense of creativity and focus. Sometimes, a 9 to 5 day would be perfect for this, but other times, I really needed an early morning with little distraction and to then spend the afternoon off my laptop. My Laidlaw project has really helped me to tap into my intuition, especially when it comes to being in control of my research.

  • A self-driven project is an interesting lens to look at research through. When my preconceptions of research had mainly been determined by sci-fi films where people lab coats paced around white rooms that had been dotted with copious amounts of liquid nitrogen, a research project undertaken solely from my laptop felt fraudulent. Nonetheless, it was still a research project. From taking deep dives into research-paper-search-engines to following a scent of something interesting, I had never before been consuming so much new knowledge. And, at first, I found it difficult to know what to do with it. That's when setting intentions came into play. I needed at least a vague idea of a goal - nothing set in stone but something to shoot for.
  • Setting high expectations for myself was hindering and distracting. Entering into unknown territory (research) was challenging enough as it was, and by keeping my expectations closer to the ground, I was able to enjoy the process much more.

To finish up - this project has been an experience that will stay with me and I cannot thank Laidlaw enough for it. For all the challenges and little victories along the way, it was an invaluable academic and personal journey.

Emma Merryweather

Student, University of York

I'm an undergraduate Natural Scientist at the University of York, specialising in nanoscience. My research project was aimed at finding a thermoelectric material that could power biomedical devices with a patient's very own body heat.