Weeks ago, faced with the prospect of an entire six-week period dedicated entirely to research, I was nervous but excited. Six whole weeks focused on researching one topic is not something I’d had the opportunity to do before. I was thrilled at the prospect of working on a project of my choosing, moulding it to my own interests.
Six weeks seemed like a very long time.
At first, it really felt like the sky was the limit. Although I had been advised that research rarely ever goes the exact way you anticipate it, I naively thought that I had the flexibility to easily adapt to whatever my research uncovered. But I’ve learnt that there’s definitely a difference between knowing something in theory and actually experiencing it yourself.
In the first few weeks, I embarked on my journey of exploration, encountering many new and enriching ideas that widened my perspective on the project. My freedom to explore, however, was a double-edged sword. Before beginning my research, I had a worry niggling at the back of my mind: ‘what if I don’t find anything at all?’. Now, my problem had become the opposite: how was I going to bring all of these fascinating and diverse ideas together?
Faced with this Sisyphean task, I knew that I had to take a step back and refine the focus of my research. Six weeks - which had felt like an eternity not so long ago - is really no time at all, where research is concerned. I had encountered so many interesting ideas, but felt like I was only scratching the surface with all of them - if I wanted to learn about any of them in more depth, I would have to leave other stones unturned.
This is when decision paralysis became my worst foe. I’ve always prided myself on taking time to carefully think through decisions rather than rushing to get a result faster. Sometimes - this time being one of them - this isn’t wholly practical. In a limitless world, I’d love to investigate and tie up every loose end. But after speaking with my supervisor about my conundrum, it became clear that some loose ends have to remain untied. And loose ends don’t have to be forgotten - now that I’d identified them, I could leave them loose for another researcher to tie up. Or maybe even unravel a few myself next year (one of the many benefits of taking part in a two summer programme!).
As I draw my ideas together into my outputs, I’m increasingly content with my less-than-perfect research journey. Although it was specifically my passion for the research topic that excited me, I think one of the most fulfilling elements of this summer has been learning more about myself, and practising self-leadership. Ever the introvert, I wasn’t daunted by the idea of spending a lot of time doing individual research, but I have been challenged more than I ever expected.
Most of all, I’ve learnt the importance of advocating for myself and learning to listen to my own body and mind. Sheer willpower and determination may be strong, but it’s not sustainable to rely solely on these. When faced with the challenges of research - dead ends, confusion, burnout - I am grateful to have been greeted with the kindness and understanding of both my supervisor and the Laidlaw team at St Andrews.