Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Research Students
Through their work with research students Maria Gardiner and Hugh Kearns from iThinkwell came up with their Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Research Students.
The Seven Secrets are:
1) Care and maintenance of your supervisor
2) Write and show as you go
3) Be Realistic
4) Say no to distractions
5) It’s a job
6) Get help
7) You can do it!
Their first point about the importance of the supervisor/student relationship is critical. I know of students who went with a supervisor purely because they thought it would be ‘best for the research’ even though they felt a personality ‘mis-match’. Not to say you need to have a supervisor with a personality you necessarily like, but especially for mums who study, it helps to have someone who understands the unique challenges faced by students with children.
I was incredibly lucky with my supervisors and knew I had found the ideal people when one of them said ‘being a mother has been my best and most rewarding career’ and this was from someone who is now in a very senior management position at a university. My other supervisor was a ‘hands-on Dad’ and understood exactly what life with children involved and was always very understanding and supportive of the various mishaps and challenges that I faced throughout the years.
Kearns and Gardiner stress the importance of regular meetings with your supervisor and to address any issues immediately. It is sometimes tempting to bury your head in the sand when difficulties or conflicts arise but resolving them sooner rather than later is essential to keep the project moving.
Write and Show as you go
As they point out in the booklet, a thesis is written work. Having deadlines for your writing and making a commitment to write up/summarise any relevant journal articles you read forces you to keep on task and means you won’t have to revisit the articles later when you have forgotten what they were about. As anyone who tries to write knows, perfectionism is a beast to battle with so if you can just think of your ‘summaries’ as drafts and perhaps even name the documents DRAFT xyz it might help to overcome perfectionism paralysis.
Hugh and Maria encourage students to keep things in perspective. They explain that the thesis is just a bunch of words on paper and is only one small step towards advancing knowledge.
Say no to distractions
Well, now isn’t this easier said than done! It’s amazing how many things we can say yes to without realising how they are accumulating like little balls of dog hair under the couch ready to take on a life of it’s own…
Image by luvdogs740
One way I try to tackle this is each weekend write down what I have planned for the up-coming week and what I actually did the previous week. After a few weeks of doing this I take a careful look at what I am spending my time on. I don’t know about you but often what I planned to do and what I actually do hardly ever matches up (think re-analyse a section of data versus make reindeer cupcakes with pretzels as antlers, soooo cute…)
It doesn’t guarantee you will do anything about it but at least seeing evidence that you are getting distracted might make you think twice and follow Hugh and Maria’s advice to SAY NO TO DISTRACTIONS!
It’s a Job
I have had this conversation one million times and more! Undertaking university study is no different to any other type of job. Yes, there are obvious differences (studying is often chosen, it’s more flexible, there are less ‘contact’ hours and so on and so on) BUT the brain power, the emotional and mental energy and the logistics required to make it work are NO DIFFERENT to that required of a ‘normal’ job. Treat your studies/academic activities as a job and expect others around you to do the same.
Again, this is difficult for mothers to do. Women, and mothers especially, spend enormous amounts of their time helping others. Asking for help for themselves is not usually their style. I know I work from the principle of ‘I’ll just do it myself, it’s easier‘ so when it comes to asking for help it really requires a change of thinking and a willingness to accept help from others. As Hugh and Maria say “You are not an owner-operator single person business.” Generally, there are plenty of support staff within universities who can help with things like editing, methodology, statistics and writing. As for getting help with the ‘second shift’ at home, that is a post for another day!
Finally, YOU CAN DO IT
A thesis is 10% intelligence and 90% persistence
That is a great line from The Seven Secrets booklet. I can’t tell you how many mothers I have spoken with who have said the same thing. Just keeping going, one day, one assignment, one piece of writing at a time and eventually it will be done. That supervisor of mine I was telling you about earlier called it ‘STICK-ABILITY‘. If you can try stick to one thing try stick to having stick-ability. The trick is to stick…Okay sorry, I will stop.