As an early career researcher, enthusiasm and passion for your subject are vital. However academic research can be really tough and sometimes it can be a real test to maintain enthusiasm!
It is a really competitive arena and rejected manuscripts, fixed term contracts and constant battles for funding all contribute to this and it is important to talk about the challenging side of academia. If we were to include on our CV all of the applications that were rejected, then, they would certainly be a lot lengthier! I have to confess; I don’t often shout about the things that I wasn’t successful at.
When I am introduced to conferences and events they don’t tend to mention the things that I haven’t or didn’t achieve. Of course, they focus on what has worked out and what I have achieved. But that doesn’t make the things that didn’t go so well any less important, in fact, I have learned a huge about from them. I am sharing these lessons with you, so you can become more openminded about failures and build on them.
It might sound cheesy, but words like failure and rejected really aren’t helpful! Ok, so I accept that it’s never nice to hear bad news, but there may be times where you are genuinely unable to learn from negative and unhelpful comments. It might be all too easy to take these criticisms personally. Considering that you’ve probably spent years doing experiments that have contributed to a research paper or spent weeks preparing a funding bid.
I know it is often easier said than done, but try not to take these criticisms to heart. Feedback can be difficult to take, but try to find the positives. Put it in the draw and leave it, come back with a fresh mind and a clear head.
Although it might seem overwhelming, hopefully, there will be comments that will help you to improve. If the comments or feedback isn’t helpful or constructive then this can be really annoying! But try to persevere, we can’t always win everything (a lesson that my Mum had to drum into me as a child). Sometimes, the things that you didn’t get can be as valuable as the things that you did.
In times of need, it is important to have a support network to turn to, whether that is friends, family or people in a more formal capacity. I have hugely benefited from mentoring in a professional sense. The word mentoring can often be overused and sometimes mentoring relationships don’t work out. If this is the case it is important to recognize this early on and stick to what you need help with. Make sure to set up goals and check the progress, regular reviews of the goals can indicate if the mentorship is working for both of you.
For me, successful mentors don’t tell you to want to do, they observe your situation and present the options in a clear and objective way, in order for you to make an informed decision. Sometimes just running your concerns or problems by someone can be really helpful. Especially in a stressful career like pursuing a research, which is full of unknowns and set timelines.
Check out some tips here about finding a mentor.
Take Care of Yourself
The important things to remember are that work is relative, particularly in academia it can be easy for work to seem all-encompassing, there are no set work hours and emails come through at all times of the day and night! To ensure that you make time for yourself to do other things outside of work that you enjoy (and turn your email off when you are not meant to be working!). Admittedly, the time you spend on work will vary, in the final months of writing up a thesis or the week before a big grant deadline, you might find this difficult and that is ok. But make sure you take care of yourself when this is over. Congratulate yourself on making deadlines, submitting grants and also for the little victories on the way.
I hope that this article has helped to encourage you on your academic journey. Developing resilience can be a real challenge and I don’t think that I’ve mastered it yet! Academia is tough and it is ok to recognize that, but remember the good parts.
Sometimes experiments do work, grant submissions are successful and papers are accepted. So good luck on your academic journey
About the Author:
Dr Emma Yhnell is a Health and Care Research Wales Fellow based at the Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute at Cardiff University. Her research interests include neurodegenerative diseases and specifically Huntington’s disease. She is an advocate for public engagement and outreach and can often be found talking about her research at public events.
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