What is the best way to succeed at research?

Why do you do research? What made you become a teacher, doctor, dentist or a researcher?

For most of my life I set goals in research. In the early days it was to complete a set of experiments in a given week. Write the up results in my laboratory book. Prepare, research and deliver my presentation.

Most of the time I wanted to please my PhD supervisor, who I had total respect for, to make hm happy. He was my idol. Whilst I owe 90% of my success to my supervisor’s guidance and training, he was a tough task master. He demanded high standards. In my 3 years with him he did not praise anything I did or said something was good. I felt like a hopeless failure. I had no hope of passing my PhD. Even though I was married to the most beautiful girl in the world with 2 gorgeous children during my studies I was really married to my PhD. I thought about it 24 hours a day. I dreamt about my experiments and papers I was reading.  I followed a strict army type regime.

Do you try to please people all the time? Do you feel that no matter how hard you try you can’t succeed?

As I progressed my goals become; write 6 papers a year and present at 3 international conferences. Gradually they became more and more demanding such as complete a book in 6 months. I was crazy. I had great determination and drive to achieve the goals that I had set. My friends thought I was successful because I achieved most of my goals. More than 80% of the time however I felt like a terrible failure. Most of the time I did not complete the tasks that I had set myself. I was not disciplined enough to write for 8 hours or finish a chapter in a week or stick to my exact plan.

Do you set tough goals and then beat yourself up when you don’t live up to your expectations?

Luckily for me I did not broadcast my goals, so other people did not scold me or look at me as a failure. In my mind however I was useless and always disappointed myself. The other thing I did was to compare myself with other high flying academics. This is a no win situation. No matter who you are if you compare yourself as scientists to Harold Kroto or George Whitesides or CNR Rao then you will be inferior and feel like a failure. On that scale 99.999% of the scientists are failures.

Do you compare yourself to role models that you can never exceed? Do you play golf and compare your skills to Tiger Woods? Do you play cricket and think you can be better than Sachin Tandulkar?

I got fed up with feeling like a failure since I worked extremely hard and achieved way more than anyone from my family or community could ever accept.

After a major health scare I decided to change my attitude. I decided that I would not change the things that I did everyday. However, everything I do from now on will be for fun. At first this scared the hell out of me. Why? I thought that I would lose my drive and then I would then really be a failure. I constantly asked myself how can I have fun and do this thing well. I let go of expectations. My new motto became how can I have more fun than ever before whilst being focused on the task at hand? When I completed tasks I felt like a success and my energy levels exploded through the sky like a rocket. This attitude split over into other areas of my life such as relationships, social life and health.

I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun – Thomas A. Edison

  • If you go for a run or walk to exercise do you constantly evaluate yourself? Do you get annoyed at yourself for not going at a fast enough pace or completing the distance in a given time? This makes you feel terrible. If you do it purely for fun however you will feel great and successful. You will still get the benefits of exercise.
  • Do start writing a paper but get only half way through it. Is that a failure or success? It’s a failure if you wanted to finish it in one sitting. If it was fun and you had a wonderful time then you’re successful. You can always go back and do the second half later.
  • If you  start a blog and commit to writing something everyday and miss days. Are you are a failure or a success? If you are writing the blog as something that is going to be fun and useful for people to read then you’re a success even if you’re posts are not as frequent as you planned. So the goal is to have fun writing on your blog.  You will write more often if its enjoyable for you.
  • Having fun as a priority shifts everything. It determines whether something is a success or failure. It changes your attitude. Your mood improves and you’ll  smile when you’re doing things instead of frowning.
  • Enjoy life and have fun doing everything. Fun and focus equals success and happiness. Make sure that you focus on the fun first and watch your success soar.

Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game – Michael Jordan



One response

  1. […] View article: What is the best way to succeed at research? | Nanotechnology … […]

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