4 rules of doing your research & facing your fears

When I first started in research I was petrified about going into the lab to do experiments because I did not want to make mistakes or get negative results. I felt I was going to let myself, my supervisors and peers down. So initially I hated going to the lab and avoided it for a while pretending that I was reading and doing my literature review. I took the easy route.

Even though I was terrified about going to the lab I knew I had to go and the effort was going to be worth it in the long run. I faced the same problems when it came to writing my literature review, first year report and doing presentations. So how did things turn around for me?

Here are 4 steps to facing your fears of going to the lab, writing your literature review or doing a presentation.

1. Make sure you turn up and obey your quotas

When I decided that I would be in the lab at the latest by 9am things started to improve. I found other people had the same fears and dreams as I had. By showing up I had won half the battle and the other half was doing something productive. At the beginning it was was cleaning my glassware, organising bench space, learning how to use various equipment and reading the instruction manuals.

Eventually as time passed I still showed up but then I would always have a plan ready for an experiment. After a while I got addicted to going to the lab and would stay there well after midnight and often till 4am because what I was doing was so exciting and irresistible. I got such a buzz doing experiments that my Rihana would say that the laboratory was my first wife and she was my second wife. I built up such a momentum in doing lab work a world leading professor now at MIT commented after just a year of this routine that I had enough results for 3 PhDs. This gave enormous self satisfaction.

I had similar experiences with writing my first paper. I kept putting it off even though I had good results. I then decide that I would wake up early at 4am and then get pen and paper and just sit there. At first what I wrote was rubbish but siting at a fixed time was a massive start. I was half way there. I then started planning and eventually writing. Initially I did not write a lot often writing only a paragraph in 3 hours. Eventually I progressed to writing 5 or more pages and my writing efficiency improved to a point I could write a whole paper draft in an evening. As my papers got published my confidence sky rocketed and I felt I could write a book or thesis in 3 months.

By showing up and facing your fear you have won half the battle. Make sure you show up on time, with a plan and stay there as long as you can. When you have momentum then keep going, don’t stop. You will get great satisfaction from your efforts and in the long term you will have fantastic success.

2. Get the first task done as quickly as possible.

If you’re doing an experiment break it down into simple tasks and then get the first part done. Focus all your attention on completing this task. When you do this your confidence and self esteem will sour. You will build momentum to move onto the next task. Put in your very best effort and really concentrate.

The same rule applies if you are doing a computational modelling project or wring a report and mastering any skill.

You don’t have to get it perfect, you just have to get it going. Perfection will come later once you get into the habit of doing it. For me the hardest task of all is getting started but once I start something that I am passionate about then I don’t feel like stopping until I have finished.

3. Help someone else

As a researcher it is lonely, your project is most important and it’s easy to focus on your needs and ignore everyone else. In research it is important to share and help someone else. In sharing your knowledge and experiences you will develop your potential a lot quicker. Normally your peers and supervisors will accelerate your development so give your knowledge and experience to others frequently and you will receive a lot more in return.

I like to share my knowledge and experience with others from different fields. The top people in a field usually do the same things plus or minus 10% however if you really want to find new ways of doing something then learn from the top people in different field and then apply whatever you can to your sphere of expertise. You’ll get a quantum leap in your thinking and results you can achieve.

4. Focus on the possibilities

When you focus on how your work wll be viewed or judged you will naturally be worried. This feeling will prevent you from starting and giving your best effort. You must focus on the possibilities and benefits of your work. This will give you impetus to start. Once in flow all your worries will subside. This is the reason that researchers are the happiest when they are in the lab, writers are happiest when they are writing and artist are happiest when they are creating or painting. It is the same with sports people, footballers are happiest when they are on the field playing.

So get on the playing field of your life and you’ll experience real joy and happiness. You’ll find that afterwards what stands out in your life is not the fears but the joy of doing something worthwhile and making a contribution. Just go for it and get doing it.

What are you’re experiences? Join the discussion in the comments below. Have fun.

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