When you first become an academic and researcher you have to remember who you are. All of us in academia have been where you are – some people will tell you the honest truth and others will project that they are strong. Here is the honest truth when you start academia.
You will feel overwhelmed.
When you start your grad school, such as a PhD program, you have high hopes. Almost all of us envisions solving super hard problem that no one else could. However, you quickly realize that there is a mountain of work that you have ahead of you. The work is endless, and this is the struggle that you face.
You will need to have tough conversations.
Tough conversations are a part of the research process. No one likes them. When you have tough conversations, remember, you are a good person. You have to have tough conversations so everyone is knows your good intentions.
These tough conversations are the things that help you and others come to terms with your reality. If you need to tell others you can’t do something, that is okay. You should feel that is okay to do. If you are made to feel otherwise, take a step back and explore what is going on. Most of the time, if you are trying, it is not likely you that is struggling.
You will need to look like a total idiot.
When you’re OK with the fact that you are going to do some thing and it will make you look like a total idiot, that’s when you’re going to make progress in your life (in general). You will feel like you can’t do something, or that you don’t have the right knowledge. That is okay. We all do. Jump in, and bask in the glory of your own silliness.
If you live and die by metrics, you will have little meaning in your life.
Metrics are a strong part of academia. In my opinion, they do more harm than good. Stop looking to the quick win or wondering why someone is not going to help you. You have to work, even when you don’t want to.
No one cares about those metrics. Yes, I know that you care, and you worry about what you can do for yourself. But, the only thing metrics force you to do is focus on others and what they have done.
Stop paying attention to other people. Or, the metrics they place on you. Focus on your own goals and dreams. Start making positive changes in your life!
Be okay with working
You have to come to terms with being okay with working, but not getting caught up with feeling like the work defines you. Once you get to the moment that you don’t care about the thing you are working on – it does not define you – is the moment that you become okay with the demands of an academic career.
You will work a lot – like almost all of the them. But, then you have to be willing to throw out or revise the thing you have been working on for a decade. You will have to throw out that idea, revise it, and terminate all aspects of the idea. It sucks, and that is why you cannot let the work define you.
When you are so excited to do what you do that it is all that you think about, you are on the right track.
For me, I feel just as excited about research as I did when I started. It’s a struggle and I feel overwhelmed a lot, but the struggle is still exciting.
While there are challenges you will face in the academic career and you will need to have unusual amounts of persistence, many of us learn to love it. What I like to do is image that I am an explorer, and I get to wander into the unknown. It is never easy for those folks, either.
Keep wandering, and exploring!