Motivation for Research: Beyond External Validation

As a PhD, researcher, or professor, it can be easy to get caught up in the external rewards and validation that come with our work. We strive for high citation counts, seek out grant funding, and aim to be recognized as prestigious in our field. I remember when I first started my PhD. I thought that the more work I put in the more that you would get rewards for it. It just does not work like that. There is so many other factors that are outside of your control, and you have to be okay with the results.

Check out this helpful post on what a PhD do all day.

While these things can certainly be fulfilling and can help to further our careers, it’s important to remember that the true motivation for our research should come from within. I remember my professors telling me how important it is to be intrinsically motivated to do research, and I really did not get it. It’s not until I’ve been doing this for almost two decades that I remember how important it is to just be curious and forget about all of the prestige that comes from the work.

Watch how come it takes a long time to do research

The love of an idea, the desire for discovery, and the sense of personal fulfillment that comes from exploring and pushing the boundaries of our knowledge are all valid and important reasons to pursue research. It’s okay to be ambitious and to strive for recognition and success, but it’s also important to remember that the real value of our work lies in the intrinsic rewards it brings.

I think most of the people that are strictly pursuing research for the validation end for the external rewards almost always quit  the profession. If you look at people that have longevity in the career, they’re almost always curious minds that could not care less about the external validation. To some degree, they are simple-minded in their pursuits.

You need to watch this if you are trying to understand how research is measured.

We should do research for the joy of exploring new ideas, for the sense of accomplishment that comes from solving a complex problem, and for the satisfaction of contributing to the greater good. I know it sounds silly, but it’s almost like that you have to pursue research for the simple pleasure of research. These are the things that will sustain us in the long run, even when external validation is hard to come by.

So, as a PhD, researcher, or professor, it’s important to remember to keep pushing your ideas and to not get too caught up in the external measures of success.

I remind myself that “Your work matters, and you matter.”

Frankly, pursuing research is really not profitable. For many of us, prestige will never happen.  it’s hard to demonstrate that this is the reason  because by the time that you actually do you get any recognition, people see the recognition and not the work that you put in for the decades prior. But for the most part, we are motivated by the joy (and sorrow) of research.

It’s okay to be motivated by the desire for recognition and success, but don’t let those things be the sole driving force behind your research. You won’t last that long if you are motivated by external rewards only. You will also make many transparent and transparent decisions that others can see through. Most of us are very keen to pick up on these transactional motivations as we have experienced it ourselves, and will likely avoid being associated with it. (If you want to read more about getting motivation to complete your PhD, read this post)

Keep pushing your ideas because they matter, and remember to find joy and fulfillment in the process of exploration and discovery.

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