Today I had a good day.
Like, I actually had a good day.
For the past couple of months of my PhD I’ve become accustomed to a state of being where I turn up to work, try not to ruin things, then go home. Under this scheme, a “good” day counted as one where I hadn’t come out of it understanding less than when I started. Bad days were frequent and easy to cause. I dreaded meeting my supervisor, because I always walked away baffled and/or upset. That’s not a good state to work in.
In the past week, I turned it around.
Two things had really been holding me back; not understanding the “big picture” of my project (consequently getting lost in the little things), and not really being able to put my finger on a problem that needed solving. That’s a bad combination – I could cope with not understanding if I had a real problem to solve, and I could cope with not having a problem to solve if I understood how the little things were adding up. I had neither, and was suffering.
Then I got some good advice from the Researcher Development Project at my University. In one of their training sessions, they emphasized the importance of getting your co-supervisor to meetings regularly with you and your supervisor. I chose to set these meetings roughly every 2 months (academics are busy people; any more regularly would be laughably optimistic), and to focus them on the “big picture” of my research. The first one happened late last week, and it went unexpectedly well.
My supervisors were receptive to the idea of the meeting and helped me understand what goals I should be aiming for in the medium-term. That fixed a lot of worries I had, and they even went as far as to say I was doing well. By my count, that’s the first direct compliment I’ve had for my work since I started – it meant a lot to me. That was a pretty good meeting (and not a bad day overall), but “coping” isn’t “getting on well” and I still had something to fix.
Today, I read a paper. The paper was awful. I got angry, because awful papers are inoffensive unless you’re relying 0n them to guide your research. Then they are the most infuriating thing on the planet. So I got angry, and that made me realise that there is a problem that I can really get behind. The literature doesn’t seem to give a clear “recipe” for the method I want to use, and my suspicion is that this is to protect the financial interests of a company.
While I have no problem with companies keeping their secrets, a paper without the nitty-gritty details is basically a 4-6 page long boast. It’s not science, and it’s not right. So my problem is straightforward to solve; find out how (through research), then tell anyone who’ll listen.
So now I have the bit between my teeth – a problem I can solve – and a good idea of why it’s important. And oh boy did it make it a good day when I met my supervisor today and managed to walk away with a clear idea of what’s happening.
Today, I had a good day.