Isabel Windeatt, Postgraduate Research Student in the Department of Human Communication Sciences shares her tale of joy.
One of the most positive and uplifting parts of carrying out research is the relationships that you build with the people in your department and, eventually, across universities. When I first started my PhD, I was grateful to the other researchers in my office for how welcoming and inclusive they were, especially when everyone was busy working on their own research. It was particularly reassuring for me, as I had been out of academia for the past five years and I didn’t quite know how I would adapt back into the research routine. But having the reassurance from others that it was completely normal to feel like you don’t always know what you’re doing, and that there are always people you can talk to, was enough to keep me feeling positive.
My favourite part of the day is the moment when someone calls out to the office, “anyone fancy a cuppa?” You head to the break room together (or Starbucks if you’re feeling wealthy) grab a drink, and start chatting. This time away from your work gives you a chance to discuss the challenges and issues you’re facing in your research, share good or bad experiences, and further gain the reassurance that you are not alone.
Though it may seem it, chatting with your peers (especially when everyone is so busy) is not just procrastination. There is a big emphasis in employment, whether it be in academia or otherwise, on networking. Building peer relationships is a part of research and a skill that you will use throughout your career and your life. Taking ten minutes to get a drink with someone else also reduces the isolation that comes along with a PhD and provides a good mental break for when you’re stuck on a problem in your research.
It’s also a lot of fun!
One thing I’ve noticed during these chats, and generally across academia, is that people are interested in what you have to say, regardless of what stage you’re at in your research. Such opportunities can offer new perspectives you may not have considered before. I have seen people share knowledge, give advice and just listen to each other; even when they’re struggling or working to tight deadlines themselves. People just seem to want to help each other, which is a wonderful and inspiring way of working.
It’s not just departmental peers who offer this support either. Researchers across universities and countries freely offer their help and advice on your research problems. If you haven’t been able to build a research network with people at different universities yet, try using Twitter (which is apparently the social network of academia). I have seen numerous posts asking if anyone knows of any journal articles on specific, sometimes very niche, topics. The speed and the number of responses is a wonderful display of what it means to be part of an academic community. Not to mention it’s also really helpful.
This community feeling that academia and research engenders is not something I have experienced in the same way in jobs outside of university life. The curiosity intrinsic to researchers is something which I think contributes towards this rewarding, supportive environment and, for me, it is one of the best parts of being involved in research. The level of support that I’ve seen researchers give each other, and that I have received, has been thoroughly uplifting. I am immensely grateful for it and for all the people I’ve talked to during my first eight months in research.
Getting support from others and taking regular breaks is part of making research an enjoyable experience. So the next time someone asks you if you fancy grabbing a cuppa, say “yes”! It might just give you the boost you need to keep going and to stay positive.