Pearls of research wisdom

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Write your research question on a card. Carry it with you. Judge every decision about your research and thesis write-up against it.

Yesterday at our our Researcher Development Fayre, we displayed a researcher “wall of wisdom”. These were the nuggets of inside information, top tips, and sage advice from previous researchers to current researchers at Sussex. It’s the same content we have on our ‘Doc Wisdom‘ page here on the blog.

You can get your submission copy of your thesis bound at the print unit now!

We asked the attending researchers to contribute their own advice to the wall, and these are what they came up with. Post-docs and faculty contributed as well as doctoral researchers. Our next step is to aggregate all the advice into a wiki, which other researchers can search, use, and contribute to, to grow the project.

Why are these lessons special?

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Because they are from those that have gone on before. They are from people that know better. They are often simple to implement, and always borne of experience. Sometimes they highlight approaches that take you by surprise, or that point to an area of your professional development you hadn’t been thinking about.

Give oral presentations at conferences – it might be a bit of a challenge, but it’s the best way to get noticed by academics in your area – people who are likely to be your future employers!

Hindsight is 20:20 vision, my Mum always says.

It’s easy to see the paths you should have taken, and those you shouldn’t have, once you’re looking back on your journey. But the thing about advice is it is more freely given than it is received.

At the outset of my DPhil I longed for a complete plan of my research that I could just spend 3 years ‘colouring in’. I wish I’d had more confidence that it would take shape, organically, and that was part of the adventure.

I shall illustrate with an example… when started out on my doctoral research, PhD students in the closing phases of their own would say to write. Write write write. Write everything – write your methods as you’re going along, every little detail. Keep a research journal and write down your train of thought when you’re making decisions. In two or three years, you’ll be writing up, and you’ll think “why did I do it like that? Why didn’t I do it like this?”, and without your notes, you’re lost.

Take advantage of the resources that Sussex has to offer: IT, Library, Doctoral School, everything!

I nodded a lot, and said thank you for the advice. I even bought a lovely moleskine cahier and kept my research notes in it – including clippings, questions I asked my supervisor (and his answers), raw data, sketched charts, all that jazz. For nearly two years.

Then, in what felt like the blink of an eye, I found myself writing up. And for nine months I hand’t taken the meticulous notes, hadn’t written up the tedious details of my methods and procedures, hadn’t kept records of my literature searches and decisions I’d made. You can probably predict what happened next…

Yup, I spent a lot of time advising the newer researchers to keep notes, to write as they go along, that they didn’t want to be in a position where they forgot why they used this analysis, or discarded that data, decided against included this paper in their review, or made that argument.

And they nodded a lot, and said thank you for the advice. Some of them even bought nice notebooks and started keeping a research diary… ;o)

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