How to fall in love?

How to fall in love?

Ah, love – that elusive feeling most people search for. It can be hard to find and hard to hold on to. Let me help you out. This week, I will give you 10 definitive tips to find your perfect match and fall and stay in love with your research.

1. Size doesn’t matter

Some people like big, broad research topics, while others like smaller, niche research topics for which you really need to dive into the nitty-gritty details. Both are completely functional and can lead to a long, passionate career. Do what feels good for you.

2. Looks don’t matter

Tell me, would you rather be seduced by a model with flashy colours or have a long in-depth conversation with multiple data points? Truth is, some models are beautiful, but don’t have any insight at all, while less visually appealing research topics might give you exactly what you have been craving. You can’t judge a model by its figure. Although you can judge it on its assumptions, of course.

3. Go on a date

Did I just say ‘go on a date’? I definitely didn’t mean to say that. It would be weird to go on a date with your research topic, right? I mean, I’ve definitely never been on a date with my research. *cough*

Let’s talk about something else.

It might be a good idea to have a look at data at the start of your relationship. Find out what the observations say and what the different opinions on your potential research topic are. Do other people like it? Dislike it? How does that affect your opinion of the research question? Would you still like to embark on a long-term relationship now that you have seen all the cards on the table? You never truly know, but a date data is a good place to start.

4. Have fun!

Play around with it a little

Who hasn’t heard that at some point in their career? However, it turns out that the wise supervisors who repeat this phrase over and over might actually be right. The beginning of your relationship should be exciting; you should explore; play around; make mistakes. At this point, it doesn’t matter if you do something wrong: you are still figuring out how it all works. Later, you can become serious and dedicated, but initially? Just play around with it a little.

5. It should feel right

Do you get butterflies in your tummy when you think about your experiment? Does your heart skip a beat when you look at your code? Do you get lightheaded and giddy when you start your literature review? Either you are truly falling head over heels for this research topic, or you are having panic attacks at the thought of having to work. Whoops. Don’t compromise your happiness: academia is hard enough as it is and the reason most academics are in it is because they love what they are doing with all their heart (most of the time). So don’t stop searching for that one topic that makes you feel happy. When you find the one (ring? research question? person? code?), you will know.

6. Set clear boundaries

We all know boundaries are important. For example, without boundary conditions, you wouldn’t have any models at all. But you should also be clear about the boundaries of your research topic. A clear research question with clear boundaries is often the most easily answered. And with ‘easily’ I mean it’s still very hard, but maybe (hopefully?) you will experience less frustration in the process. It might be hard or not fun to talk about boundaries, but it is a conversation that is worth heaving.

7. Communicate

Consider whispering softly to your computer to persuade your code to drop the ‘segmentation fault’ message. I mean, you tried everything else to debug the code, so you might as well try this, right? Stroking and general positive affirmations to encourage your code, experiment, or equation could also help. Maybe first check if you are within hearing distance of any colleagues before you go all out, though. On that same note, maybe consider communicating with your colleagues. Apparently communication is key in any relationship.

8. Give it time

Love doesn’t grow overnight. You need to give it some time. After your first infatuation (and maybe your first fight?), you might waver in your determination to see this project through, because – is it really as great as you first thought? Suddenly you can see all the problems and shortcomings you didn’t realise were there. It can be disheartening, but remember why you liked the research topic in the first place. Maybe you can make some changes (debatable whether or not you can ever truly change something). In any case, give it some time. You could grow to really love your research and when that happens, your career will be secured. After all, true love conquers everything, right?

9. Give yourself space

Okay, so you love your research passionately, but now you are going to the other extreme: you are completely obsessed and consumed by it and work 24/7. This is also not a good idea. The work-life balance thing is quite important. Don’t loose yourself and take care of yourself. So, practically speaking: consider working 23/7 instead of 24/7. That way, you can still take some time for yourself while maintaining your ferocious research output schedule.

10. Don’t forget about the other fish in the sea

While I would be the first to advocate for faithfulness, loyalty, and trust in a relationship, your relationship with your research topic does not have to be as black and white as all that. In research, you can start to think about the grey areas a bit more… Do you really think geodynamics might get upset over your little liaison with seismology? Your research topic won’t blame you for a little adventure in the field with geology. Branch out a bit and see what else is out there. Maybe you will find it will keep your relationship with your original research topic fresh and stronger than ever.

Now go and find that special someone research question! You can thank me later.

Iris van Zelst
Iris is a postdoc at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom. Her current research revolves around intermediate-depth seismicity and the geodynamic modelling of subducting plates. Her recently completed PhD was on the modelling of tsunamigenic earthquakes using a range of interdisciplinary modelling approaches, such as geodynamic, dynamic rupture, and tsunami modelling. Iris is Editor-in-chief of the GD blog team. You can reach Iris via email. For more details, please visit Iris' personal webpage.

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