The Comfort Pursuit

how talking about it can help your research

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Is there anything more interesting in a research presentation than that moment when you look at the presenter and think: “that is great, and makes absolute sense, but how did he or she come up with that brilliant idea?!”

When we do our own researches we tend to go through many different phases and feelings. First of all we always have ‘some idea’ and a big anxiety about what to do exactly. Then comes the ‘things to solve’ and this involves deciding methods to ask your research question, getting ethical approval (if you need one). The next step is to get into the data collection stage, writing short reports, drafting some analysis and when it seems it is getting under way comes the next stage that feeling of ‘this is not good enough’ or worse ‘this is all obvious, why I am researching this?!’

From many conversations I had with scholars and grad students throughout my Masters and now in the PhD I had the comforting feeling that it is absolutely normal and most people go through it. It seems that when we get so involved with something and we get to know more than anybody else about the topic (yes, that’s what happens!) we start to think ‘it was always there’. This seems to be particularly bad at the end of the long PhD journey, exactly because it is long. If you are feeling like this be sure that you are not alone, we all feel like that at some stage(s).

Not long ago I was feeling this way. For me the biggest problem is not just the feeling itself but that it is the perfect excuse to put in to practice all my procrastination skills. The research is not worth it after all.

The ultimate assumption of procrastiontion for me is when I decide to turn skype or facebook to ‘online’ mode during working hours. Terrible, right? Well, in this case wrong. In this case my procrastination-tool-number-one showed me the light at the end of the tunnel. In an online chat with a friend that is in my hometown, on the other side of the Pacific that feeling was fixed. Here is how it happened:

Friend: You are quiet. Are you ok?

Me: Kind of… Struggling with my writing.

Friend: You always manage to mention your research you even make me curious, what is it that you are doing? Can you explain that to me?

(Here is that second when you feel that shiver on your spine, then you freeze, and finally you think… Come on, summarize it, you have to be able to do it!)

Me: I think I can… It is about how different cultures adapt in different ways to their environments.

Friend: That sounds interesting, but I don’t think I know what you are talking about.

Me: Basically I am saying that different cultures look for different things in the urban environments. What attracts us in Brazil and makes us want to stay outside is not the same thing that attracts New Zealanders to enjoy the city. And if you think about it, with Chinese would be different again, in Thailand might be different again…

Friend: But wasn’t your research about climate?

Me: Yes, it is. I am discussing that you can expect people to respond to thermal thresholds in indoors spaces, where you are expected to develop a certain activity, but in the city is different. In the city you have varied stimulations and people will adapt to a certain degree, as long as they want to. We all have ways of doing it.

Friend: Hum… Think I am following you.

Me: So, what I am saying is that people will adapt as long as you give them good reasons to do so. But these reasons will be different here in New Zealand, in Brazil, in China or in Iceland. It is not the physiology side of it, but what the city has to offer so people cope better with the local climate. Of course you will still have extreme weather and days you can’t do some things, but the idea is to design spaces, including microclimate strategies, that extend as much as possible the use of open spaces during the year.

Friend: That makes total sense to me.

Me: (Phew!) So, my focus is Christchurch post-earthquake. I want to understand their climatic and aesthetics preferences based on their backgrounds and local culture.

Friend: That sounds great! You speaking like that sounds so easy and clear. But I would never come up with this idea. How did you think about all that together like that?

After this I briefly explained my methods of data collection, what I had found out so far and how I intend to apply that in the landscape design context. From here the conversation flowed easily. More because I was relieved than because anything at all had changed regarding my work. From here I felt like that lecturer I talked about above. It has value and meaning after all. When we turned off the chat I went back to my doc file and started to write as I was writing to her. No need to say things started to fall into place.

This process of writing a thesis also made me addicted to productivity tools, which I will talk about in the near future. Reading books and listening to podcasts about the topic I noticed that most of the time the internet is taken as a threat to your work. If your work is researching and writing it is even worse because of the long hours of focused work needed. If what we are talking about is ‘internet chatting’ (not using chat for work) then it is the killer of any productive work.

At this stage I think this chat saved long hours of dissatisfaction and consequent procrastination (Thanks A.!)

Do you isolate yourself to work more productively? Or have you ever felt those short breaks of assumed ‘unproductive work’ ended up helping you?

2 thoughts on “how talking about it can help your research”

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