The invisible goal posts (or simply ‘goals’ if you are a soccer fan)
May 21, 2013
Last year the Sydney Swans won the 2012 AFL premiership. A premiership is the ultimate achievement for any player of a sport like AFL. The party was huge. But it got me thinking. Footballers are really good at celebrating the small wins too. The team, and the fans, celebrate every goal of every game throughout the season – they don’t wait until the grand final. Now this is something I think we’re not so good at in research. In fact, I think we’re rubbish at it – letting ourselves enjoy the small wins.
Think of the ways we are ultimately judged, for example publications, grants and fellowships. Yes we congratulate ourselves when these happen, but these moments don’t really come along all that often. Think of what potentially has to go into one publication alone: thinking, chatting, formulating, piloting, testing, presenting, listening, analysing, writing...
On my way home most days I do a bit of a de-brief in my head of what I achieved that day, and on many occasions it feels like not much. Often the wins we have in research aren’t exactly tangible. Sometime you can’t even cross out some of the items on your to-do list before you leave the office.
We can’t see our goal posts like a footballer can. And if we can’t see the goals, we don’t know when we’ve kicked them. And then we don’t end up stopping to enjoy the progress we’re making. I’ve learnt that you have to celebrate the small wins. As a junior researcher you have to remind yourself of how far you’ve come before you worry about what’s next. For example, in no particular order:
You’ve got to congratulate yourself throughout the writing process. We can’t submit a paper every day. Even sending off that first draft to your supervisors or the other authors is a big step.
Celebrate submitting the paper. Don’t put off the celebrations till it’s published. Just getting it in is a win, whatever might come next.
Congratulate yourself on making connections and collaborations with people. They could be in the lab next door or overseas, a fellow trainee or a professor. But in some way your connection will help one or both of you achieve progress.
When you find yourself understanding and enjoying papers in your field, this is progress.
When you find yourself understanding, or perhaps contributing to, a scientific conversation going on around you, this is definitely an achievement.
Stand back as often as you can so you can picture what you’ve achieved and say “well done mate”. It may seem small but that’s because the progress in research tends to be so gradual. Most days I’d say we’re achieving something, even if it’s tiny in the big picture. But we won’t enjoy what we’re doing unless we recognise those goal posts and realise we’re kicking goals. I’ve resolved to be better at this, and not just in my research. I’m going to enjoy every Swans goal this season, and (try) not to think about the premiership in September.