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Coming Out Of A Slump With Research

Coming out of a slump with research

I’ve developed a method over the years that works for me when I encounter a slump in my research, and I’ve been recommending this approach to others. There replies have been very enthusiastic.

My recipe for coming out of a slump with my research consists of three tasks and is a twist on the “something old, something new, and something borrowed” adage:

  1. Something that scares me: When I notice that I am in a slump with my research, it usually signifies that I’m dealing with a roadblock. Perhaps I’m spinning my wheels because I feel that I need to learn a new programming language, read more on the topic, feel unsure about the methods, or any other potential reason that eats at my confidence about the research itself. I allow myself the time to figure out what it is that is holding me back. Once I’ve been able to uncover this fear, I will look it in the face and evaluate what I need to do: learn that programming language, change the methods, discuss with a colleague – any action that immediately addresses the fear that I experience. If I want to feel powerful, I identify one task to start chipping away at that fear and put that one big thing that scares me on my to do list.
  2. Something that is easy: When I’m in a slump, I get motivated by ticking off something easy from my to do list. It can be as easy as going to submit a form that I know I need to submit and that’s been on my plate, or replying that email I’ve been looking at for too long (and that does not require research, just the time to reply). I’m looking here for a quick win – something of which I know I can start to build positive momentum again. As such, I add something that is easy to accomplish on my to do list.
  3. Something that I enjoy: Remembering why I enjoy research in the first place and reconnecting with that motivation is crucial for me when I’m in a slump. I can feel bogged down by administration, service, and too much grading, and these feelings of bleh can affect how I feel about my resarch. Revisiting what brings me joy in my research is crucial here. What works for me is any of the following: reserving a good chunk of time to do data analysis in Matlab, going to sit in a nice place to read papers, or planning a meeting with a colleague to discuss some research ideas. Adding something that I enjoy and that I can look forward to on my to do list then helps me sustain the positive momentum.

What do you do when you are in a slump with your research?

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