What is it like to be a researcher?

Researchers are described as:
“Professionals engaged in the conception or creation of new knowledge, products, processes, methods and systems, and in the management of the projects concerned” (European Commission 2003).

That is what I am learning to do now, and struggling a lot. I find it difficult to make a transition from reproduction of knowledge to its creation. I suppose the root of all evil lies in my educational background (trying to find an excuse). Coming from a more or less an authoritarian educational system when you are always told what to do, and you just obey, I’ve never even been aware of the concept of critical thinking. In my undergrad the exam requirement was to reproduce what the professor TOLD you at the lecture + use the material of the books that HE/SHE recommended. If you do otherwise, and try to be ‘smart’ and challenge your professor, it means that you don’t respect him/her. Therefore, you don’t deserve a good mark. And since all the exams I passed were oral, any professor could easily remember the face of that ‘smart’ student, and challenge him back at the exam which normally resulted in a low mark. That is not to say that the educational system in Russia is so bad. If you are hard-working and determined, you’ll get a decent baggage of theoretical knowledge that will be useful in you PhD, for example. However, the concept of critical thinking and reading came to me as a revelation at the age of 22 when I came to the UK to do my Masters degree. But… better late than never! The year of my Masters was an exciting and challenging experience. I was learning so many new things but the price of this learning was sleepless nights and constant stress. The transition to a new educational system was really difficult. But I managed to adapt, and started writing essays with a critical approach. I did not do too badly in the end… submitted all on time, and graduated last November. But then came another challenge… PhD.

Although I started my PhD in the same educational system, it turned out to be a completely different learning experience. You are supposed not only to be critical but be able to generate new knowledge, publish original research in the journals, and in the end, preferably contribute to the knowledge economy. Not an easy task…

How do I cope?

  • The biggest help for me is my supervisors. I think I am very lucky since my supervisors are very supportive, and they all contribute to my research project in different ways.
  • I discovered that peer-to-peer support is a very powerful asset too. It’s great to hear the perspectives of your peers on your project.
  • One of the key issues is to develop the right attitude. I try to take every challenge and problem as an incredible learning experience. I learn so much about myself!!! It’s a complete 360 degrees SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats)  analysis of yourself. I discover new worlds and new people every day. Sometimes it can be quite a daunting process though. For example, I am currently working on my Lit Review, and see no end to this task))) But I know I’ll get there… soon.

Sometimes I think that I’ve made a mistake, and the world of research is not for me. But here my positive attitude works again. My motto is “It’s better to do something and regret than not to do and regret”. I know that at this very moment I am creating my future. And I hope that the learning I am experiencing now will help me to become a better person, discover new worlds and make a positive difference in other people’s life.

Stay positive! Stay motivated! And get down to work! Now!


About elenaphd

I am a PhD fellow at Glasgow Caledonian University, Scotland. In my research project I am looking at employability of social science doctoral researchers.
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