A friend asked me if i have ever felt lost in my research. I smiled, and said yes – a lot of times! Even after submitting my thesis, even after passing my viva (thesis defence) and even while i make my corrections afterwards. Lost and found, search and search , research and re-search. Because that is what research is all about.
To that friend, i want to tell her that its okay to feel lost, it’s entirely normal and part of the research process we will go through. Because only when we are lost, we will find our way back to our research. Easy said than done, it took me a long time to understand and accept this fact.
Back when i was doing my degree, i was at least sure that i can still find my lecturers to guide me. Of cause i have my supervisor to guide me but at the end of the day, it still goes back to you to figure out what we want to do with our research. What is the next step, what is the best way in getting our data, research strategy is not just theoretical but also creative way in reaching our target respondent, and sometimes even after coming back from our fieldwork, the data don’t make upp, don’t really go the way we hypothesis or expect it to be, and thats okay, because then, you get to go around it and find out why it doesn’t work and discuss that in our chapter. Turn our obstacles into opportunity to revise our research, because we would be doing that anyway (trust me, a lot of times!)
My research struggle are nothing like other research friends i know like financial restrictions, laptop crashed halfway through the research (please please back up every progress you can in dropbox/google drive/and email to yourself every time) and some decided to quit everything (but came back with a new research)
It was more an internal struggle, between trying to get used to a whole new field where there is no syllabus to follow except the ones you choose to fill your knowledge, to wondering if this is really the path you want to take (with constant what am i doing here eternal struggle, wishing that im out there working and traveling the world ), to questioning yourself or self doubt if you can really finish this research and other external minor issue i keep to myself.
After talking to a few friends in the same field also a heart to heart talk with my parents (especially my mom), i realize that everything i was going through happens to anyone doing research, though they may have different obstacles but the way we handle the obstacles given to us makes a difference.
A very good advice i received from a friend is not to carry everything on my backpack, because it seems at that time, i was trying to solve the world issue when my research scope is just that and only that. Especially the fact im just doing a master, so the scope is even smaller. We are only an expert in our own research title, says one prominent research blogger Dr OT. So, that friend advice me to reduce the weight and that can only be done by making my task into smaller task. Which i try to remind myself that its only going to be 100 page something of thesis writing and double spacing.
Most of the time when im down depend a lot in self motivation, because at the end of the day, i have to push myself to get where i want to be. So, i try to find out what helps me to write better , or what makes me anxious or more relaxed.
One of the things I usually do is taking a walk, either to the town or just in my campus. Back then, i have a friend who would walk with me to the nearby mamak, sometimes we purposely walk the long way so we can get fresh air to another food place, sometimes i go for my own penang tour and indulge some comfort food in cafes around georgetown thanks to a friend who started that tradition with me a few years back, and as i learn to manage my own stress i also learn to not pay attention to other unnecessary drama from problematic people , and focus more on my research instead.
Honestly i don’t really have a schedule, and not by far the most disciplined, sometimes I procrastinate and just leave my research for a while until i get back to it. Sometimes it’s necessary to not do our research and do something else so we can clear our head. Thats when i tried some wall climbing class, drum lesson , part time working at an archeology gallery or go on short trips , or volunteer organizing seminar and even shoot some videos in between. But, no matter what i always come back to rmy research…even though at times reluctantly.
So sometimes, despite forcing myself to go back to my research, sometimes all it takes is to start somewhere and the words will flow out of nowhere. We just need to start and push through. There are times though, no matter how much we force ourselves to write, the words just doesn’t come out, whenever that happens, stop and take a break. For me, i needed short breaks, there be days i will do my research a whole day, half day, sometimes even just one page or one paragraph….and thats okay because sooner or later it will grow until one point you have to remove a lot of what you just wrote. So just go with it, and not be too hard on ourselves.
It also help me when i would randomly open any article that i have downloaded based on whatever theme im doing on and sometimes idea sparks at the randomest time. We may never be able to finish reading all paper, so don’t worry about not finishing all the papers you have saved. In the end you will only use less than you thought you need. There is no right or wrong way in writing our research, and how you want to do it is up to you as long as you can justify why you did it that way since we are only adding to what is already out there.
And don’t worry much about graduating early though it is encouraged to graduate on time, for me, i believe in the words of Rumi,
“Its your road, and yours alone. others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you”
Our research journey may be different but we all are heading to the same destination, to get our research done and finally graduate. So don’t compare each other’s progress, instead celebrate your own accomplishments, progress is still progress no matter how small it is. Its the small things that adds up to the big things in our life. Look back how far you have gone to get here, but also remember that the future is closer than we think. So focus on the present, the 24 hour you have today. Do our research but don’t forget to live your life. Fail, fail better and try again.
Replace our negative thoughts to positive things, we have the power over our mind, don’t let it go too far unless its about our research. Spend some time alone, but know that we are not alone. Make friends, be a friend and most of all be your own best friend. Treat ourselves and others around you better and better things will come to us. And if you believe in God, all you have to do is ask. Keep knocking on His door, for the He is the owner of knowledge. Beg if you must, on your prayers, cry if you feel so, breakdown to tears and only then we can break through our research. This knowledge is not ours, what we achieve is nothing without His help, we are helpless until we reach out for help. Get help, ask other experts in the field you are doing, go for conferences and mix around even with those outside your field, it can open us to different perspective and sometimes help us see our research in a different light. Talk about your research sometimes even though you may not like to talk about it. It will help us get the words out of our head at times even if the other person may not be an expert in what we do. But at least, we have someone who listens to us. Don’t hold everything in to ourselves and let yourself go once in a while. Only then, we will be able to lose the chains that has been dragging us down. Learn to stay with our darkness and soon enough you will feel enlightened by what you understand later. This can only be understood much much later and if you are smiling reading this, you know what i am talking about. For those who is still lost, stay lost …but come back when you are ready to face your own fear. The only enemy is ourselves, so face your fears with courage and may you find your way to whatever you are researching about. All the best!