The academic environment presents a series of challenges, but you can bolster your resolution by keeping your goals in sight and facing these challenges head-on. Roger Crawford, a professional tennis player with physical disabilities, said, “Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional.” Here are some techniques I use for conquering challenges and working towards goals:
Be persistent with your research. There have been several times in my life where I’ve come up against a wall in my research. And each time, I took down every brick of the wall. After three years as a research assistant, I’ve learned that research can be a challenge and it takes time. However, this isn’t a negative! First, remember that research always takes time (I mean years). Second, don’t punish yourself by comparing your work or stage of your work with others’ work. Third, don’t rush your work or cut corners to try and get results more quickly. If you can put these three bits of advice into practice, your research will progress and your results will be around the corner.
Learn to work well with different personalities. The job environment is full of different (and occasionally difficult) personalities, but that doesn’t mean they have to be an obstacle. When you come across a difficult personality, find a topic you have in common. Talk about music, news, the weather, or your favorite college football team over coffee and away from the lab to help you connect with others. That’s what works for me! Keep in mind that you want to create a space to generate this conversation and also that you want a coworker-friendship and not a best friend.
Find a cheering section. Find a group of peers with similar aspirations who will support you along the way. Because they’re experiencing or have experienced many of the same things as you, they’re a valuable source of advice and guidance. They’ll rejoice in your victories and their accomplishments can serve as inspiration to you. Another advantage of a support system is having a group of friends who’ll remind you to take a break every once in a while—whether it’s for a quick workout, a visit to a museum, or a trip to the farmer’s market. It'll save you from getting burned out and help you keep a positive outlook.
If you’re in graduate school, you’ve already shown that you’re persistent. You have the characteristics of a successful researcher. You may just have to develop a few more skills to help you take on challenges and achieve your goal of completing graduate school. Even if you’re in the first year of your program, remember that you can do it! Just keep focused and celebrate your achievements along the way. They prove that challenges can be overcome. So, as my professors encourage me: “Keep it up!”
Take a look around you. You’ll see people facing the same or similar challenges. They might also want to have a conversation (and take a coffee break!) to discuss their strategies for taking on challenges.