Reflection can be defined as the act of giving serious thought or consideration to something. It is amazing how many powerful lessons we can learn from ‘reflection on action.’ Sharing these lessons can help others currently going through what we have deal with the situations they find themselves in. We are so grateful to our guest writers for sharing their stories with us. In this ‘Reflections’ article, Nadia Anwar discusses emotions associated with the different stages of a research journey.
Every research project passes through eight important phases: Euphoria, Realisation, Shock, Disillusionment, Acceptance, Depression, Revival, and Completion. The following narrative is dedicated to all my friends, colleagues, and students who are currently engaged with some kind of research – be it an MPhil dissertation, PhD thesis or monograph writing and are struggling to comprehend the volatility and psychological diversity of changing scenarios which come natural to any research process.
Euphoria is characterised by passionate involvement of a researcher with his/her research. This stage presents an idealistic vision of what one can achieve with hard work and commitment. At this initial stage all ideas seem original, all propositions unprecedented, and all perspectives fool proof. Very soon, however, it dawns upon the researcher that despite his or her unquestionable trust in the quality and potential of his/her research and supervisors’ initial approbation, there are fault lines which if not bridged in time can create serious obstacles in the research process. More often than not, students associate this problem with a lack of understanding on the part of their supervisors or with issues that exempt them of any fault on their part. However, the burden of this realization – of faults in the perfect proposal – can be too heavy and leads to a state of shock. In cases where the researcher possesses prior expertise or/and experience in teaching or guiding other people, the realisation of one’s deficiencies and ignorance can sometimes be extremely intolerable and emotionally painful.
At this stage disillusion sets in. The initial euphoria evaporates in the air like steam and the researcher is left with plenty of work, no sense of direction, anger, and annoying fear of failure and subsequent embarrassment. These feelings continue to haunt the researcher for some time, triggering eonian internal dialogues, which if ever come to an end makes the researcher blame everything and everyone else associated with the research rather than one’s self. John Burroughs thoughts neatly sum up implications of such scapegoating: ‘A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody’. Human mind, nevertheless, cannot nurture the same feeling for long. Besides, the critic that sits inside the researcher’s mind soon begins to argue about the practicality and reality of his/her narcissist thought processes, compelling him/her to conduct a thorough self-analysis.
At this stage, the researcher realises that s/he has been overly and unduly justifying her/himself. This is termed as the acceptance stage. It is important to note that by this time the researcher should have already integrated him/herself in the dynamic research environment, establishing useful links with peers and imbibing the subtle but helpful suggestions coming from senior researchers. Therefore, the feeling of being an active member of a research community infuses a new spirit and taking full advantage of this new state of awareness the researcher formulates new research strategies, revise ideas, and starts working with overhauled vigour.
This newly conceived exuberance helps the researcher achieve plenty in terms of research and writing up – preliminary drafts are made, previous notes are updated, and fresh perspectives are formulated. As a general rule, every emotionally elevated stage, however, heralds a period of depression. After some productive and useful time the researcher too starts feeling low, unable to figure out how and when his words will become mature enough to go straight into the final draft. This is a crucial and emotionally dangerous stage. The researcher may also experience psycho-somatic symptoms such as palpitations, fluctuating blood pressure, and sinking heart along with feelings of futility, inadequacy and worthlessness of all s/he has remained involved with during her/his research journey. I would strongly advise my friends not to get upset by the appearance of these symptoms for there is nothing physiologically wrong with them. These are actually auspicious signs helping a researcher regain lost energy levels and boost creative thinking. Besides, in a more general sense this state is an ostensible evidence of how far and with how much effort you have covered your research journey. These apparently negative feelings are blessings in disguise for they emotionally prepare you to experience a wonderful sense of achievement in the times to come.
Struggling with one’s emotions is hard but after each effort one becomes stronger than before. The autoimmune capacity of the researcher gradually works to revive passion in research that helps the researcher swim through the troubled waters of psychological depression. Coming back to active and engaging research life has its own benefits as it sheds new light on the meaning and vicissitudes of life per se. This revival stage is imbued with fear, nervous expectations and excitement all at the same time. I used to get butterflies in my stomach during the final wrapping up of my thesis. Perhaps I was in love with my research the way people fall in love with human beings.
That feeling when you see yourself printing out the final draft or sending the final email to your supervisors or reviewers! The very act of submission gives you a fresh lease of life, a new hope for future and a wonderful sense of completion. The final count-down that entails waiting for viva after submission or for feedback on research is hard and demands plenty of patience. However, all hard times are forgotten once results are announced and glory is achieved.
Kudos to all my friends who have remained steadfast during all the stages of their respective research journeys. All the best.
About our writer – Dr Nadia Anwar has a PhD in Nigerian drama from the University of Northampton, UK. She is a Senior Lecturer in English at the Education Department in Pakistan and is a visiting faculty member at the University of Management and Sciences. Her primary areas of interest are African literature in general, specifically focused on Nigerian theatre and drama.
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