Turning boundaries into opportunities

In my last post I talked about the freedoms I have in defining my project and doing exploratory research. Of course, the truth is that I am also operating within boundaries.

Aside from the obvious need to fulfil the PhD requirements of the University, I also have to consider the expectations of multiple supervisors and my funding source. These could be considered hard constraints – if I don’t satisfy them, the project won’t be successful, and I won’t get my degree. Writing my proposal has already revealed tensions and somewhat conflicting interests, and navigating them will require care and attention.

It is tempting to say that these requirements are boundaries to my creativity, limiting my exploration. But that’s not a very useful approach. Instead, I choose to see constraints as directing creativity – something that will ultimately improve the quality of my research and its broader value.

I said that the purpose of my project is to take a step towards new research questions. But if nobody understands what I’ve done, or sees it as useful, then my work doesn’t matter. So I need to learn to communicate my ideas in a way that can be understood by anyone, regardless of disciplinary background, and in a way that conveys their merit.

If I have to defend my work and articulate its value to everyone around me, I need to produce work that I believe has value.

So instead of getting hung up on trying to make everyone happy, I have a bigger plan. If I produce good research and can explain its value to everyone, then satisfying expectations stops being an issue. This solution lets me focus on the research, and will improve its quality long-term.

Photo credit: onigiri-kun / Foter.com / CC BY-ND

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