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How do you keep yourself motivated?

  1. Sep 1, 2015 #1
    I believe there are many people here doing research on different fields. Research most of the time is very tedious stressful and frustrating. How do you keep yourself motivated to work hard until you get some satisfactory results? and are you willing to sacrifice your mental/physical health to get some results no matter what or at some point you would change your attitude?
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  3. Sep 2, 2015 #2


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    Depends on the definition you choose for the word "satisfactory." Negative results demoralize some people and elate others --- learning what won't work is as good as it gets sometimes.
  4. Sep 2, 2015 #3
    I would say satisfactory results are something you can publish in a well recognized journal in your field.
  5. Sep 2, 2015 #4
    That's exactly it. I personally believe that in order to create great art, you really have to put yourself on the line and sacrifice everything. There's different schools of thought here, and a good exemplar comes from the music industry.

    I believe in the policy of "total immersion." If you want to be a player in a certain field you have to commit yourself 100%. To the exclusion of everything else. Otherwise, you're just going to be an "also-ran" :frown:
  6. Sep 2, 2015 #5
    But how to keep yourself up to it all the time? This is the question. Not all people are passionate about what they are doing as some projects may dictate their current research.
  7. Sep 2, 2015 #6
    Well, I think you are answering your own question. Are you passionate about it or not? If you are not sure, I would either question what I'm doing or develop a passion for it if I have to. It doesn't really matter if you're constrained in some way. Case in point, I had to take a job at a car rental agency. I initially worked at the San Diego airport, because, at the time, I was hired by these mercenaries who offered me 10% on upgrades and 15% on insurance. This might not sound like much, but when you're booking groups of 75 from Nortel networks for a week each of which get the "supplementary" insurance with the personal effects coverage, it adds up real quick. Especially when I upgrade them from a compact to a midsize :wink:

    But I digress. I gave the position up at the airport and took a sleepy job at a hotel on Coronado beach for a huge paycut because I didn't want the pressure anymore and because I could write my brain manifesto behind a sleepy counter with few customers and still make $15 an hour. Which I gladly accepted even though I averaged abut $85 an hour at the airport.

    But the point is, is that I did write the manifesto there, but I also conjured up a way to make a killing in the rental car business. Each car they were sitting on I calculated was costing them $18 dollars a day. Every car that was sitting idle was a liability, didn't matter if it was a compact, midsize, or fullsize, they all cost the company $18 a day. But you could easily make upwards of $60+ a day (including supplemental insurance) on each rental you worked it right. And there was plenty of customers and resources to do this in San Diego in the 90's. But I gave it up because I was more interested in slacking behind the counter for $15 an hour while I wrote my manifesto. But the point is that you can self-motivate yourself to do anything, even sell rental cars!
  8. Sep 2, 2015 #7
    You are lucky enough to be in a country where you can live without a college degree. Which is to say that if you don't find your passion in education you can do whatever you want to do and be just fine. In other countries even with a college degree you won't be able to cover the basic living expenditures for years. Illiterate people are literally suffering. That means that people are forced to go to college to survive, and some of them continue to PhD. Once you are in PhD and you are not really interested is a big problem. If you manage to finish, you won't be distinguished, and the sense of under achievement is terrible. Everyone wants to be distinguished and have the sense of achievement.
  9. Sep 2, 2015 #8
    Well, if that's the case I'd highly suggest you get interested. I don't think you told us what your field is. If you don't like it, try to change it. But that's what my earlier post was designed to create. If you are locked in a situation that you don't like or feel helpless in, there's always a way out. Use your mind to turn the situation around and take charge. Maybe this is not so easy under a dictatorial regime but that's all I got for you..
  10. Sep 2, 2015 #9
    My field is Electrical Engineering. It was more a general question, and I don't want to divert the discussion into any particularities. Do you find research easy or hard? If easy what makes it easy, and if hard how do you keep going in doing it (what motivates you)? Is passion the answer or an answer? Is passion something we discover or create? Do you create incentives to yourself to keep going?
  11. Sep 2, 2015 #10
    If you're looking at EE as a means to an end that is financially motivated, as it seems to me what you are saying, then the prognosis is not good. That's the way I look at it.

    You create incentives by creating incentives. If your primary reason for doing science isn't to contribute some original work to the field, then you are an imposter in my opinion. You are a janitor. Which isn't bad, per se. somebodys got to clean the petri dishes. But what I see in you is a lack of focus. Just try to figure out what it is you want to do and who you want to be. I, personally, was NEVER in doubt as to what that was, and maybe I was luckier than I thought in that respect.
  12. Sep 2, 2015 #11
    Are you telling me that if you are passionate about science then you will have no problems in doing research and keep yourself motivated? I doubt all PhD holders are passionate about their fields. That is why I think the education level is higher in developing countries than in developed countries. Money is a big derive for education in many cases.

    I love science. I have read many scientific books for the public reader, and I have watched many science documentaries. I like mathematics, that is why I have chosen Electrical Engineering/Communications. I have the capacity to understand and do very complicated problems. But I have a problem with doing research as to set down for long hours a day which is isolating me and compromises my health, while in my opinion in life there are more important things like family and peace of mind. Does research necessary mean to give up life and health for science? Is this what it means to be passionate about science?
  13. Sep 2, 2015 #12
    No, that is not what research should be about at all.
  14. Sep 2, 2015 #13


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    Actually, having hobbies and outside things that you do can help. While I was working on my Ph.D., I took up the study of formal logic as a hobby. I would work a while, study a while and come back refreshed. Doing things that are healthy also helps. Sitting around for hours, your head gets foggy. I had an adviser once out at one of the national labs who would get up and walk around the lab complex at least twice a day. I started doing it too; when I would get back my head was always clearer. Concentrating on one thing to the exclusion of all else leads to burnout. At least it would for me. And I am not known as lacking focus, for sure!
  15. Sep 2, 2015 #14


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    I think a general suggestion is to track down your mental and psychological states and learn to manage them, manage yourself, so you can remain in good overall condition.
  16. Sep 2, 2015 #15
    While I was doing my PhD, and I was working on something and stuck, I couldn't think of anything else. That is why I had such a hard times in my PhD, especially I am not that outgoing type of person. So, I would dwell on the problem day and night. I also have a problem in focusing (unlike you) due to suspecting ADHD. Now things are more relaxing since if you don't get something done, I don't lose anything, and thus I don't have the kind of stress I had during my PhD. But still doing research is a huge part of my life and it is boring most of the time, except when you have a glimpse of optimistic results, which will energize me for a while and then fade away, which is usually quick.
  17. Sep 2, 2015 #16


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    What you just said reminds me of the making of the stop-motion animation film The Nightmare Before Christmas. For each scene, people had to move these little figures just a little, take a picture, then move them just a little, take a picture, and on and on, etc., ad infinitum. One of those people was saying that you can't just do it for the end product, you have to actually enjoy the process of it. Research is in some ways such an intellectual activity, but in others it's like making stop-motion films! If you are spending the majority of your time unhappy, I don't personally see the point of it. Can you find good things about the process itself? If not, maybe you just need a different kind of project.
  18. Sep 2, 2015 #17


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    Disclaimer: Err... I didn't mean to suggest that making stop motion films can't be intellectual.
  19. Sep 2, 2015 #18
    So, is it something I alone feel about research and not something prevalent? I thought what I feel is common among many researchers and I am just honest about it!!
  20. Sep 2, 2015 #19


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    It may be common, but it's still pointless to keep doing something that makes you unhappy over and over. And it's certainly not that way for everyone.
  21. Sep 2, 2015 #20


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    Let me put it this way. You only live once, and even the greatest discoveries by the greatest scientists will be unknown someday (unless you think humanity will somehow last forever). Landau used to say that you shouldn't set out to do something great because then nothing will happen! Maybe some people can be motivated by "being great" or "doing something great", but actually enjoying what you're doing is a much better recipe. Then, even if you don't do anything great, you were still happy trying.
  22. Sep 2, 2015 #21
    I agree. But, I believe many people are not happy with their jobs. What should they do? Quit and be in a worse situation? I think it is more reasonable to manage the difficulties in any job until you find another viable alternative, and I am here trying to benefit from others' experiences in research and managing its difficulties, which I haven't gotten for the most part of it.
  23. Sep 2, 2015 #22
    I think electrical engineering is a great field, whether you like it or not. I have great respect for engineers. In fact, I'm watching a series now trying to learn physics from an engineering perspective rather than from a traditional theoretical physics perspective. When the knowledge is "applied" and practical, you gain a different understanding of it. I wouldn't go as far as saying "deeper," but having multiple perspectives helps me especially, tremendously.

    Just as an example, I got much more out of this one lecture on lagrangians than I did in the whole classical physics course given by Susskind:

    I took a class at my undergraduate college called "physiological psychology." It was given by the psychology department. This was a small college in the wine country of northern California and, believe it or not, this class was the closest thing to neuroscience that you were going to find there. And I was a biology major.

    In any case, the professor was great and actually became a personal friend of mine over the years. But he used to like to "preach" to the class at times. And these were great moments. Real human learning. One of the things I remember was that he actually went to medical school to become a psychiatrist. What he learned almost instantly, though, is that medical "doctors" on the inside are basically divided up into two categories--surgeons and non-surgeons. If you're a surgeon then you are cool and you have street cred. If you're an internist or a family practitioner, you're basically a nobody. So he quit medical school and became a clinical psychologist. But that didn't work out either. He gave this mimeographed handout at the end of each semester called "Looking forward backwards," which was basically an alert to really think about what you want to be doing day to day in your chosen profession. And to really think about it. For him, he thought he would enjoy being Freud with patients sitting on the couch. But what he found out, the hard way, was that he was spending 8 hours a day, day after day, listening to people whine about their problems that he didn't really care about. So after yet another painful and expensive career change, he finally found what he loved, being a psychology professor.

    But my point is that I drew a correlation between the "surgeon" and the "engineer." I think the engineer is to the physics world what the surgeon is to the medical world. The engineer is the one that gets things done and applies the science. The theoretical physicist has his head in the clouds. So I have great respect for engineers even though I'm more of the theoretical type myself. Bottom line, though, is that, unless you are really unhappy being an EE, this is not a bad career choice. Btw, speaking of engineers, this series really cemented by admiration for engineers:

  24. Sep 2, 2015 #23
    Actually, I did my Bachelor in Computer Engineering which was more about concepts and algorithms than mathematics and I didn't like it very much because I am not good in memorizing, but then I took two elective courses in communications and I loved them. So, I switched to Electrical Engineering with specialty in communications in my master and PhD. I am not passionate about it, but I don't hate it. The process of research is what I am interested in how to be done properly with minimal effort and stress. I am a fresh PhD graduate, and still have long way to learn about research, but I think the lack of organization and focus is a major part of the problem.
    Last edited: Sep 2, 2015
  25. Sep 2, 2015 #24


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    I'll address the second question first. Sacrificing your physical or mental health for research is not going to do you any favours in the long run. While in the short term you may find advantages to say skipping workouts or to complete a set of measurements or sacrificing sleep to get paper corrections in before a deadling, in the long term these behaviours compound your problems making a less effective researcher. That's not to say that successful researchers don't ever do this. Rather, that being a successful researcher is something that comes over years and years not day to day and patterns of poor (or good) choices tend to have cumulative effects.

    The next question is how one stays motivated through the tedious labour of day-to-day research.
    1. Sometimes it's tough staying motivated. Lots of researchers struggle with this. I'm sure most researchers have days where they would much rather be doing something fun. The same is true for just about any job though. Self-discipline allows people to work through the drudgery because it's a means to achieving a long term goal.
    2. Most really successful researchers have more than one project on the go. That allows them to switch gears. If one project doesn't work out there are others. If one gets too boring, the day can be broken up by moving on to something else.
    3. In my experience, the most boring stuff is the stuff you don't understand. The more you know about a project, the more exciting it tends to be. so a lot of boredom is eliminated with experience and understanding.
    4. Read.
    5. Work with fun and interesting people. I've had some extremely boring jobs in my life that have been made a lot more pleasant by the people doing the same job with me.
    6. Remember that happiness actually has a lot less to do with external circumstances than people think. Choose happiness when you can.
  26. Sep 2, 2015 #25
    Thanks for sharing your experience. I would like to read more about personal experiences in handling research.
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