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Research Sucks: A snapshot into the lived experience of health researchers

To say we are feeling weary is an understatement. Currently there are 4 manuscripts in some stage of draft, rejection or reform, 1 rejected grant that needs reworking, at least 2 fledgling grant ideas which require substantial development if they are ever going to see the light of day, an intellectual property dispute, job uncertainty, authorship conflicts, a raft of new tasks and several collaborators who aren’t on the same page for several projects which require completion in the next month.

The work: wins ratio seems out of whack… and we are only in the 2nd week of the working year!!

Sometimes research is really hard work with minimal returns.

The research rollercoaster is full of ups and downs and while we realise you have to experience the lows to appreciate the highs, we sometimes wish that they wouldn’t all happen at once! The most important thing is how you deal with these challenges and so instead of reaching immediately for the M&M bucket we are trying to be both mindful and pragmatic in our approach.

Strategies to rejig the mindset:
• Catastrophise – yes it’s ok, let it out, cry, yell, carry on, good if you can do this in a safe space, preferably with a closed door and with someone you trust (aka workBFFs). Warning catastrophising with another catastrophiser will result in chaos!! Try to have your meltdowns one at a time – this can be difficult when you are co-authors on a lot of the same projects but take turns melting down and being the sounding board.
• Write a ranting blog but don’t post it (just yet) – very cathartic process, smash it out on the keyboard or in a notebook. It takes a lot of the chaos out of your head and allows you to reflect back on it at a later time. It can also allow you to build a journal/history of when you have found things difficult but kept on striving no matter what – ‘I got through that horrible patch so I’m sure I can get through this too’. Great as a resilience reminder – ‘it might just be okay’.
• Lake walk or the equivalent. On the grounds of our university we have a lake walk which takes about 15 minutes per lap. Some issues take more than one lap! Some laps walks are solo, others with the boss, or with close colleagues.
Note this process may take an hour, a day or a week but it’s important to go through the process.

Practical work-specific strategies can then follow …

Strategies to suit the tasks at hand:
• Step back and make a list of all the separate tasks which were compounding into the meltdown moment. We’ve delegated tasks and we’ve accepted that this is going to be a big year of challenges and exciting new adventures.
• Journal rejection – We have managed to find another journal to submit our paper to (and didn’t receive a rejection within an hour unlike the first time we hit submit!).
• Grant rejection – We’ve signed up for a grant writing workshop to help us navigate the submission process.
• Collaborations – We’ve had a really productive meeting that sorted out the intellectual property issues without any drama and with the other projects we’ve made sure that even if our collaborators aren’t on the same page as us we are all now reading from the same book.
• Authorship challenges – We’ve found authorship guidelines to support our actions.
• Most importantly we’ve promised to strive for awesomeness in the face of uncertainty!

What kinds of tactics do you use to climb out of the research journey funk?

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