How to Stay Motivated in Research
Motivation is an enthusiastic desire or willingness to continue making progress in a particular role, or to work towards a particular goal.
Staying motivated can be difficult for researchers. Failed experiments, negative results and lack of useable data can leave researchers feeling discouraged. The lengthy time gap between starting a research project and the resulting publication can wear down enthusiasm.
“Persevere!”, people say. But perseverance without motivation is often short-lived. Without motivation, work can leave you feeling unsatisfied and uninspired. Don’t let that happen.
Here are some tips for staying motivated to keep working towards your goals:
Remember Why You Do Research
It’s hard to stay motivated when you’ve lost sight of your end goal; a common occurrence in research when all the other stresses and strains of daily lab-life weigh you down.
Why did you get into research in the first place? Perhaps you hoped to make a real difference through your research. Young scientists often start out with the ambition to find a cure or unearth a discovery that can change the world, unaware of how difficult the path to a breakthrough truly is.
Remind yourself why you are working on your research project, and that everything you do and every step you take is important and serves a purpose.
Keep Up with Recent Discoveries
You'll see the progress being made in the field and be reminded of how your research project can fit in as a piece of the puzzle. You may be inspired from seeing your project with a “big picture" perspective and gain the motivation to keep it moving forward.
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Take Small Steps and Reward Yourself
Research is a long journey to the end result. Waiting for reward in the ultimate goal, such as a publication, can be tiresome.
Don’t wait until a major accomplishment to reward yourself. Set smaller milestones within your journey and celebrate reaching them. This will make the process itself motivating. If your goal is to finish writing your thesis, reward yourself for writing every 10 pages. If your goal is to publish a paper on your project, celebrate each complete set of data you obtain.
Nothing hinders motivation more than realizing you can’t reach your goals. Sometimes this is because you’ve set unattainable goals or unrealistic expectations.
You’ve probably read amazing publications, each telling a story of immaculately planned experiments that resulted in an almost perfect series of figures comprised of high quality data. What you didn’t see in those publications is how the authors got there—the failed experiments, the mistakes, and the hypotheses that led nowhere.
The truth is researchers encounter failed experiments, non-statistically significant results, or conflicting data more often than they would like to admit. This is the reality of research. Expecting that some things will not go perfectly as planned can prepare you to adapt to your situation, prevent you from getting discouraged, and help you stay motivated.
I would advise the next generation of scientists to stay curious and stay determined in their work. Science is not easy, and we often face experimental failures and make erroneous hypotheses. Be persistent and keep trying; when the going gets tough, do not lose sight of your initial motivation to do science. Stay firm in your belief that you can contribute to the scientific community and improve the lives of people through scientific innovations, novel discoveries, and development of improved treatments for diseases.
Look Beyond the Bench
You’ve heard the saying “don’t put all your eggs into one basket.” As a researcher, it’s tempting to put all your focus in one basket: what you do at the bench. The result may be negligence of other important aspects of your career such as their communication, networking, or writing skills.
Realize that it’s not just what you do at the bench that matters.
Adopt a more multifaceted view of your career. Taking ownership of your personal career growth will help you stay motivated during difficult moments when what you do at the bench isn’t working out. Regardless of what happens at the bench, you can still feel satisfied about the well-written review article you’ve just produced, or with the new connections you just formed at a networking event. These small wins beyond the bench can boost your motivation.
Being overwhelmed by trying to do too much is another common cause of losing motivation. As tasks accumulate, it's easy for researchers to start working longer hours until it becomes too much—and they begin losing the motivation to continue.
Working smarter instead of harder will let you to tackle your tasks more efficiently without adding more hours to your work day. Researchers who do this can stay motivated for longer in their career.
One way of working smarter is by choosing efficient technologies that let you complete experimental procedures faster without compromising your results.