With term three in full swing, a lot of the university is gearing up for final exams and handing in dissertations. But what is research like when you have to spend time in a research laboratory? Amy shares her experiences of working in a lab during term three, and her tips on staying motivated…
One of the things that I found strange to get used to when I began my research was that all the days and weeks can often blur into one. During your undergraduate degree time is regimented by terms, regular deadlines and timetabled lectures, but when it comes to research, we are in control of our own time. I study chemistry, which means I spend the majority of my time in a lab, tucked away from a lot of the university. Most of the time this is great for productivity as I have fewer distractions than if I had to work in the library, for instance. However, now that exam season is in full swing, I’ve found that spending term three in the lab can really throw you in terms of being productive and keeping everything in perspective.
Seeing everyone finishing off exams and dissertations has made me feel a bit lost, and caught in between the stress of having a limited time to finish my research and the lethargy that comes with working 11-hour days. When everyone around me is counting down the weeks until their degrees are completely finished, I can’t help but feel a little jealous and demotivated. The jealousy is pretty self-explanatory – who wouldn’t want to be able to escape a sweltering lab in the height of summer to have fun with their friends? As for the demotivation, I’ve realised that researchers don’t have the same finish line as the undergraduates we share a university with, and for me, this has made term three difficult. However, I’ve started to figure out how to solve this problem.
The first way I’ve been doing this is to set my own goals. My thesis hand-in is months away rather than weeks, and to stop myself feeling like I am drifting towards this day, I decided to set myself smaller targets. These allow me to highlight to myself that I’m still accomplishing things, even if I’m not sitting my final exams. For example, I wanted to write 15,000 words of my thesis by a certain date, and I am well on my way to hitting this target. Seeing a word count increase is something tangible that I can track, and this has been really helping with my motivation.
The second thing I’ve been trying to do is to plan for the future. Spending so much time in the lab, especially in term three, can make you get so caught up in your research that everything else seems insignificant. For this reason, I’ve been making a conscious effort to plan things for after I complete my research – even though that seems like a long way away! I’m moving to Edinburgh in November to start my PhD, and so I’ve been making lists of places I’d like to visit, and activities I’d like to do when I get there. This is just a little thing that has helped me to stay motivated and remember that there’s more to life than research, even when it feels all-encompassing.
Lastly, it always comes back to making sure you take time out. Just because I’m spending term three in the lab doesn’t mean I have to lock myself in there and throw away the key! Make time to relax, try to enjoy the sunshine (even though it rarely makes an appearance!), and ensure you are still taking time to work on your wellbeing as well as your research. My research group and I sometimes take a short break to get some ice cream and sit outside, and even though it seems insignificant, it really brightens my day and makes the rest of the afternoon a bit more productive. And I always try to remember that while being in a lab during term three can be difficult, this doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy it. You may just have to wait a few more weeks than the undergraduates before you can take a holiday!
Do you have experience of working in a lab during term three, and feeling isolated from the rest of the university? We want to hear your advice! Tweet us at @ResearchEx, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a comment below.
Amy Kynman earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Warwick in 2018. She is currently working towards a Masters by Research in chemistry, also at the University of Warwick. Her research focusses on the chemical reactivity of rhodium complexes, with the aim of utilising them for carbon-carbon bond forming reaction. Alongside her studies, she is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the University of Warwick’s student newspaper The Boar and aims to eventually undertake a PhD in organometallic chemistry.