Has your research lost the luster, shine, and joy that it once held? It can be easy to fall into the trap of mediocrity. In the beginning, as a junior faculty member, you might be excited to start something new. But pretty soon, you fall into a routine, and then one day you wake up and feel like you are sleepwalking through the workday? If you find yourself avoiding your research, it’s time to ask why and have the courage to change it. If you feel like each new RFP is a chance to fail—then take a deep breath and look for an opportunity instead. Find joy in the fact that there is always a new project waiting, something new to be discovered, something new that could be done. Here are a few more ways to find joy in your research.
Look for meaning in your research. Go back to the very beginning and try to recapture the excitement from the first moment you connected with your research field. What drew you to this field? What impact are you making on your population? In the greater world?
Refocus on the small picture. It can be easy to get wrapped up in the long-term twenty-year goals. It is also easy to get frustrated when grant applications aren’t successful—months and months of work with, seemingly, nothing to show for it. Keep in mind that with every submission and every rewrite, you are growing your grantsmanship skills. Consider adding a “grants submitted” section in your CV to celebrate the small moments and show your diligence.
Straighten out the spiral and align your continuum. When we become frustrated with our research, we have a tendency to dwell on everything that has gone wrong. Stop the spin out and regain control of your overall strategy. Be more intentional about remembering what you have accomplished thus far—the foundational legs that you stand on—and reflect on the full continuum of your line of research. Remember where you came from, reconcile where you are, and plan for the future.
Make room for the passion. Yes, research is full of ongoing responsibilities, namely meetings, budgets, and progress reports. But don’t forget to carve out some time for the joy and passion that brought you into this field. Keep a running list of projects and manuscript ideas that get you excited! Finding the joy in research leads you to understand why you are here and what causes your work to be sustainable, meaningful, and purposeful.
Set a goal outside of your comfort zone. If you find yourself stuck in the groove, begin working towards a new goal that feels meaningful and challenging—something that takes you outside of your current status quo. Perhaps doing a different methodology, step into the world of qualitative research if you haven’t already. Or, shake things up by doing a quality improvement paper within your field, perhaps aiming for a higher impact factor journal than you typically reach. Consider a co-authorship with a different group of colleagues, and perhaps you’ll make some new friends!
Be present and choose authenticity. If you manage a lot of undergraduate, graduate, or postdoctoral students, it can be easy to lose touch with what is truly going on in your laboratory on a daily basis. Find a way to connect with each line of your research on a daily basis. Appreciate the little things (but don’t confuse connection with micromanaging).
Develop a social circle. Form a small writing group with colleagues who are on a similar timeline. You can keep each other accountable, get peer feedback throughout the writing process, and perhaps make some friends along the way. Reach out to your co-workers, be curious about their lives and make the effort to get to know them.