About setting limits

How do doctoral students feel, actually? This important question is asked with frightening frequency in both reports and articles. Maybe it’s time for a revival of a word that has fallen out of fashion, namely lagom in Swedish  or “just enough” in English, even here in academia.

Stress, a lack of a mandate and long-term thinking can be a few things to get to grips with.  As I wrote here almost a year ago, high ambitions and tremendous commitment are naturally both good and necessary for a researcher, but it can sometimes be difficult to set sensible limits for your work.

Don´t get me wrong. Just enough in this case is perhaps more about doing your utmost to concentrate and maintain your focus in order to know where you want to go rather than slowing down. Can you be just efficient enough and just excellent enough? To some people, this can seem like an equation that simply does not balance at all, but I think it does.

It can, for example, be a case of once again burying the myth of the anti-social genius who works in his research cave or more likely lab, day and night. Third cycle education ultimately aims to enable you, after the public defence of your thesis, to pursue and lead research as it is important that this is practised. In many research groups, there are several older heads so a large group of doctoral students always have access to support. The culture and attitude towards research are often things that have become established within the research group and here it is important to lay a solid foundation. If you feel utterly exhausted and very much alone, you are not automatically actually going to produce amazing results. Obviously, there are going to be periods of intensive work, but it’s also important to have a balance – of having a just enough life.

To avoid splitting yourself into too many pieces is important. Maybe you are keen to cut yourself loose from your research group moorings to polish your personal brand, as it is so beautifully put, today. What this really means within academia where teamwork and cross fertilising research are vital is not so clear. But I do think it can be important to let go after just long enough when the doctoral student has acquired what is needed and will be of benefit in and for their continuing career in the form of independence and taking a big responsibility on their own shoulders.

Here, the supervisor, and the principal supervisor in particular, play an important role. Compared with previously, there is a tendency for research groups sometimes to be very large today. Maybe as a supervisor, you should content yourself with just enough doctoral students in your group, so you have the time and capacity to give each doctoral student what they have a right to expect. That doctoral students have a principal supervisor and sometimes several assistant supervisors ensures that there ought to be plenty of time to hold discussions about the research.