The Specifics of Specificity

This week wasn’t a great one, but, like most weeks of a PhD student, it had its ups and downs.

Towards the end of last week, I attended two seminars by Maria Gardiner, from Thinkwell. The seminars were informative and motivational, and helped me to identify a number of the emotions which had been holding me back previously (anyone heard of Imposter Syndrome?), and try to come terms with them.

I went back to work on Monday with new mantra and a new approach; I could be productive and I was capable. I got stuck into drafting my lit review, finally turning my back on some reading, and instead starting to put those 20,000+ words of notes from the 200+ papers I had been reading into some sort of logical order.

On Tuesday, I attended an Induction Workshop, where we were informed of some basic outlines for our confirmation reports (to include lit review, time-table for the next 2 years, preliminary results etc.). We were told the final document should be between 3000-5000 words. Now, my current draft of my lit review (representing maybe 60% of the total info I had intended for it to contain) stood at 4000 words…

I realised that I had taken the wrong approach. Those 3000-5000 words didn’t have room for ‘waffle’ (in this instance; clinical information, drug development history, non-canonical pathways of my protein/s of interest, disease risk factors…). What I had written so far may have been interesting, but it wasn’t relevant enough. In writing what I had, I had been unconsciously hiding from the fact that; I didn’t have a research question. For all that time I thought I had been productive for, I had actually been procrastinating.

I don’t know how to develop a specific research question.

I don’t know how to judge whether that question is good enough.

Even if I succumb to the notion that the question may work itself out over time, I don’t know what to do with myself in the mean time.