Friday, 19 April 2013

'If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research.'

Writing a dissertation is challenging for many reasons. I suspect for many reasons that I don't even realize right now either, but with a month to go until the deadline, it feels rather relevant to take the time to reflect on exactly why the task I'm in the middle of feels so much like 'finding the wood from the trees'. It is easy to become too focused on one aspect that you lose sight of the bigger picture. One must always keep a hold of the whole picture, even if in the background, otherwise the task of making sense of it all is unnecessarily magnified and we lose perspective, among other things.

The predominant feeling is one of self-distrust. Which I guess is one most students feel to some degree when writing an assignment in which their viewpoint is illustrated. How does one trust in their own voice, their own decisions, and their ability to confidently walk down the right path rather than the one that just looks right. How do we trust that a few miles down that path, the path that seemed safe won't just tail off and the streetlights won't fade out leaving us entirely alone and in the dark. A dissertation in it's nature is entirely self-driven. How can one write a grounded and convincing piece when deep down I'm not even sure that I convince myself. I am writing about attachment theory and eating disorders. This is a subject that I know fairly well, but still, I find myself questioning all that I do and write. Are my findings ridiculously and blindingly obvious? Have I pulled out the themes of substance or have I just located the ones I thought were right? There is no room or time for self-distrust when in order to write a piece of substance, I must trust that the issues I discuss are real.

There is a hell of a responsibility that falls hand in hand with research. I am under no illusions that life is not anything more than us taking responsibility for who we are and what we do... But this dissertation is the final hurdle of my degree and I've never written something that has so much attached to it. Perhaps I am currently living in a warped third-year-view-of-life, but I do believe that this piece of work carries weight. I have proposed and planned my research, I have written interviews, sourced participants, been lucky enough to meet some incredible people and hear their views and stories. I have then analysed and pulled out themes which I have to trust myself are real meaningful themes and not just my self-perceived themes of importance. There's the responsibility, and here is where self-trust is required. I think a sense of creativity is needed, in that the mind must allow room for flexibility and discussion and free-flowing ideas. This open-mindedness is as much applied to life as it is to our work. If you begin research with the same thoughts that you end it with, perhaps that's all it was, but I'd be questioning whether there was more. And then if there is more - who's to say it's 'right'? No one but you. There are in fact, no rights or wrongs, but oh, the responsibility.

Loneliness... 'no one but you' - That's not entirely true, I have friends and a great supervisor, and I feel grateful for that support. But it's ultimately down to my own better judgement and my ability to think freely, yet concisely and critically. And ultimately, it is me, myself, and I, sat alone with music and cups of coffee (or wine) and many documents for my many chapters, attempting to find the wood for the trees. But it is my own wood, and my own trees. And therefore, it can be quite a lonely process. For one who enjoys my own company, that's a rather meaningful statement to make! I guess it is what it is, which really is OK. It has to be. It is all what I choose to make it. I am by no means in a lonely place, but this process is lonely.

I suppose it's also about balance, and time, and work-life-priorities. My life is filled with more things that it ever has been, yet in order to work at peak level, we must be rested and refreshed and not entirely consumed. In order to see the wood from the trees, the only way to see the bigger picture is to step back once in a while. How can we see the world if we're sat inside the house in the safety of our bedrooms? We can't... Such a thing is physically impossible. We must do what that insane but pretty courageous Austrian man, Felix Baumgartner did. OK, I wouldn't advocate free-falling at 843.6mph down to earth with nothing more than a parachute between living and dying, but the concept of standing in a removed position with an open mind and taking in the view is perhaps more appropriate and achievable for us mere human beings!

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