Academic Courage

To be a researcher is undoubtedly to be a person of courage. This is something I am realizing more and more on my academic journey.

Courage of what kind? Well, courage to say something. That is the thing about the academic world: its really hard to be in it without having something to say. And its really hard to say something if you don’t have the courage to speak.

Any yet so much of a researcher’s environment militates against this necessary courage. Questions and doubts linger and agitate the mind. How do I compare to my colleagues? How will this thesis be received? Is it the kind of thing said in the kind of way that will gain the respect of my peers? Is it just controversial enough to be interesting without being so controversial that it offends?

Besides these, one can find oneself in paralysis by the sheer abundance of data and topics available for exploration. With all the vast detail and scope of my discipline, even if I have original thoughts, where do I begin in assimilating them? Assessing the landscape can leave the researcher frozen.

What is the answer to all these questions? What is the anecdote for paralysis? How do we begin to speak?

I’m not sure I have an answer, nor am I sure that one would really satisfy the gravity of the questions. But I do know this. At some point you have to stop caring what people think. You have to stop assessing all the data. You have to stop thinking about saying something and just say it.

To do this takes courage. And self-trust. Hey, you got accepted to the program, right? You clearly have some idea of when and what to say.

So take heart, researchers. Sure, have one eye on your critics as you write. Sure, keep collecting data.

But say something.

Who Am I?

When thinking about my first post for the post-grad blog, I wasn’t sure where to start. Do I just say what I’ve done this week? That seems a bit empty without context. So I thought that I would give you a small overview of who I am and what I’m hoping to communicate on this page. Then future posts can relate to that and more detailed about my week-to-week activities. Seem like fun?

I’m Ben Turnbull, I did my undergraduate in Biology at The University of Birmingham and have spent 4.5 years doing my PhD here in Psychology. I’m a Biologist in Psychology clothing, so to speak. I’m 4.5 years in, as opposed to having finished, because I registered part-time, having received no funding. This gives me longer deadlines, including an ultimate 7 years for submission. I’m aiming to be done in the lab within 5 years, submit in 6, and graduate in 7.

I’m a huge proponent of opening up and humanising experiences including those of academia. We learn a huge amount about the basic process (apply, PhD, life…) but very little is spoken about the actual experiences of that. To address this, I started blogging during my masters and have done so every 2 months since. Under the premise of #UG2PhD I talk about my experiences and pay particular attention to how I felt during those times. I urge you to check out that page for any insights into the application process, dealing with shortcomings and frustrations in the lab, ‘failing’ exams etc. I’m going to slowly transition that blog to focus a bit more on science communication now as I have joined this team and blogging here more frequently means I’ll talk in more detail about what has been going on.

Other than my research hat I also am an avid wearer of a teaching one. I am a lab demonstrator in both biology and psychology as well as an academic tutor for CAPOD. I’ve racked up several hundreds of hours of teaching experience since being here which I something I thoroughly enjoy. I pay my bills with another hat: Dominos Pizza. I was lucky enough to get a job in the first 3 months of living here and have sustained it since then. So if you ever pop in, do say hi! Bar these commitments, my interests are pretty standard…I read comics (and still have a novel in the works), play music (and likewise for an album), am a big lover of films, and always love to see my friends.

Wow, that was a bit longer than I intended! But that’s me. I look forward to talking to you soon and as always feel free to ask me anything :).