Thinking vs. Doing

Currently in my PhD I’m looking at different methods and software for digitising my large spider dataset of many, high frame-rate videos. This was a step that was supposed to take about a week, exploring options before deciding on a method and starting digitisation. For those unfamiliar with the field, digitisation of these sorts of videos essentially means clicking on the points you want to track at every frame – in my case, the ends of the spiders’ legs. It’s a long, repetitive and somewhat dull process. (I’ll write a more detailed post about my methods later!) Somewhat predictably, choosing my digitisation method has taken a lot longer than a week. Such is research.

One of my supervisors just came to ask me how I was getting on. I explained I was trying to fix a problem in a script which, if I couldn’t fix it, meant I’d choose the other software for digitisation instead. He looked a bit confused, and told me that shouldn’t be a reason for choosing one over the other – “use what you want to use”, he said, saying that we could make the problematic script work if I preferred to use that software.

This, of course, is a very specific scenario in a particular PhD, but it made me think. My supervisor was saying I should do what I want to do. I’m not sure why that was a surprise to me, but it was. Throughout my entire PhD, I think I’ve been too worried about what I think I should and shouldn’t be doing (and what I think my supervisors think I should be doing), rather than what I want to do. It makes a big difference. I’ve struggled a lot with motivation, and seriously contemplated quitting a couple of times, but have stayed as a result of support and advice from friends, and the benefits a PhD will (hopefully) have in my future career. But it’s been difficult.

There have been numerous times when I’ve thought about having a couple of days out of the ‘normal’ PhD life to just sit and think about what I’m doing, why I’m doing it, and where I’d like it to go. I know I don’t spend enough time thinking, because I feel more productive when I’m ‘doing’ and actually producing things. But taking time out to think, or just to get some headspace (like this wonderful blog post by Rachel Handforth describes), is crucial. I somehow always manage to put it off, deciding that upcoming deadlines and work is more important. It’s not more important though, not always. Having good reasoning and enthusiasm behind what you’re doing IS important, and that will only come by sitting and thinking about it all for a bit.

So that’s what I’ll do… but right now I have a huge dataset to digitise! I’ll take a day or two out to think once I have some beautiful data to play with. Thanks to my supervisor for inspiring this thought process and blog post! (And sorry I’ve been writing this post instead of clicking points…!)

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