Spotlight on the RDF: “Enthusiasm”

In one of our occasional series of spotlights, we take a closer look at a specific descriptor from the RDF.

In this series of “Spotlight on…” posts, we’ll be delving into the detail of the descriptors in Vitae‘s Researcher Development Framework (RDF).  Each one of the sixty-three descriptors is a characteristic of an excellent researcher, and we’ll be looking at how UoB PGRs can develop these characteristics.

Enthusiastic PhD student!
Photo credit: Kimia Solutions.

Enthusiasm is defined by the OED as “passionate eagerness in any pursuit, proceeding from an intense conviction of the worthiness of the object” [1] and I think this is something that many of us can identify with when we embark on a new research undertaking.  However, passion and intensity require a lot of energy to maintain, so this post explores ways to keep enthusiasm and motivation high over the course of a research programme.

The RDF puts enthusiasm in domain B (personal effectiveness) and sub-domain B1 (personal qualities) and the five phases of development for this descriptor are:

1. – 2. Maintains enthusiasm and motivation for own research; recognises the need for passion and pride in own work; is highly motivated even when work is mundane.

3. – 4. Is passionate about research: enthuses others; inspires enthusiasm in the discipline/research area.

5. Inspires communities of international researchers.

In this descriptor, enthusiasm and motivation are difficult to separate from each other, and both are critical for continued progress in independent research.  Sadly, these personal qualities are often very hard to come by!  Here are some ideas for how you can nurture your enthusiasm and your motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic:

  • Take opportunities to present your work, at conferences or events like 3MT and the Research Poster Conference.  This forces you to take a step back from your day-to-day research and focus on the bigger picture of why you’re doing this in the first place.  Participants in 3MT have often fed back that it re-invigorated their work.
  • Set out a clear project management plan for your research, with deadlines for various tasks.  You might like to visualise this using a tool like a Gantt chart.  Deadlines are useful “encouragement” and the plan may help you to see your progress.
  • Engage with planning your future career.  Benefit from knowing your future direction and the value of your knowledge and skills in the medium term.
  • Agree deadlines for particular pieces of work with your supervisor and stick to them.
  • Keep a To-Done list filled with all the awesome things you have actually done (even when it feels like you’re not making progress).
  • Share your goals and celebrate your successes with your friends and colleagues.  Build a supportive network by meeting fellow PGRs at UGS events or via social media.
  • Recognise that your PhD stuck points are often the points of progress as you encounter threshold concepts.

Have you experienced periods of low enthusiasm during your research?  How have you got your mojo back?  What tips do you have for other researchers on maintaining motivation over a long research project?

[1] “enthusiasm, n.” OED Online, Oxford University Press, January 2018, Accessed 20 February 2018.

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Helen Kara

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