Determination is not enough

Last week I published a post arguing against blindly optimistic encouragement (“If I can do it, you can do it too!”).

Of course it’s nice to hear someone tell you that you can do it and that all you have to do is keep going and eventually you will succeed, but if determination was all that was needed, then there wouldn’t be so many students in such a mess.

People often say, “a PhD is a marathon”, but in a marathon the course is laid out for you. No matter how much it hurts, as long as you keep moving along that course then you will eventually finish. A PhD is not a marathon; there is no set course and it is not enough to just keep putting one foot in front of the other, especially if you don’t know where you’re going.

Determination is a multiplier of success. If your approach is working, then more determination will help you succeed. But if you’re working hard but you’re constantly stressed and nothing is going to plan, there could be fundamental problems in the way you’re approaching the work. In that case, more determination or resilience or motivation to keep doing the same things isn’t going to help.

Adaptability is sometimes more important. When things aren’t working, you need to look at what you need to change in terms of your basic assumptions, your approach to the work and your habitual responses to the problems that arise. Try something different, keep adapting until you find a way that works, then push forward with determination.

See also:
How to do a PhD: top 10 tips
Productivity comes last

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5 thoughts on “Determination is not enough

  1. Yes! I think it is the “habitual response” to problems that keep one from progressing. It would take a lot of work though to figure out a new system!!!

  2. The other thing I would mention is there here in my university there is a lot of politics, people pretending to work, leaving the lights on and jackets on the back of chairs, wafting around corridors sounding clever and putting face time in the with the right people constantly talking about how busy they are. What I don’t see here is a lot of good old-fashioned hard work until the shit hits the fan and then it’s panic stations.

    Having worked in the corporate world for 10 years before my PhD I find this nonsensical and actually the people I value in my department are perhaps not the brightest ones but the once which get stuff done on time, with no extensions or excuses, are reliable and accountable for their actions and dependable.

  3. This is a refreshing advice indeed. I have heard the “keep going” advice a million times. It does not always work, otherwise, that would have led every hardworking student to success. Strategy and setting goals are what I have found helpful. Of course, there come a zillion other difficulties on the way, after knowing what to do and how to do, but that is part of the deal of a novel approach – research. Pause and think, plan and walk!

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