Most of the time, our research fascinates and encapsulates us. It is vibrant and original and we want everyone to hear about it. Yet on some days, everyone else’s work seems so much more interesting. We all know how important it is to keep our ideas fresh, but everyone gets stuck in a rut now and then, especially when we don’t have the time or energy to work out where we are going next.
Here in the UK, Spring has arrived and we are all coming out of hibernation so this is the ideal time to take a stretch, explore new ideas and revitalise your research interests.
For some, retreating to the library and hiding amongst a pile of books will do the trick, but this isn’t for everyone. Fortunately there are ways to expand your research horizons without having to venture into the pandemonium which is the university library during exam time.
1. Venture out during conference season.
Not just out of the house or office, but out of your academic comfort zone. If you usually only attend events in your immediate interest area, consider going off-piste and see where it takes you. With the rocketing costs of the modern conference I am not suggesting a Sociologist rocks up to the International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear physics (which is in Atlanta in November if you’re interested), but there will be numerous short events happening across your institution over the next few months which offer a cheap and risk-free way to start a new trans-disciplinary adventure.
If you are looking for something a little less formal, inspiration really can come from anywhere – from a novel, an art exhibition or even a random conversation with a stranger. Which leads me on to my next point:
2. Networking is more than just uncomfortable small talk.
Yes, I said the ‘n’ word but collaborative working is certainly one sure way of learning a lot about the research going on alongside your own. Thankfully there are ways to build up contacts without the awkward small-talk and canape juggling. Every time you go to an event (see above) you’ll probably end up chatting to someone you’ve not met before, even if it only about the carb contents of the finger buffet; well that is networking.
You don’t even have to leave the house any more to network effectively. If you are a social media fan, spend some time exploring conversations that are already happening within your research area, and if you usually just watch from the sidelines then throw yourself in and start a discussion. There are a number of conversations already happening, designed to help you discover others who may also want to shake-up their research – try Piirus’ collection of Twitter hashtags and see where it takes you.
3. Learn from the experts.
Is there someone out there who has taken a really interesting research path? Or someone who has already built an diverse research network that you can tap into? If so, seek them out and connect with them. Mentors come in many shapes, sizes and guises and are essentially people who inspire you and guide you. Asking your favourite academic ‘will you be my mentor’ is not a good career move, but you can take an interest in their work and ask them how they combine research on feminist social movements and human-animal relationships.
To get you started, try following them on Academia.edu or seeing whether they have a Piirus profile. This blogpost offers some great suggestions on how to introduce yourself to others online, saving you time and avoiding any possible cringe moments.
So go take the opportunity to explore and expand, see where it takes you and I look forward to hearing about all your adventures!
Image copyright: By Martin Cox [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Flickr.