Dreamer, Realist, Critic

I’m a big fan of creative thinking tools. The Disney Method is one I like a lot. It forces you to break creative thinking into stages by adopting three personas:

  • Dreamer: think of as many ideas as possible; encourage brainstorming; remove constraints and see where thoughts take you.
  • Realist: think about what would work practically; explore within resources and deadlines; see what can be achieved.
  • Critic: think about what won’t work in your ideas; test them to destruction; find problems to solve.

At the end of this kind of process, ideas are stronger and more clearly defined. You can see whether or not they will actually be useful.

Maybe something like this could be a useful framing when it comes to look back over one’s research too:

  • Dreamer: what did you want to do when you started? What were your big goals? How high were you aiming?
  • Realist: what did you actually do during your PhD? How did you tame your objectives? In what ways did you have to adjust the scale of your ambitions?
  • Critic: where are the problems with what you’ve done? What could people object to? What would you do differently, and why?

You might not get these exact questions in the viva, but they might not be a million miles away either. Tools like this can be useful to unpick and explore. They can boost your confidence at going over your research in the viva.

Bonus questions: Which are you most like in your day-to-day, a Dreamer, a Realist or a Critic? How well does that work for you?

Cheatsheet

What if you wanted to tell a friend about your research and you only had one sheet of paper? What would you put on this cheatsheet?

Would it have lots of pictures? Bullet-points? Would your abstract feature? And would it be black and white or full colour?

What would you leave out? What must you include? Do they need to know anything else in order to understand what you’re telling them?

Your friend would probably thank you, it’d be a neat insight into what you do.

If you do this, make two copies and keep one. You do valuable prep in creating the cheatsheet and then have a resource to refresh your memory later.

First Thoughts

Here’s a quick reflective exercise for the end of the PhD. Take a sheet of paper, divide it into three:

  • In the top write WHY: why did you do a PhD? Answer the question.
  • In the middle write HOW: how did you do a PhD? Answer the question.
  • At the bottom write WHAT: what did you find during your PhD? Answer the question.

What were your motivations? How did you go about doing research? What were the results?

Best Bit

My favourite thing in my thesis is on pages 33 and 34. I struggled for a couple of weeks on a single detail that I needed in order to prove the most important result in my research. I couldn’t get it. I knew what I needed and I knew intuitively it was true, but I couldn’t see the step.

And one day I took a break, and realised that the result I was aiming for was far bigger than what I needed. I was trying to slice bread with a chainsaw, but couldn’t get the damn thing to start.

As I realised that I needed a much smaller result to prove what I needed, I knew exactly how to prove it! It was a huge feeling of elation after a string of disappointed days. As I wrote down my proof, I realised that this tiny result could also be generalised: I’d spotted the blockage on the chainsaw, and now had the stronger result that I’d not been able to get.

I had a brief tug of war between satisfaction and frustration; thankfully satisfaction won out.

Three-and-a-half questions:
What’s the smallest meaningful result in your thesis?
What are you most satisfied or frustrated by in your research?
What’s the best bit of your thesis? Why?

Stepping back when doing research is important. Stepping back afterwards helps you grow.