Researcher Life : The Wait

A curious phenomenon researchers go through is what I call ‘the Wait’. As a researcher you are expected to solve a million problems. You are usually on a go-go-go schedule. Every now and then though, there is a problem that you can not immediately solve. You can collect all the information do your best, and maybe get an expert opinion before actually solving it.

You can write to them, and ask for a meeting, but till you actually get a mail/appointment/feedback, you’ll have -the Wait. You can collect information and read on your problem, but till you have had enough to observe and read, you have – the Wait. This isn’t usually a vacation period.

Isolating a problem can be mentally very taxing. If you ask multiple people for help, each of them may respond differently, leading to a different discussion. Each discussion will then assimilate the information in your head a bit differently. For design and technique related problems, you may just have to run multiple tests till you see an obvious pattern.

For bigger decisions on participant data, you may have to consult the entire team and this takes a while as well. So your wait period may have the following activities

  1. Read on possible problems
  2. Think
  3. Talk to team-members
  4. Think
  5. Write to experts
  6. Think
  7. Have a coffee
  8. Get mad at your computer
  9. Calm down and think
  10. Talk to your loved ones (who typically have no idea what you do)
  11. Curse the machines in the lab
  12. Get responses from the experts
  13. Decipher responses from experts
  14. Maybe isolate a few solutions
  15. Run simulations to check your hypothesis
  16. Haha…you thought it would work!
  17. Doubt your entire project
  18. Go for a walk
  19. Have a relaxing tea
  20. Start all over

If you are lucky, you will still have other things to do during the Wait. If you aren’t, I recommend Sage tea. It really helps with psychosomatic symptoms.

When I started writing this post last week, I was in my ‘Wait’ period. I was waiting on 3 main Problems –

Problem one: a decision concerning what participants (database) to recruit
Wait: I can’t test participants even though I’m ready to

Problem two: waiting on an e-mail from my analysis guide
Wait: I can’t analyze the data lying right there in front of me

Problem three: a new technical problem that I noticed in one of my set-ups.
Wait: Run senseless simulations till the random problem has a pattern. Pray its not just random.

The bad part about Wait is that you know a Storm will normally follow. All at once you’ll know what participants to recruit, you’ll talk to your supervisor and boom there’s tons of analysis to keep you busy. Once the technical bit is solved, you just sit back and let the data collect itself! You may even look forward to that storm.

The big storm that brings with it all its participants, their analysis and complicated set-ups that you created and can totally manage now! You want the storm. You want to say ‘look at that brilliant data’. The Wait doesn’t give you data. The Wait just makes you long for the data.

Be wary of the false positives. For e.g., A good meeting about a Problem may clarify the Wait process, but also intensifies the longing for the Storm!

The good thing about Wait though, is that if you prepare for it well, you can get a lot of other things done. So from the start of writing this post (Wednesday evening), to now (Tuesday evening of the next week), I’ve had tons of informal meetings, run some preliminary tests, e-mailed and read some stuff, and have had a lot of coffee breaks. I am doing my simulations, but there isn’t a lot to do while I stare at the simulation to run. Oh, I also managed to return lab keys left by former students (last year) back to personnel, made appointments for all kinds of bureaucracy-stuff, and caught up with a few friends. Once you identify you are in this period, everything that had so far taken a back seat, can be dealt with.

So now, my simulation data awaits. Maybe this time around, there is some sense to it. If there isn’t, I still have an untidy desk drawer that needs tending to.

Hopefully my next post will be from the Storm end of the cycle!

To know more about my life as a researcher, check out my previous posts πŸ™‚

“I had Fun” – Why this line is so special to cognitive scientists.
Monday Morning Blues – A researcher’s monday morning blues come on any day! πŸ˜‰
50 Shades of Research – Everything you will have to do…and more!
I have the…Moves? – Why this blog? 

To hear me rant about what goes on in a researcher’s brain, check out;
Researcher Like Thinking – How this profession has changed my thinking.


  1. Loved your take on phenomenon called 'wait'
    I sometimes joke about all the curious benefits of traffic snarls in My Mumbai
    I think this endless wait in traffic goes a long way in our progress of our 'spiritual path'
    It teaches us so many things the great sages and philosophers have tried to do over the centuries.
    We learn to …
    'Let Go'
    'Forgive Others (all the drivers are stupid and don't know how to drive expect me)'
    'Realise that worrying and taking stress did not solve a problem
    'Stay Calm' Honking is of no use !!
    'Learn from mistakes and avoid getting into a mess; However that does happen, then to just accept it without loosing cool and without fretting over it
    'Stay in the moment' Enjoy the nice song on FM
    'Be thankful and at peace at all the times' If not for the traffic jam, how could you have enjoyed the lovely song on FM??
    Enjoyed your blog !!!

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