You’ll never know everything and that’s okay

A clip from Research Vertigo which is linked in the text. A cartoon shows a woman digging on a sandy beach. She finds a half buried green stalk that looks interesting so she pulls it and asks herself 'what are you? you seem interesting. could I study you?'

The worry you will never know everything is something researchers at all levels struggle with, but is particularly acute if you are new to research.

This can result in some people simply failing to get going in their work as everything seems overwhelming or they are unsure where to begin. Or taking on projects that are beyond their skills or scope, or being overly ambitious in studies that are too big to tackle.

Anxieties about not knowing all the stuff are a normal part of research (particularly during a PhD). And it takes time to learn that you will know some things but you won’t know everything, and that is okay. Indeed it’s a particular skill to focus in on a topic and study it carefully and in a relatively narrow way.

Unfortunately the usual approach to teaching research methods and the process of doing research often pushes us to doing work we’re not always ready for and may be unfeasible for many reasons. We then feel bad if we don’t achieve what was never going to be possible. Teaching can fail to acknowledge these understandable, basic worries around what we don’t know, and may not adequately examine what is okay to let go and what we do need to focus on.

Paula Thomas shared this beautiful cartoon that explains very clearly the very familiar struggle of ‘not knowing’. It’s called ‘Research Vertigo’ (at last! a name for our troubles) and is by Clementine Beauvais and you can read it all here

The start of the cartoon can be seen at the beginning of this post and I’d recommend bookmarking Beauvais’ blog as there’s a lot of useful reflections on academia and research within it, plus more beautiful drawings.

What are your experiences of ‘Research Vertigo’ – and how have you dealt with them? Feel free to share below.

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