This is what I am really afraid of. What is your biggest fear as a researcher today? — R Voice

This is what I am really afraid of. What is your biggest fear as a researcher today?

Jayashree Rajagopalan
Jayashree Rajagopalan Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 139 admin

I just read this powerful post on LinkedIn (not a new one, but timeless) which captures responses of 65 people to one simple question - What are you afraid of?

This post shares how "Fear can either show us our limitations or teach us about something that we need to overcome. How we perceive it is up to us. One way to move past your fears is knowing that you’re not alone." 

This made me take a hard look at myself and how I face, manage, or deal with my fears. I realized that one way to manage your fear is to articulate it - just say it out loud, share it with someone or with a group of people you feel safe with. You will realize that you are not alone.

So here I am - feeling vulnerable - and sharing what I am most afraid of: My biggest fears are:

  • Not being able to meet my learning related ambitions
  • Not making a difference to/have an impact on anyone in the course of my life
  • Losing meaningful friendships because of an entirely online life

I know that dealing with these has been a journey and only I may truly grasp how scary these thoughts are for me. But saying this out loud made me feel better, made me feel visible among others who may feel the same.

So if you would like to try this out with me - What is your biggest fear as a researcher? Or in life?

Comments

  • Jayashree Rajagopalan
    Jayashree Rajagopalan Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 139 admin
  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 99 ✭✭✭

    @Jayashree Rajagopalan wow, this is a powerful post! I read the post and the answers of people around the world, and I noticed immediately that we all have almost the same primary fears as human beings: fear of death, fear of not having a job, fear of being alone in life, fear of not finding my purpose in life. I experienced all those fears in my own life. So, that reflects in my career when I have to prepare a manuscript and I have fear of being rejected? But why? Is a paper something so important that could kill you if you are rejected? Or maybe are our "primary" fears manifesting in that situation, giving our brain the fear signal? I think the humanity evolved so fast that our brain and body couldn't follow that evolution in the way of modern life. That's why we probably confuse a paper rejection with a lion attacking me in the middle of the jungle. So, I just wanted to break the ice with my comment, I am "afraid" that it wasn't a good elaborated one, but it's a raw and genuine one. Let's face our fears! 💪

  • Jayashree Rajagopalan
    Jayashree Rajagopalan Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 139 admin

    @Gustavo Arluna - As always...you hit the nail on the head and shared your thoughts in your own unique way. I feel like giving you some brownie points for the pun you cheekily slipped in with "afraid". Keep 'em coming! 🙂

    Raw and genuine is what I was looking for because that's how I felt while reading that post and while listing my fears. it IS a powerful post, isn't it! But I think you said something even more powerful in your response - you said this:

    Is a paper something so important that could kill you if you are rejected? Or maybe are our "primary" fears manifesting in that situation, giving our brain the fear signal? I think the humanity evolved so fast that our brain and body couldn't follow that evolution in the way of modern life. That's why we probably confuse a paper rejection with a lion attacking me in the middle of the jungle.

    I think often rejection in academia is associated with an end (like there's nothing after this and there's no hope for a new path after this), and given that many stressors are always active in our lives, something like a manuscript being rejected might elicit a life-or-death-situation fear in us. Fear itself is primitive and it keeps us going. I realized that over the years we may have complicated ourselves and any form of communication so much that even open saying "I am afraid" or admitting that is a huge step. So thank you for stepping up with me to face those fears.

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 99 ✭✭✭

    @Jayashree Rajagopalan now I know to whom to talk when my self-esteem is low, as you made me feel like someone important 🙈😊👍😁

    I totally agree with you, and you explained it better: "I think often rejection in academia is associated with an end (like there's nothing after this and there's no hope for a new path after this)".

    I felt that "end" feeling literally many times before. And I am so glad discovering that I am not the only one, because if we all feel the same, maybe there is also something wrong in the academic (or even whole world) system. Instead of making feel people secure and potentiate their strong skills, it seems that the system is looking for your weak points and filter you for that.

    But I must tell you that I am changing regarding to that. Years not only dye your hair white (not my case yet), but also give you experience and you realize how world works and you start to appreciate more yourself. I am 37 years old, I feel stronger now than when I was in my 20s, so now I have less irrational fears (less, but not zero). Although, having zero fear is impossible, as you also said, fear keeps us going. I would also add anxiety to that survival combo.

  • Mdumiseni Mazula
    Mdumiseni Mazula Member Posts: 53 ✭✭✭

    I'm afraid being Rejected that's all I'm afraid of and it's a biggest fear 😱

  • Asli Telli
    Asli Telli Member Posts: 32 ✭✭✭

    I would say “Fear of losing joy in life”. The French call it “joie de vivre” and the sound gives the feeling well. Once there is no joy in life, one would also lose the curiosity to ask, search, analyse and solve mysteries. I’m afraid this would be an imminent challenge in the life of a researcher, even more so than any other profession. We exist so far as we question, don’t we? Thank you for the end-of-summer shockie quiz, @Jayashree Rajagopalan , made me wanna wake up with cold water on the head :D

  • Jayashree Rajagopalan
    Jayashree Rajagopalan Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 139 admin


    Yes that was the reason I initiated that question - even the realization that we're not alone makes a big difference. I do feel it's sad that researchers don' t feel secure in the academic system but succumb to their fears. Perhaps having spaces like these where they can talk about it or seek support might help. It does sound like the experiences you've gained over the years have made a difference to how you now look at tough situations!

  • Jayashree Rajagopalan
    Jayashree Rajagopalan Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 139 admin


    Thanks for sharing your fear @Mdumiseni Mazula. Rejection is probably one of the biggest fears researchers face. It might be easier to generalize and say that rejection is inevitable and we all need to be prepared to fail. However, the intense stress researchers are under makes it difficult to face the fear of rejection. How badly the fear of rejection affects you depends on so many circumstances: where you are in your career as a researcher, what challenges you are surrounded by, and so on.

    I wanted to call out @Gustavo Arluna for sharing a powerful response to my question - and I think this may help you too:

    Is a paper something so important that could kill you if you are rejected? 

  • Jayashree Rajagopalan
    Jayashree Rajagopalan Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 139 admin

    Thanks for sharing that palpable fear @Asli Telli. I agree with you. For an academic "joy in life", which would spill over into every aspect of research and work, that would be grave indeed. I could relate to it because to me it was like my fear of not being able to learn anymore. I'll try throwing in a lighter one for you next time, I promise! 🙂

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 99 ✭✭✭

    I am loving this threads in R Voice more and more everyday because of what you say, we feel that we are not alone. Many people share similar thoughts about academic life. :)

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 300 ✭✭✭✭

    I'm sorry, @Jayashree Rajagopalan - I am late to the party!

    My biggest fear as a researcher is that I'll hang around too long and achieve nothing (for reasons like lack of funding/support) but also that I'll leave too early and not achieve anything and it'll be too late to come back. I am really passionate about my research and I want to do it for the people that it will benefit. The research has the ability to improve the quality of life of so many.

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 300 ✭✭✭✭

    I relate to this so much!! There was a time I thought my work/career was going to be everything to me..as I've grown up and especially with my recent experiences I've realised there's more to life than work. Quality of life is so important and sometimes a compromise on work/life has to be made..but that doesn't make me bad at my job or uncommitted.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 454 admin

    @Asli Telli I really related to what you said here. If I were to answer @Jayashree Rajagopalan's question without ever seeing your response, I don't think I'd have thought of this. But after thinking deeply about your comment, I think I do fear losing joy and laughter in life, or rather fear of losing my ability to enjoy the little things or even the ability to marvel at the beautiful things about life. Thank you for helping me see this 😊

  • Asli Telli
    Asli Telli Member Posts: 32 ✭✭✭

    thank you for all the referrals and warm additions, you lovely people. I`m loving this thread, too dear @Gustavo Arluna :) it is not very often that we willfully face our fears in life let alone during research endeavors!

  • Gustavo Arluna
    Gustavo Arluna Member Posts: 99 ✭✭✭

    Yeah, as you said @Asli Telli this was a "shockie quiz" from @Jayashree Rajagopalan . :-D

    I am excited to read her next question. :-D

  • Isurika Sevwandi
    Isurika Sevwandi Member Posts: 51 ✭✭✭

    Hi Guys, after a loooooooooong break here I am back😀 Literally missed you all but I had to tackle many issues in academia (which led me to start replying to this stimulating question) after all..., had a career switch and was busy a lot with undergraduate academic teaching + postgraduate research work and many more ups and downs in life.

    Relating to the question asked, my biggest fear is actually "will I have to regret again after all my efforts that I am taking seriously these days"

    This may sound vague but exactly understanding the real purpose, inspiration and goal of life is something that I become overwhelming again and again and some time feel hard times in navigating my life through different goals in life which are multi dimensional. At the end I might feel tired and then sick of it though it felt stipulating goal to chase a few weeks earlier. I know consistency in anything is essential but our minds change temporarily and take critical directions without even letting us consciously think of it🙄

  • Jayashree Rajagopalan
    Jayashree Rajagopalan Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 139 admin


    @Shruti Turner - I'm making you feel better about being late by this tardy response :-) The more I read everyone's responses, the more I see how palpable these fears are. It's like staring at a mirror, wide-eyed. The fear you've shared - thanks for doing that here - is real. I can imagine that as someone who has given and is giving years of your life to the pursuit of something you are passionate about, you really want to be able to make a difference. I think for all of us, the process of facing and overcoming these fears, any fear, always seems to be painfully slow one because each of our journeys is different. Well, my confidence in you and whatever I have known of you make me feel that you will most certainly achieve. [Go, Shruti, GO!]

  • Jayashree Rajagopalan
    Jayashree Rajagopalan Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 139 admin


    Welcome back @Isurika Sevwandi - you were missed! A switch like the one you described sounds like a great opportunity, a brave step, and (what often gets overlooked) something that makes us anxious. I can relate to what you're saying here - having to make major decisions makes me also think about the "what-if". And then, of course there is the rush of the change followed by, sometimes, the exhaustion of dealing with so many different things at the same time. Easier said than done, but I think that you gut or instinct will surely lead you on the right track. And I can already see that you're learning so much from these new opportunities you are exploring. Cheering for you and for how brave you already are.

  • Jayashree Rajagopalan
    Jayashree Rajagopalan Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 139 admin

    Just warming up here @Gustavo Arluna Gimme a bit until I come up with another. @Andrea Hayward and @Kakoli Majumder here can attest to the kind of vague or big questions I can spring up on you. Stay alert!

  • Shruti Turner
    Shruti Turner Member Posts: 300 ✭✭✭✭

    Your words mean so much to me, thank you @Jayashree Rajagopalan !

    Thank you for starting this post, whilst I don't like that other people have these worries and fears, it is helpful to know that I am not alone in them.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 454 admin

    @Isurika Sevwandi so nice to see you back here on R Voice. We missed you too! But it's always great to welcome you back 🤗

    I can fully relate to the fear you've explained. I think you've done a great job articulating it and what it feels like. I experience something similar. I'm constantly wondering and worrying about whether I'm on the right path and whether I'm fulfilling my true purpose to the best of my ability. Sometimes I try and shoo these thoughts away with a "but you're doing good work anyway, so maybe it doesn't matter." But this distracts me only for a little while and I re-enter the cycle of questions like - Is there something else I could be doing? Could I be making a difference elsewhere? Am I losing precious time by doing what I'm doing now? It can all be very anxiety-inducing and sometimes I really don't know what to do with these thoughts. How do you deal with this?

  • Isurika Sevwandi
    Isurika Sevwandi Member Posts: 51 ✭✭✭

    Thanks a lot Jayashree for your always encouraging words and warm wishes! Missed it a lot during the past few months.

  • Isurika Sevwandi
    Isurika Sevwandi Member Posts: 51 ✭✭✭

    Thanks Andrea for the heartwarming welcome!😘 Missed your affectionate words for a while...

    It is really a struggle to deal with these feelings but what I am trying to is actually to focus on immediate outcomes and satisfy myself with small rewards (otherwise it will be an endless suffer of trying to figure out and control things that are beyond my control). For an example, when I am with my undergraduate students I always try to make the atmosphere more relaxed (relate to your question on zoom fatigue as well) and welcoming for anything and everything because being a geographer by career choice has made me a person who can easily find some kind if relationship between anything and everything. I always rely on students' feedback, which gives me much satisfaction in what I am doing. When I feel I am making a difference in their regular routine, way of believing on themselves, giving them targets and purpose on career goals and many more make me feel I am in the right position and making a positive change however because they are the next generation who will change the world one day. If I can give them a bit of hope and strength to navigate their life journey, I feel I am making a real difference that can have long-term counter factual effects.This gives me immense hope to continue when I am feeling blues and wondering whether I am on the correct path. However, I enjoy the simple moments to the maximum level and try to find immediate joy rather than happiness that comes after tremendous success.

  • Andrea Hayward
    Andrea Hayward Member, Administrator, Moderator Posts: 454 admin
    edited September 13

    @Isurika Sevwandi I always have words of encouragement and kindness for you! 😘

    Focusing on immediate outcomes or at least the smaller wins seems like a good way to deal with these thoughts. The example you've provided has helped me understand this better too. I love how you're approaching the concept of a "reward" or "win", such that it doesn't necessarily have to be concrete or physical and something like feedback does the trick. This is surely something I would benefit from applying to my own situation. Thank you! 🤗

    You are definitely making a difference by giving your students hope, motivation, and guidance. These are the kind of things people hold close to their hearts and carry with them across their life journeys. You're doing a fantastic job! 😍