The importance of stupidity

Mini-column ‘Alison in Wonderland’, published in the Observant, Maastricht

Academics thrive on stupidity. In his article ‘The importance of stupidity in scientific research’, microbiologist Martin Schwartz points out that since the point of research is to find out that which we don’t know, it’s only natural that it makes us all feel stupid. (“if we don’t feel stupid it means we’re not really trying”). Another key skill, I’ve discovered, is being able to justify your actions once it’s too late to change them. For example: your research question turns out to be wildly uninteresting, or just downright unanswerable. How to rework your introduction so it looks like you planned to do something else all along? Perhaps this explains the disturbingly elastic interpretations of what ‘PhD’ might actually stand for: Pound head on Desk? Definitely. Potential heavy Drinker? Indeed. Or, my favourite: Parents have Doubts? (They sure do.)

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A fool’s error

Mini-column ‘Alison in Wonderland’, published in the Observant, Maastricht

The first time I ever gave a presentation of my own research terrified me. Picturing people naked just doesn’t help. The best advice I was ever given was to ‘act like an actor’; in other words, to play a role. Pretend you are the person you want to project (someone confident and engaging, not someone who wants to curl up in the corner in foetal position!). What you don’t want to do is what I did that first time: I was so nervous I decided to memorise every line of my 40-minute speech. A fool’s error. Because you’re then reciting rather than reading, you’ll forget to turn the pages of your notes. So when you forget your lines – as I inevitably did – you end up hopelessly lost.

Hot yoga

Mini-column ‘Alison in Wonderland’, published in the Observant, Maastricht

There’s something about sitting in a library all day that made me decide to start yoga. And there’s something about wet, cold England that made it have to be hot yoga. For the uninitiated, that’s yoga in a 38°C room. But the heat isn’t the only stress factor. You don’t want to eat too much beforehand; it’ll only get squished around in your gut. But don’t eat too little, either – 90 minutes of yoga on an empty stomach is akin to torture. And don’t sit near the men. They’ll only splash sweat on you. Or near the women, though – that’ll be too competitive. Needless to say, I left more stressed out than when I’d arrived. Climbing the library stairs will have to be exercise enough.