Friday, June 5, 2009

Seeing the “constructive” part of constructive criticism

Summarizing three+ years of research and talking about the significance thereof can be a daunting task. Needing to do so in a very short amount of time because one has a firm deadline, in the form of plane tickets for departure to take up a post-doctoral position makes it an interesting task. I’ve found that my reaction to this situation has varied from day to day, ranging from extreme writer’s block to highly inspired. Fortunately, when the writer’s block struck I still had other tasks to turn to such that I was still being productive with my time by gathering yet more drawings, charts, and graphs, and assembling them into ready-to print versions of the figures for thesis. Eventually, a good week later than I’d wished to do so, I completed a first draft of my final chapter, the “discussions and conclusions” part of the thesis (note: in Australia the term “thesis” is used at the PhD level, rather than “dissertation”, which is what they say in the US—I don’t know what terms are used in other countries). Oh, the joy I felt when the e-mail was sent, and I could resume working on the corrections he’d suggested to the earlier chapters.

Fortunately for me, I had reason to head into town on the next business day, and stopped in my advisor’s office that afternoon, as he was just finishing up a reply e-mail to me with his comments on the chapter. I sat and talked with him for a good hour, as he filled me in on the important points I’d not yet addressed, and why he felt that they were important. I explained that when I’d sent it to him I did feel like, perhaps, it wasn’t perfect yet, but I knew that I needed to say *something*, because it is far, far easier to edit/change text, than to write the first paragraphs on a given topic. I left that meeting feeling inspired and ready to go. As a result, when I saw his e-mail and read the comments in the chapter itself, I was ready and able to immediately work on doing the expansions he thought it needed. However, looking at the e-mail itself, I think that if I had read it before having the conversation with him, I would likely have been devastated. There is something about the thought that one’s effort isn’t deemed worthy, for whatever reason, which can either be crippling or inspiring. How easy it is to let a negative opinion on one’s work ruin one’s day, but how much better it feels when, instead, one hears the constructive, helpful suggestions one has been offered and is able to run with them, putting the suggestions to work to improve one’s efforts. This time the latter was easier to do because of the conversation. I hope that in the future, should it happen that I receive such suggestions from a mentor or colleague without such a warning conversation, I shall be able to appreciate their help and act upon their advice straight away, without any “someone doesn’t like my work” feelings standing in the way.

1 comment:

Kiri said...

Thanks for sharing this experience. This is a hard thing for everyone to deal with! I'll keep your story in mind myself the next time I get some constructive criticism. :)