By Argus Pesqueda (CREAF)
A Pile of PhD Pandemic Pointers – Creativity and how it can shape your morale and mental sharpness
You’ve been there. You’ve hit that rock bottom that you’ve seen exaggerated on TV, like Homer Simpson does so often in The Simpsons. You possibly have lost that mental resolve and motivation that has guided you through your career thus far due to the consequences of isolation from the pandemic. Stack a PhD within a new country, a large language barrier, and very restrictive Covid isolation practices and you’ve got yourself a formula for self-exasperation coupled with stress. Let me tell you, it’s not the healthiest way to begin your PhD. Luckily, in my experience there are ways, albeit a bit more unorthodox than the online recommendations, creativity will play a large part in keeping you on your toes while we weather the storm of the pandemic!
Granted that PhDs are quite challenge in nearly every aspect, creativity will be an essential part of accomplishing the PhD. Creativity has a way of keeping your mind sharp by actively solving problems, whether they are innate and mundane like bending a paperclip to tie something together or complex and taxing like cobbling a Frankenstein R script together with your limited knowledge to achieve your output. In addition to keeping a sharpened mind, the rewards for solving a problem will typically gain you a lasting boost to your morale and can keep you more motivated to hammer through you goals. Similar to the video game “The Sims”, when your character completes a task, they gain a temporary bonus to their next couple of actions. Now, let’s look into a couple unusual applications.
Imagination is one of the basis for creativity and is needed in nearly every creative situation. Imagination may require a little inspiration for most people and therefore, I suggest picking up a book. But not just any book! A book that lays outside the world as we know it, like fantasy or sci-fi. Where could a planet be located if it was to be stealth cloaked? What does a Leshen look like? How does a Psi-tracker work? These questions can be flushed out by spinning up your imagination with the guidance of the text and can keep the inspiration of creativity in your daily life. Who knows, maybe you’ll find an interesting workaround based on these ‘other universes’ instead of grinding your head through a relatively thick mental wall.
Imagination + Creativity
So, you got a little excited (or a little bored) with the books idea. That’s okay! Let’s take it to the next level: A pen and paper Role-Playing Game (RPG). Briefly speaking, a pen and paper RPG is a fantastic way to apply both your imagination and creativity by teaming up with other people (typically your friends) and jumping into a fantasy or sci-fi universe built around the imagination of the game narrator (typically another human being, like a friend) and going in a quest together. Along the way there are challenges to overcome, traps to dodge, and interactions of in-world characters with the added randomization factor of dice that are used to dictate whether you succeeded or failed your actions. The best part about it is that there’s no right or wrong way to achieve your goal and will normally comprise of odd, funky, completely unconventional ways of getting to that goal. These solutions are usually followed by a plethora of gasps, laughter, and cheers among your group. Not only will you actively use that creativity and imagination combo in problem solving, you will also get that social interaction we’ve all been craving during this pandemic. Digitally of course.
The obvious and the not so obvious
So you now may be asking ‘but how is all this related to undertaking the PhD?’. The obvious portion of this post is about keeping mentally healthy on top of the challenges of the pandemic, but the not so obvious can be a bit more interesting. Let’s work with this example of a box and your objective is to get from Side A to Side B of the box. Naturally, you can stay within the box to achieve your goal, but what if you decide to use that imagination and creativity to “think outside of the box” and, in this example, go around the box to reach Side B to complete your objective? In doing so, you may have the opportunity to discover new interesting tools and techniques you never would have known about if you had not started to “think outside the box”. These newly discovered elements can a gold mine of experience in which you can pocket, bring them along, and apply them in future applications if need be.
Remember, creativity can come in all shapes and forms like music, art, etc. and is not limited to what has been written here. Sustaining that healthy level creativity can provide a much needed morale boost, give you the mental edge to find unique solutions to complex problems, and have a positive impact on how you approach your daily and long term challenges.