Even before Robbert Dijkgraaf became the Minister of Education, Culture and Science in January this year, I followed him a bit. No, he is not a ‘secret crush’ but I really favour some of his ideas.
Quite a while ago I saw him on television, where he talked about the work atmosphere at the Institute of Advanced Study, Princeton University, where he was a director for 12 years.
He was explaining how much freedom there was, the opportunities to try things out or to relax and just reflect. It is the only way to make progress in science.
In his words:
‘Finding answers to difficult questions is far from straightforward. The shortest route from A to B is a straight line, but what do you do if you don’t know where B is located or what it looks like? History shows that the most successful route often begins with a short step to the side, often in a light spirit. When I speak with young researchers about their dreams and frustrations, my advice to them is always to keep an open mind. Give chance a chance. Colour outside the lines. Surprise yourself.’
How often do you give yourself the opportunity to do nothing, just go for a walk and see what pops up in your mind? Do you ever colour outside the lines? How much freedom do you give yourself?
Working with deep focus or….?
Often we think that the only way to book any progress towards your PhD is by sitting behind your desk and working with a lot of focus. Is that the only way forward though? Robbert Dijkgraaf says the following:
‘It is indeed an endless cycle of imagination and concentration, of divergence and convergence, of playing and thinking that determines the rhythm of science and scholarship.’
Follow the whole cycle and please don’t forget imagination, divergence and playing! I guarantee you that it will benefit your PhD greatly.