Refueling Research Passion

University of Pennsylvania, Houston Hall, Fireside Lounge
Photo by Scott Spitzer
Source: University of Pennsylvania flickr

How do you keep the intellectual fire alive?

Whether you’re an undergraduate, graduate, professional or executive student, everyone has experienced a feeling of plateau in their scholarship. Your “long-term” goal may range from a term paper, a capstone thesis, a peer-edited publication, a grant proposal, to a dissertation and beyond.

But what happens when you experience intellectual fatigue? When the passion and excitement of your research question appear to have dimmed? When fogginess surrounds your clarity of conviction and analysis? You have been so focused and poured so much time and energy into your academic, scholarly and professional endeavors, that all of a sudden you start doubting yourself, including your research.

At Weingarten, we love to partner with and support our students through the ups and downs of their academic journeys. We offer a framework to help you assess and reignite the passion within for your scholarship:

Refueling Research Passion Pyramid
Conceptual Framework by Min Derry

In the Refueling Research Passion Framework, each triangle represent spheres of opportunity to re-engage, learn and restore, while the circles represent stratification and fortification:

  1. Wellness Triangle (top): How can you engage Self-Development, Community & Network, and available Resources to nurture and restore your Wellness? For instance, is it time to make that doctor’s appointment, or to try that new circuit route for your running or workout routine? How about joining a Philly @ UCity Fitness or Nutrition Meetup?
  2. Intellectual Triangle (bottom left): How can you explore Self-Development, expand your Community & Network, and seek new Resources to deepen or broaden your Intellectual Pursuits? For instance, is it time to step outside of your comfort zone and try a new Conference that brings other players and perspectives, or to try an interdisciplinary Conference that will “shake” up your ideas a bit?
  3. Vocational Triangle (bottom right): How can you explore Self-Development, connect with your Community & Network, or seek new Resources for Professional Development? For instance, can you email that distant colleague or professor and finally connect over good conversation, an article, coffee and/or writing for publication?

PEDAL@GSE
Second-year lead facilitator Yuxiao Li speaks with the team of four first-year GSE students she is mentoring during a discussion after teaching the intermediate class at Penn.
Photo by Louisa Shepard.
University of Pennsylvania flickr

So, next time that you feel in a slump, fret not! There are ways to reignite your research passion! Refer to our helpful Framework for Refueling Your Research Passion.

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow

“Lifewide Learning:” Developing Resiliency Wherever Life Takes You

Many of us may have heard the term ‘lifelong learning,’ as it relates to an educational journey that may span several decades or even a lifetime. However, this term is often used to refer to the kids of education that happens within formal settings for adults – in classrooms such as on college campuses, or certificate programs that might prepare us for a career in a specific field. The term ‘lifewide learning[1],’ was created to acknowledge that adult learning happens in a nearly infinite range of places and situations, most of them outside the traditional classroom. Although we generally think of learning as intentional or deliberate, lifewide learning acknowledges that learning frequently happens unintentionally. Navigating these unexpected situations as opportunities for growth, no matter how frustrating, help us to develop resilience.

For students ending the semester and reflecting on what they learned from classes, the biggest takeaways may not have been from the syllabus or class assignments. For example, maybe the shock of receiving a bad grade on an important exam caused you to reexamine your time management and study strategies in ways that will ultimately help you succeed later in life. As students across Campus embark on summer internships, or perhaps a new job after graduation, remember that your biggest opportunities for growth may also be spontaneous or unplanned. You might find that your next job experience is something very different than what you expected. Again, rather than dwelling on this disconnect, be open to what you do learn. Uncomfortable or challenging situations can be particularly important opportunities for personal growth, if we are open to the lessons they bring.  


[1] Source: Reischmann, J. (2019). Lifewide learning – Challenges for Andragogy. Journal of Adult Learning, Knowledge and Innovation, 1(1), 43–50. https://doi.org/10.1556/2059.01.2017.2

By Staff Writer: Jennifer Kobrin, Learning Fellow

Bigger Pictures: Procrastivity’s Greatest Hits

Source: Wikimedia Commons
File:Procrastination (No Wall Uncovered VII).jpg

“Anyone can do any amount of work, provided it isn’t the work he’s supposed to be doing at the moment.”

~ Robert Benchley

You know what’s annoying? Spell check. Let me tell you why. The neologism “procrastivity” shows up no later than 2008, and spell check wants me to change “procrastivity” to procreativity. Needless to say, procreativity requires not only a different blog post, but an entirely different blog.

Anyway, now that we’ve dispensed with that minor annoyance, let’s delve, shall we?

Procrastivity as a neologism comes from the merging of “procrastination” and “activity”. In other words, we engage in procrastivity when we are supposed to be doing one thing, a thing of great importance, and we instead do some other thing, also a thing of importance, but a thing of decidedly lesser importance. Groan if any of these sound familiar:

  • It’s time to study for your calculus final, but before you wrestle with limits and area under the curve, you first have to clean up your study space. You tell yourself that a tidy desk is a productive desk. But once your desk has reached the state of blissful efficiency, you realize you simply moved items to the bed and the surrounding environment which, of course, now demands organizing. Two and a half hours later you’ve cleaned your room for the first time in months, but you have yet to look at any calc.
  • Your final paper is due on the last day of exams. Nothing short of perfection will give you the final grade you so deeply covet. So you read. And you read some more. Over a period of days you even run back and forth to the library grabbing more books that turn out to be unneeded, which you knew before you checked them out but you just had to make sure. The day before it is due, you’ve written less than a page of the 20 or so you need to turn in.
  • You know you have to go through your Bio slides because the exam is a mere 37 hours away. But there’s so much to be done. You need to send a follow up email to the members of your performance group, thanking them again for all the extra work they did to make the semester ending show such a rousing success. You then double check the treasurer’s report and send her an email thanking her for getting you the numbers before summer break. You then check your airline reservation since you’re flying out of PHL in a mere 43 hours. Slides? What slides?

Slippery slope, thy name is procrastivity.

This type of procrastination hurts because the other things you do instead have legitimate importance. But you are still not doing what you need to be doing.

So: Beware. Be careful. Be vigilant.

And as finals draw ever closer, remember: You got this.

Pete Kimchuk

Senior Learning Instructor

Bigger Pictures: Perils of Perfection, Part 2

“If I waited for perfection… I wouldn’t write a word.”

           ~ Margaret Atwood

I’ve been a Margaret Atwood fan for decades. I came across her work in the late ‘80s when I took a Dystopian Literature course. Some of the books, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I devoured years before. But I didn’t know The Handmaid’s Tale, or its Canadian author.

Margaret Atwood blew me away.

Not only did Atwood’s novel excel at the dystopian level, it also sparkled at the sentence level, and every self-respecting writing student of that distant age (like yours truly) developed an almost perverse eye for what happened in a text at the sentence level. To my developing eye, Margaret Atwood’s sentences were perfect. They shimmer with clarity and convey complex human thought lucidly, even if the character isn’t particularly lucid. This kind of thing doesn’t come through on Hulu.

So, of course, like any novice besotted with the work of a master writer, I got intimidated by her prowess. I mean, if I couldn’t write like that…well, what was the point?

Which brings us back again to our opening quote: If I waited for perfection I wouldn’t write a word. Come, unpack with me.

If I waited. Our great woman of letters tells us that avoidance isn’t going to get it done. Atwood knows writing something even just “good enough” requires work. (She also quipped that the greatest writing invention is the trash can.) Moreover, she implies that perfection at that earliest stage is out of the question.

And then we get I wouldn’t write a word, the frightening inertia that too often tags along with being overly perfectionist.  

I once went through a bout of writer’s block that lasted nearly two years. While there were more than a few factors that dried me up, I later determined that the biggest factor was fear, and a very special type of fear at that. I called it fear of criticism not yet voiced. The damning criticism that blocked the flow of words I once took for granted didn’t come from anyone actually directing criticism from the outside, all the nagging criticism lived in my only in my own head, whispered in my own voice. Criticism not yet voiced.

What I had to learn (the hard way, of course) is that I had to get out of my own way. Nobody else said the things I heard in my head. Workshop taught me to filter outside criticism, to consider the source and what have you. But once I realized that I had gotten in my own way, I was able to write again. I just had to get by criticism not yet voiced.

This little epiphany got me writing again. It can work for you, too.

By Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

Bigger Pictures: The Perils of Perfection, Part 1

“The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement.”

         ~ George Will

As we rapidly approach the end game of the semester, it seems appropriate that we take a moment or two to consider the Penn student’s perennial perplexing predicament: perfectionism. (Loyal readers of this space should be well aware by now of your humble blogger’s penchant for alliteration – and if you weren’t… well, you are now.)

Perfection seems to be an intrinsic part of the Penn student body DNA. It starts before the acceptance letter from Penn arrives, when future Quakers set sights not only on achievement but on flawless achievement. In short, perfection.

In fact, the flawless achievement mind set often takes root at an early age, and left unexamined, can lead to all kinds of academics-related problems. Just a few, in no particular order:

  • Writers block – it is hard to jump into the writing process if you’re already worried about how the paper won’t pass muster, even if you haven’t written word one.
  • Non selective exam prep – this happens when you’re so worried about knowing absolutely everything for the test that you fail to prioritize and master the material most likely to be on the test.
  • Procrastination – why not avoid a task that you’re convinced will not meet your self-imposed standard of perfection?

You don’t need to be a Weingarten learning instructor to recognize how detrimental to academic achievement any of the above can be.

Some things, of course, need to be perfect or as close to perfect as humanly possible. But honestly, those things are few and far between. Stressing out and losing sleep over how everything has to be absolutely perfect is no way to live.

So, might I suggest going for simple excellence?

Striving for excellence is a different matter entirely than constantly grinding away at perfection. Excellence does not carry with it the notion of flawlessness that perfection brings along. Excellence accepts that working towards excellence can, in fact, lead to something that approaches perfection, even attain perfection.

In other words, don’t let perfectionism get in the way of excellence.

By Staff Writer: Pete Kimchuk, Senior Learning Instructor

Study Strategies: A fresh take on “Procrastination”

View of Center City from the Gershwind-Bennett Terrace
Source: University of Pennsylvania flickr

At Weingarten, we like to ask,

“What’s your favorite form of procrastination?”

The question is often welcomed with puzzled enthusiasm. Students are at first taken aback by our directness, but find relief in the straightforward candidness and empathy. The discussion that ensues is always lively!

This is the time of the year, Spring semester, when things are ramping up (e.g. 2nd mid-term examinations, finalizing mid-term projects, and launching final term papers), and many students struggle with procrastination.

Perspective is important. Let’s first acknowledge that there are many varied and legitimate reasons for procrastination, with differing impact on the student-scholar. For instance, procrastination can often be a form of perfectionism. Also, procrastination is often a direct result of additive and competing demands upon our schedules. In other words, it is never a character flaw. It is a response, and often, an internal coping mechanism.

Today, I’m offering a fresh take on procrastination:

“Is procrastination keeping you from reaching the world or is it helping you to stay connected to the world?”

View of College Green from the Moelis Reading Terrace
Source: University of Pennsylvania flickr

For instance, if you know that a task only actually takes you 2-hours to complete, is it really necessary to spread it out over two-weeks or 8-hours just because of an arbitrarily imposed external norm?

Imagine instead, what you could do during those extra weeks or hours to nourish your wellness or enrich your other personal, academic or professional goals.

This requires, of course, self-knowledge and (evidence-based) discernment. But no one is born with this precise form of calibration and insight. It takes commitment, mindfulness and reflection.

At Weingarten, we recommend keeping a procrastination and productivity diary. Take an inventory of your habits and life. When, how, how often, and in what patterns do you procrastinate? It reveals what you value, what you crave, where the redundancies are, which gates (e.g. activities, tasks, relationships) require opening up…

A strategic, intentional and mindful reflection on procrastination may actually help us to “march by our own drumbeat”, with the result being self-knowledge, awareness and acceptance instead of criticism and guilt. So,

“What’s your favorite form of procrastination?”

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Instructor

Wellness: James G. Kaskey Memorial Park, The Biopond and Biology Greenhouses

Biopond @ James G. Kaskey Memorial Park

The James G. Kaskey Memorial Park is a fitting tribute to the first day of Spring, an unassuming nature oasis tucked away within Penn’s urban campus.

“This green space which we call today the James G. Kaskey Memorial Park, or BioPond, was created during the last decade of the nineteenth century, opening as a research garden in 1897. Although the idea for a garden on University of Pennsylvania campus was first presented by Dr. J.T. Rothrock, then chair of the Department of Botany, it was Professor of Botany, Dr. John M. MacFarlane who finally convinced the Biological Department of the special advantages to be gained by reclaiming the waste ground which surrounded the department. Although the area was a scant five acres, generally considered far too small a space for a Botanical Garden, Professor MacFarlane did succeed in transforming waste hills and hollows of sand and gravel into a garden which fulfilled not only the botanical research needs of members of the department, but was also a graceful addition to the University landscape” (Penn Arts & Sciences).

Over the years, it has been renovated (dredged, relined and realigned) for maintenance and sustainability; however, it has lost some of its original acreage due to campus development around it. Nonetheless, it still stands today as a campus treasure.

If you like the outdoors, there are benches and a few picnic tables where you can take in the sun and read/study. I prefer to go for a nice walk when I need a break from my work, and especially pack my lunch there where I can eat al fresco. You will delight in some of the live species that inhabit the pond, such as fish and turtles, if you observe carefully. Now is the best time to enjoy it, before it gets too hot to be outside in the Summer. But crisp Fall-Winter walks are also unexpectedly enjoyable.

As you set out to walk and meander through the paths, cross over bridges or perch on a bench upon which to find a point of rest, consider an analogy to your academic journey:

  • Which paths have your consciously and unconsciously taken thus far?
    • What have they revealed?
    • What have you learned?
  • What experiences, wins and apparent defeats have served as bridges to where you have arrived or hope to arrive?
    • Who or what has kept you connected and/or motivated?
    • What connections have you made?
    • How have you made sense of your experiences?
  • Where have you found rest and support?
    • What is the value of pause and reflection?
    • How do we plan for and schedule rest points in our schedule, in our paths?
    • How will you support others?

Next time you take a study break or seek an outdoors green space for studying, consider the opportunities that the Kaskey Memorial Park, including the biopond and greenhouses, offer for self-reflection, self-assessment, self-nurture and growth.

By Staff Writer: Min Derry, Learning Fellow