It happens often: I have an idea for a paper, a research project, a conference submission, but it’s only half-formed. It’s there, on the mental “tip of my tongue,” but I can’t quite nail it down. That’s when I find it useful to get up from my chair, out of my office, and walk the halls of my department to pick people’s brains.
We’re a collaborative bunch, and generous with our thoughts. It’s not unusual to knock on someone’s door and say “Hey, I’ve got this idea, but I need to talk it out. Do you have a minute?” I’ve gained some fantastic insights this way. A colleague might point out a different approach, an element I’m missing, an article I really need to read, or just a new way of thinking about a problem. And I will do the same for them, when they’re in need.
I’m fortunate that my department is a collaborative one; we’ve all heard the horror stories about students sabotaging each others’ efforts, stealing one another’s work. I can honestly say that hasn’t happened to me. My colleagues have helped make my ideas better. Occasionally I’ve found a classmate who’s working on something similar, and we’re able to collaborate on a paper or project. One time, there was so much common interest in the same idea that I was able to put together a conference panel, which I chaired. We all did our own work, but presented variations on the theme.
I would recommend that every grad student finds a classmate or two who’s willing to serve as a sounding board. Depending on your department climate, you might want to be careful whom you trust, and that’s understandable. But when we share our thoughts and ideas, and solicit opinions from others, we can refine our own thinking, form relationships, and broaden our discipline.
That’s why, when I’m “stuck,” I go for a walk. Sometimes I find some gems along the path.