Author: Jacquie Tran

Ansel Adams: Canyon edge, low horizon, clouded sky, "Grand Canyon National Park," Arizona., 1933 - 1942

“The useless days will add up to something”

“The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.”
“Dear Sugar, The Rumpus Advice Column #64: Tiny Beautiful Things”

Science is about the eternal pursuit for the truth. For centuries, we have been attempting to explain what we witness and experience in the natural world. We observe and experiment to advance our collective knowledge and figure out the directions in which we should devote our future efforts. But we do so knowing that we only ever approximate the truth. Underlying the best efforts of science: the belief that what we know is subject to change with sufficiently convincing evidence.

Research demands that we create new knowledge. We are asked to stand at the edge of the known world, look behind in appreciation of all that has gone before, then leap forth into the unknown in order to uncover new ground beneath our feet.

This is faith: to have the courage to go beyond what is known.

I’ve spent most of this afternoon with my sketchbook, trying to piece together my ideas about the last paper in my thesis. It’s the bigger picture thinking that I so enjoy, framed by questions like:

  • What is the basic concept that underpins my research question?
  • What does the current evidence have to say about how “true” that concept may be?
  • Where is my work located in this conversation, and what do these findings contribute?
  • Whose work does it agree with? And disagree with?
  • Does it tell us anything new?
  • Does it give any hints about where to go from here?

scribbles 
I answer these questions with hasty scribbles, crude flow charts, bold statements, retractions, revisions. And it comes to me that I can take a step back – zoom the lens out – and ask myself bigger questions again.  How does this concept fit within what we know about optimal athlete performance?  About the conditions necessary for humans to succeed in the pursuit of any goal?

And in a rush so electrifying that I think I can feel impulses crossing synapses, I glimpse how “the useless days” add up. I connect the dots between my research and:

  • A conference keynote that underlined the role of failure for developing self-belief.1
  • A popular TED talk that highlighted how grit is essential to success.2
  • A fortuitous catch up over coffee to chat about harmonious and obsessive passion in entrepreneurs and other high performers.3
  • A tweet about resilience as a defining characteristic of Olympic champions.4

Now I have a new perspective with which to understand how my work contributes a slice of insight not only to my discipline, but well beyond it too. I’ll write reams with this new-found fervour, knowing that only a fraction of it is likely to end up in my thesis. But today’s lesson is that faith is central to the scientific process. The conversations in the office kitchenette, the hours lost to TED videos and reading blog post after blog post, the diversions borne of wide curiosity, the projects we take on “just because”…it all adds up. We just have to have faith that the non-strategic things we do are important and meaningful too.

Days like these remind me why I love science, why I actively practice curiosity, and why I have so enjoyed the PhD experience 🙂


Footnotes

  1. David Martin‘s keynote address at ECSS 2012, “Winning the Tour De France: A sport science perspective” (video).
  2. Angela Lee Duckworth @ TED in 2013, “The key to success? Grit” (video).
  3. Rosemary Fisher’s PhD thesis (2011), “Passion, resilience, obsession and sustained entrepreneurial action: the path to entrepreneurial success”.
  4. Tweet from Mustafa Sarkar (@MusSarkar) and article on “Developing resilience – Lessons learned from Olympic champions”.
  5. Featured image: Ansel Adams – Canyon edge, low horizon, clouded sky, “Grand Canyon National Park,” Arizona. FlickrThe U.S. National Archives.
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Three PhD students ponder…is Twitter worth it? Part IV: Extra credit

In this fourth and final post in our series (here are links to parts one, two, and three), we’ve rounded up some further reading that may be of interest to you.  And because Twitter is at its best when it’s about community, I’d love to learn from useful resources that you have drawn upon.  If you have any relevant links, please send them through!  Tweet me (@jacquietran) and I’ll add them to the list (with due credit, of course).

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Biomechanics in Australian Sport: presentation at the Victorian Institute of Sport

Today, I am presenting at the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS) on biomechanics in Australian sport.  I’ll be chatting with a group of US college students who are visiting Australia and spending time at the VIS, gaining insights into sports science and life as an athlete.  A different presentation than the researchy-type I’ve become used to delivering over the past few years…it’ll be great to tell a few stories and share interesting anecdotes of Aussie ingenuity in applied biomechanics 🙂  Check out my slides below:

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Three PhD students ponder…is Twitter worth it? Part III: Making the most of your time

Maybe you’ve decided to take the plunge.  You’ve signed up for a Twitter account, and you’re trying to figure out how to use it, how to tweet, and what the hell is a hashtag anyway?!  But once you’ve progressed beyond these teething stages, it’s important to think about how to maximise what you get out of Twitter for what you put in: your valuable time and energy.  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information that is generated – 500 million tweets are sent every day! – and while some of it will be useful and interesting, much of it will be irrelevant to you.

How do you separate the signal from the noise, to find the information you want?

How do you connect with other like-minded professionals on Twitter and become part of their online community?

With Chris Brandner (@ChrisBrandner) and Nathan Lee (@NathanAndyLee), we pooled together our advice for getting the most out of your time on Twitter.  This post is part three of a four-part series on the value of using Twitter professionally (here are links to part one and part two).

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Three PhD students ponder…is Twitter worth it? Part II: Barriers and opportunities

When people think about whether to invest their energies into cultivating a professional online presence, they’re usually most interested in the costs and benefits.  How much time is this going to require?  How much effort do I have to put in?  What are the rewards that I could reap by investing my time and effort into developing my professional identity through social networks?  I teamed up with Chris Brandner (@ChrisBrandner) and Nathan Lee (@NathanAndyLee) to examine both sides of the coin – barriers and opportunities – in this post, part two of a four-part series on the value of Twitter in academia (click here for part one: “How and why we use Twitter”).

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Three PhD students ponder…is Twitter worth it? Part I: How and why we use Twitter

“Is Twitter really worth it?”  This is easily in the top 3 questions that I am asked most often by colleagues and friends in academia who are interested in establishing an online presence. Undoubtedly, it’s an important to question to answer in this modern age where it seems that everyone is universally pressed for time. While it’s a query I am always happy to field, I believe it is best answered from multiple viewpoints.  Over recent weeks, I have been collaborating with fellow PhD students Chris Brandner (@ChrisBrandner) and Nathan Lee (@NathanAndyLee); together, we have documented our individual experiences using Twitter as a professional communication medium, ultimately to provide our insights on why we believe Twitter is worth the time and effort.

In this post, part one of a four-part series, we begin by explaining how and why we use Twitter.  In the rest of the series, we will discuss the barriers that stopped or slowed our own adoption of the social network, the opportunities that have stemmed from establishing a Twitter presence, and our suggestions for making the most of your time on Twitter.

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Grace Vincent: “Fighting Fires and Fatigue: Sleep Deprivation and Firefighter Physical Performance” (SLEEP 2014 Conference)

Recently, Grace Vincent (@PhDSleepy) delivered a podium presentation at SLEEP 2014 – the most prestigious sleep research conference in the world – where she presented findings from her PhD research examining sleep deprivation and firefighter physical performance.  Grace is a great mate of mine and a fellow PhD student within the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences; her commitment to scientific integrity provides a benchmark for my own work.  Here are my sketchnotes from her presentation:

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Darren Burgess: “Load Management Strategies” (Sports Medicine Australia Webinar)

On June 4th, Darren Burgess (@darrenburgess25) hosted a webinar for Sports Medicine Australia on the topic of load management.  Darren currently leads the high performance program at Port Adelaide F.C. (Australian Football League), where he and his support staff have drawn deserved attention for their contributions to the team’s dramatically improved on-field performances.  Darren’s presentation primarily recounted his experiences and lessons learned during his time at Liverpool F.C. (English Premier League).  Thanks to Darren and Sports Medicine Australia for providing the opportunity to learn from a true leader in sports science and elite athlete performance!  Here are my sketchnotes from the webinar:

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Mike Joyner: “The Inactivity Epidemic”

This year’s Exercise and Sports Science Australia conference kicked off in fine fashion, with the opening keynote provided by Dr Michael Joyner from the Mayo Clinic.  Mike’s talk was engaging, clear, but also forward-thinking.  We know that physical inactivity is a problem of epidemic proportions, so what needs to be done is for us all – researchers, clinicians, policy makers, corporations, families, adults and children alike – to put our energies towards solutions.  I found it refreshing to hear such a prominent scholar and physician proposing dramatic and large-scale interventions; if we are to reverse the damning inactivity trend, we need to aim high, think big, and integrate our actions across all sectors.

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Andy Franklyn-Miller: “Managing Performance Teams and the Quest for Marginal Gains”

A great privilege to attend Tuesday night’s professional development session organised by Suki Hobson (@sukihobson), featuring Andy Franklyn-Miller (@afranklynmiller). Drawing from his wide-ranging experiences working with high performers in sport and in business, Andy shared his beliefs about what makes (and sustains) a world class performance team. Here are my sketchnotes from the evening. Thanks Suki and Andy for hosting an insightful session!

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