Inspiration

Connection

When I was an undergraduate sport science student, I remember clear as day the time when Paul Gastin (my eventual research supervisor and mentor) told me: ‘Sport science is a people business, Jacquie’.

It’s a quote I have shared with every sport science student cohort I have taught, because its deep truth has been revealed over and over again as my experience in this industry grows. In the varied roles I’ve held in sport, a common thread between them has been the central place of connection and communication in my work.

I always find myself coming back to a small selection of ‘source material’ that inspires me to do better. To go beyond simply conveying the methodical and precise, and focus my efforts on building connection and moving others through story.

I have felt so drawn to these pieces over the years, re-watching, re-listening, and re-reading them to understand what it means to me to feel connected to a story. And I wonder: have I ever been able to move others with my work in the way these works move me?


Rives, ‘The Museum of Four in the Morning’

L.D. was my college romance. This is in the early ’90s. I was an undergrad. She was a grad student in the library sciences department. Not the kind of librarian that takes her glasses off, lets her hair down, suddenly she’s smoking hot. She was already smoking hot, she was super dorky, and we had a December-May romance, meaning we started dating in December, and by May, she had graduated and became my one that got away.

But her mix tape did not get away. I have kept this mix tape in a box with notes and postcards, not just from L.D., from my life, but for decades. It’s the kind of box where, if I have a girlfriend, I tend to hide it from her, and if I had a wife, I’m sure I would share it with her, but the story with this mix tape is there are seven songs per side, but no song titles. Instead, L.D. has used the U.S. Library of Congress classification system, including page numbers, to leave me clues. When I got this mix tape, I put it in my cassette player, I took it to the campus library, her library, I found 14 books on the shelves. I remember bringing them all to my favorite corner table, and I read poems paired to songs like food to wine, paired, I can tell you, like saddle shoes to a cobalt blue vintage cotton dress.


Sarah Kay, ‘If I Should Have a Daughter’

And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am pretty damn naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.


‘Insomniac City’ by Bill Hayes (New York Times, 2010)

Sometimes I’d sit in the kitchen in the dark and gaze out at the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. Such a beautiful pair, so impeccably dressed, he in his boxy suit, every night a different hue, and she, an arm’s length away, in her filigreed skirt the color of the moon. I regarded them as an old married couple, calmly, unblinkingly, keeping watch over one of their newest sons. And I returned the favor. I would be there the moment the Empire State turned off its lights for the night, as if getting a little shut-eye before sunrise.


Ron Carlson, ‘The H Street Sledding Record’ (reading for This American Life, 2012)

We will go home, and while the two women will begin decorating the tree with the artifacts of our many Christmases together, I will thread popcorn onto a long string. It is a ritual I prefer for its uniqueness; the fact that, once a year, I get to sit and watch the two girls I’m related to move about a tree inside our home, while I sit nearby and sew food.

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Farewell to Rod Snow and Andrew Dawson

I’ve spent 8 of the last 9 years at Deakin; the entirety of my tertiary education. In that time, Rod Snow and Andrew Dawson have been constants in my experience as an undergraduate, and now postgraduate student in exercise and sports science. This afternoon, it was wonderful to send them off onto their next adventures – Rod to enjoy a well-overdue gap year with his family, and Andrew to start his new position at Victoria University. But I can’t quite picture what the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences will look like without them in 2015.

Farewell for Rod Snow and Andrew Dawson from Deakin's School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences

What I can say, without reservation, is that they have both had a massive influence on my own career. Rod and Andrew deserve enormous credit for the progress of countless others who have come through the Deakin Sport programs, and for their part in building the reputation that this School now deservedly holds within Deakin and beyond. So to two trusted advisors and friends, I won’t say farewell but “seeya later”… 🙂

Farewell for Rod Snow and Andrew Dawson from Deakin's School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences

“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.