How can educational researchers handle anxiety? Will Millard explains how the team at education and youth ‘think and action-tank’ LKMco cope with the scrutiny of the sector.
I thought What makes researchers anxious? in Cambridge Assessment’s Spring issue of Research Matters was frank and constructive. It shines a spotlight on the anxiety researchers can experience during their day-to-day work. I shared the article with my colleagues at LKMco, and this led to us talking as a team about anxiety and how we deal with it.
As the article highlights, a key source of anxiety is sounding unintelligent. This resonated with us; as researchers, we live in fear of saying or writing something that makes us sound ill-informed. This is heightened in a sector full of smart and passionate people who read and listen to each other’s ideas with care, and by social media, which can lead to people feeling hyper-scrutinised.
It’s possible to feel self-conscious about gaps in one’s knowledge about something, even after having written a report about it!
We can’t eradicate this anxiety, but we reduce it by:
Reading and consulting widely
Alongside reading existing evidence, we bounce ideas around internally as a team, and ‘stress test’ them with people outside LKMco. Social media, including Twitter, provides a great platform for this, as does a good old-fashioned phone call or a coffee.
‘Trying ideas out’ is a crucial part of research and writing; it’s good for the ideas themselves, sharpening reasoning, but it’s also good for building confidence as researchers grow accustomed to ‘putting themselves out there’.
Talking about feeling anxious
Appreciating that other people also experience anxiety is reassuring, not least because it helps colleagues and friends empathise with and support one another.
A former LKMco-er Laura McInerney has written, 'everyone is out of their league' What’s important is not letting this feeling become inhibitive. Consequently, colleagues at LKMco check in regularly with one another, and have established a culture where it’s OK to express anxiety.
Accepting that research – like people – has its limits
Many researchers are perfectionists; it’s a character trait that likely drew them towards research in the first place. But research isn’t perfect – it’s flawed, like the people doing it. Being open and honest about this helps contextualise research findings.
In addition to these actions, this LKMco blog describes how teachers can cope with stress, and contains lots of ideas for developing and sustaining mental wellbeing.
Head of Engagement, LKMco