There are no ‘hacks’ for academic research. But a few steps can help.

3 min read

There are no hacks to greatness. Only many steps. It mostly takes consistency and sweat, and a pinch of flair and altruistic imagination as well as guidance, to build a legacy. Academic research is one case in point. I have not quite hacked it, and most likely, I never will. But are here some useful resources that could help you make one step at a time. Steady does it!

Keep calm, and carry on

The first resource is by Salma Ghanem, published on the excellent Researchers’ Hub on Medium. It is a great one to read if you are feeling demotivated about doing research (academic or other). Salma shares ten simple but effective tips: 1) plan the research (it won’t plan itself) –> 2) be consistent (consistency is the mother of mastery) –> 3) team up with others –> 4) do one task at a time (the Cartesian way) –> 5) seize inspirations (carry a notebook / voice recorder) –> 6) work on two projects at a time to avoid boredom –> 7) talk about your research –> 8) practice writing deliberately (it’s a muscle too) –> 9) sharpen the saw –> 10) take a break (and get back to it later). The pieces of advice build on each other in the sense that they are interdependent and work in synergy.

Do check out the rest of the great content on the Researchers’ Hub.

Research takes every step. Photo by Ahmad Loukili on

‘Good enough’ is ‘as good as it gets’

This includes the second resource, which is a mix of resources and advice I pieced together based on the first-hand experience of surviving a PhD, titled ‘Resources for early-career researchers’. It gives some tips about how to plan and deliver a PhD, or any other ridiculously large research project. But it’s also valid for any modest piece of research that requires some strategy and planning. The post also covers useful productivity hacks and positive mindsets that can get you far, whatever you seek to accomplish in your professional or personal life. At the core of all progressive, up-and-coming productivity tips is the capacity to embrace making mistakes, and do work that aims to be ‘good enough’ rather than perfect, for perfection is not quite of this world. Or at least not yet.

The end in sight

For the PhD adventurers out there, two posts could be particularly useful to nail down your VIVA. Don’t wait till you’re too close to the date: knowing what to expect early on can help you save some unnecessary tears, anxiety and sweat. The companion posts were published on the blog of the Young Academics’ network of the Association of European Schools of Spatial Planning. The first post aims to have you ‘preparing to shine at the VIVA‘, after which you will truly be ‘shining at the VIVA’, without the shadow of a doubt.

Keeping the end in sight, be it the VIVA or that final project report. Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on

Ready for anything

Other relevant resources include: Resources for academia, also on the AESOP YA blog (probably one of the best spatial planning blog out there). This includes such boring tedious affairs as looking for funding, or learning to thrive in an environment where the threat of ‘publishing and perishing’ is always quite real, hanging uncomfortably like Damocles’ sword.

Last but last, there is some brutal advice and disclaimers out there, including five realities about academic life by Andy Stapleton. In a nutshell: get ready to do lots, and lots more of it, and much of it for free, to make sure you can keep up with the academic rat race, because there are many more talented people like you who will be willing to sacrifice a lot just to make it as an academic. This could become toxic and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s up to you, but it’s also beyond your control, particularly how the neoliberal university system might evolve over time.

As my own Masters dissertation tutor once told me back in Sweden in 2012, one has to be ‘passionate’ (på svenska: brinna för) about academic research. I now understand the nuances of what she had meant a little bit better.

Disclaimer: The academic lifestyle might very well eat up everything else in your life. Try to make sure it doesn’t! Photo by Daria Shevtsova on

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