Houston voices

How researchers can cultivate patience, according to University of Houston expert

Usually, research takes time and patience — here are some tips for cultivating patience. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Aristotle, one of the most famous philosophers and scientists of all time, once said, "Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet."

What the phrase conveys is all too familiar to those in the scientific community. Patience needs to be cultivated by researchers who wait for the outcome of their studies. History is full of success stories of the science community showing both patience and persistence.

Quitters never prosper

Patience is essentially the ability to stay relatively unruffled in the face of adversity. Earning a Ph.D. takes time, writing grants and getting funding takes time, and experiments – some of them never yield results or take a long time to do so.

For example, there is the story of the two scientists who discovered the HPV virology, which eventually led to routine tests that check for cervical cancer in women. They were studying and researching the bacteria that causes the HPV virus for nearly 13 years before their findings were accepted. "In January 1928, Dr. George N. Papanicolaou first announced his findings at the Third Race Betterment Conference in Battle Creek, Michigan, but these were met with skepticism and resistance from the scientific community. This rejection did not deter Dr. Papanicolaou from continuing his research in this field in 1939, until eventually his findings were published on March 11, 1941," wrote Ioannis N. Mammas and Demetrios A. Spandidos in Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine.

This is by no means the only example – many researchers face setbacks and long experimentation periods that seemingly go nowhere, making any outcome at all even more sacred.

A marshmallow now…

A new study by Adrianna Jenkins, a UC Berkeley postdoctoral researcher, and Ming Hsu, an associate professor of marketing and neuroscience at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, is making headway in determining whether willpower is actually the way one overcomes adversity or if patience is born of something else. We know the famous marshmallow test, where young children were told they could have one marshmallow right away or two marshmallows if they waited a short time. Thirty years later, the children with better impulse control were more successful than their counterparts who had little self-control.

The newer study works like this: "The actual reward outcomes were identical, but the way they were framed differed. For example, under an "independent" frame, a participant could receive $100 tomorrow or $120 in 30 days. Under a "sequence" frame, a participant had to decide whether to receive $100 tomorrow and no money in 30 days or no money tomorrow and $120 in 30 days." More on this later.

As one might guess, the ones who showed delayed gratification were the ones using their imaginations the most: "Participants in the sequence frame reported imagining the consequences of their choices more than those in the independent frame. One participant wrote, 'It would be nice to have the $100 now, but $20 more at the end of the month is probably worth it because this is like one week's gas money.''

Willing yourself patient?

So how does willpower play into the equation? "Whereas willpower might enable people to override impulses, imagining the consequences of their choices might change the impulses," Jenkins says. "People tend to pay attention to what is in their immediate vicinity, but there are benefits to imagining the possible consequences of their choices."

Researchers may not think of themselves as particularly creative, but an imagination is definitely needed to frame hypotheses and conduct experiments, so one could argue that scientists are perhaps some of the most creative, imaginative people around.

The Big Idea

Waiting is still a drag, right?

In The Greater Good, a University of California – Berkeley science magazine, there were three concrete steps to help your research become even more fulfilling and make you more patient as an investigator: mindfulness, reframing the situation and being grateful.

First, mindfulness. Mindfulness techniques include things as simple as acknowledging you are overwhelmed or frustrated with a co-PI. It lets you deal better and leads to the second step, which is reframing the situation in a positive light. And, remember the $120 scenario? Those who were grateful for the amount of money they were receiving did better at delaying gratification, according to the study.

So, when you're working on your latest research, don't forget to practice patience. The fruits will taste even sweeter once the obstacles are endured, one by one.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Building Houston

 
 

Kelly Avant, investment associate at Houston-based Mercury Fund, shares how and why she made her way into the venture capital arena. Photo courtesy of Mercury

Kelly Avant didn't exactly pave a linear career path for herself. After majoring in gender studies, volunteering in the Peace Corps, and even attending law school — she identified a way to make a bigger impact: venture capital.

"VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems," Avant tells InnovationMap.

Avant joined the Mercury Fund team last year as an MBA associate before joining full time as investment associate. Now, after completing her MBA from Rice University this month, Avant tells InnovationMap why she's excited about this new career in investment in a Q&A.

InnovationMap: From law school and the peace corps, what drew you to start a career in the VC world?

Kelly Avant: I graduated from Rice University with an MBA, starting scouting for an investment firm in my first year, and by the summer after my first year I was essentially working full-time interning with Mercury. But, I like to tell people about my undergraduate degree in gender studies and rhetoric from a little ski college in Colorado. If you meet someone else in venture capital with a degree in gender studies, please connect us, but I think I might be the only one. I’ll spare you what I used to think — and say — about business students, but I have really come full circle.

I always thought I would work in a nonprofit space, but after serving in Cambodia with the Peace Corps, working for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, and briefly attending Emory Law School with the intention of becoming a civil rights lawyer.I found that time and time again the root of the problem was a lack of resources. The world’s problems were not going to be solved with my idealism alone.

The problem with operating as a nonprofit in a capitalism is you basically always pandering to the interests of the donors. The NFL was a key sponsor of The National Domestic Violence Hotline. The United States has a complicated, to put it lightly, relationship with Cambodia and Vietnam. It became pretty clear that the donor/nonprofit relationship was oftentimes putting the wrong party in the driver’s seat. I was, and still am, very interested in alternative financing for nonprofits. I became convinced that the most exciting businesses were building solutions to the world’s problems while also turning a profit, which allows them to survive to have a sustainable positive impact.

VC is an awesome way to shape the future in a more positive way because you literally get to wire money to the most innovative thinkers, who are building solutions to the world’s problems.

IM: What are some companies you’re excited about?

KA: There are a couple super interesting founders I’ve met directly engaging with . To name a few: CiviTech, DonateStock, and Polco.

I’m very proud to work on mercury investments like Houston’s own, Topl, which has built an extremely lightweight and energy efficient Blockchain that enables tracking of ethical supply chains from the initial interaction.
I’m also excited about mercury’s investment in Zirtue, which enables relationship based peer to peer lending to solve the massive problem of predatory payday loans.

We have so many awesome founders in our portfolio. The best part about working in VC is meeting passionate innovators every day. I get excited to go to work everyday and help them to build better solutions.

IM: Why are you so passionate about bringing diversity and inclusion into Mercury?

KA: I love working with exciting, highly capable, super smart people. That category includes so many people who have been historically excluded. As an investment team member at Mercury, I do have a voice, and I have an obligation to use that voice to speak highly of the best people in rooms of influence.

IM: With your new role, what are you most focused on?

KA: In my new role, I am identifying and researching high potential investments. We’re building out a Mercury educational series to lift the veil of VC. We want to facilitate a series that gives all founders the basic skills to pass VC due diligence and have the opportunity to build the next innovative companies. My goal is ultimately to produce the best returns possible for our investors, and we can’t accomplish that goal unless we’re building out resources to meet the best founders and help them grow.

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This conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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