During the course of a PhD there are many ups and downs in activity, emotions, and interest. But this latest lull, two and a half years through the project, has lasted the longest of them all so far.

Through procrastination activities (surfing the web and social media) I stumbled onto a TEDx talk by Simon Sinek. (I also stumbled onto a really interesting short interview about bioacoustics on the BBC. Which was nice.)

Anyway, the TEDx talk discussed the concept of the Golden (Concentric) Circles of “Why?” “How?” and “What?“. With the “What?” translating to the PhD qualification and the “How?” roughly translating to research, writing the dissertation and papers. But without the “Why?” – the purpose, the greater motivation – it’s just a case of going through the motions which doesn’t lead to great outcomes/products.

Start with why — how great leaders inspire action | Simon Sinek | TEDxPugetSound

So at the outset of my PhD I had a very clear understanding of the “Why?“. It was the main reason for taking on the project with all the risks, effort and commitment needed to see it through. But recently it seems to have become somewhat muddy. Most likely due to a realisation that the PhD part of the research won’t have the impact initially imagined – not without further project work afterwards to incorporate the research into real-world products. So for the moment, I first need to rediscover the “Why?“.

Has this happened to you during your PhD or long-term project? How did you rediscover the “Why?” and kickstart your motivation?


In addition to the above, there is also a very interesting talk about organisational trust and common values. Do you know what the shared values of your organisation are?

TEDxMaastricht – Simon Sinek – “First why and then trust”