I used to give the brick and the wall analogy until the wall got a negative meaning in North America, and rightfully so. On being asked about one’s research focus, PhD students will usually talk about the paper they are currently working on. But that paper is like a pixel in the photograph, a brick in the wall. As a new faculty, I had to unlearn to focus on the pixel to be able to visualize the bigger picture, the entire photograph in terms of my research agenda. I had to find my unique scholarly voice. And that is what grant writing is about. Moving from paper writing to grant writing, one becomes less myopic about their research to be able to look at the larger implication. It took me a while to get used to seeing things this way, but this transformative thinking from the pixel to the picture was very empowering. Sure, one can always elaborate on the finer details, but as faculty, one also needs to work towards creating a brand. Think about a bunch of keywords in your area. Then think of a few names that come to mind when you think of those keywords. When I think of NPR, I think of Robert Siegel’s voice. When I think of nineties Bollywood, I think of Kumar Sanu’s voice. When I think of Indian cookery shows, I think of Sanjeev Kapoor. That is what branding is, creating a very unique niche so that your name is associated with that particular topic.
Now how does one learn to visualize the bigger picture? It comes with a lot of creative imagination. In faculty interviews, particularly in the US, there are different variants of a very common question: What are your short-term and long-term research goals? Where do you see your research going in the next one year, five years and ten years? Answering this is not easy if you are unprepared. It requires some deep introspection and you will find yourself put at a spot if you did not anticipate this question. I have extrapolated this question to my own life and wondered what life will look like in one, five, and ten years. Try imagining if you already haven’t, it is a very interesting exercise.