Life-Long Learning with Dr. Fergus Connolly

Dr. Russell Strickland [00:20:22] That’s true. Don’t necessarily think that just because a mentor is questioning your wife or or anything like that, they are doubting you or they’re trying to dissuade you. It could be that they’re just trying to make sure that you’re comfortable, you’re confident, you understand your your process and your your reasons why. Yeah, and it’s a lot when we’re doing school work, they might give me the right answer and I’ll ask them if they’re sure and if they waver or if they change their answer, then that I know we’ve got an issue. We got we got to think about it some more. But if they can come back and say yes, no, that’s the answer. Then then we’ll move on.


Dr. Fergus Connolly [00:21:02] Yeah, I do it with a lot of a lot of clients in questioning so that I can truly understand where the why is coming from, because then when things get difficult, you can you know how to motivate them and motivate strong word, but you know how to remind them. And so the more that you understand, you know, the person that you’re working with, the easier it is to support them, because the clearer you understand their why, where it’s coming from and how they see it impacting them later. And that’s why that’s why it’s critical.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:21:37] Yes. Even if that person you’re working with is, you have to understand. But that actually is a good segue, because I mentioned one of the reasons why I have this podcast is to help people understand what it’s like going through this doctoral journey to know that you’re not alone in this process. But also to motivate people, to inspire people about the incredible opportunities that are out there after you graduate and I don’t care how well you planned out, you thought about your why and planned out what you want to do after you graduate. I have met so many folks who have are doing so many interesting things and they tell me there’s no way I thought I would be doing this when I was in school. I didn’t this thing didn’t exist as far as I was concerned. I didn’t know about it. Whatever opportunities just arise. And the point that you made earlier about your wife may be changing is is absolutely valid. The why can change or the how can change. And so I’d love for you to share what’s happened, what you’ve been up to since you’ve graduated, because that notion of all the things you can do with a doctoral degree, I think is very inspirational to folks who are who are still working on the process.


Dr. Fergus Connolly [00:22:45] Yes. I coach high performers or elite performers and mostly in the corporate world. Still some in sport. And, you know, I have done I’ve consulted in special operations community and with high performers in a number of different groups. But initially, you know, I was planning to be a woodworker construction studies teacher in high school. My masters was in advanced manufacturing. My Ph.D. was in computer based optimization. So that gives you an idea of going from way over here to something completely different. Not for me personally. The exposure to from a process perspective, the details being able to structure and write, those are incredible skills they still use today, whether it’s a proposal or a reporter and all that. I still use very much the same style. Those skill sets are invaluable. The skill set that I actually find most useful is being able to be concise and and really clinical with with my writing. But there’s so many other ones. I mean, I know that, you know, I understand that if I’m working on something and there goes a life before, I’m not getting a lot done, sometimes I just need to go back to the skills and learn writing my dissertation. And that was just a process through a set amount of time. And then it becomes understanding that I call them waves sometimes there’s a wave that’s going to come and you just like last Saturday and Sunday, even during the Super Bowl, I was on a week to get a lot done when on the Friday before I just did. And so just understanding how you function. But for me.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:24:34] And you learn from that process in the doctoral degree process, right, this is kind of the crucible that forges the strength that we have after we graduate.


Dr. Fergus Connolly [00:24:46] Yeah. And also understanding that, you know, understanding, you know, when there are deadlines and how you work and how you work best for me personally, then just the exposure to different areas. So, for example, from a technology perspective, what I was doing it I got a great insight, a great understanding. But it’s I truly believe that more so now than ever before. The most important skill is, is adaptability. And in order to be adaptable, you need to have a range of skills during a he going to force you, whether you like it or not, to learn new skills. And that’s a good thing, not the time. We don’t see it and it’s uncomfortable and we’re doing something different. But when you get it done, you’ve learned your box that I talk about. It has more tools in it. So no matter what the scenario is, you will have tools to help you adapt to that opportunity that comes along. And for me, that that’s critical because, you know, things when people become comfortable and so there’s probably people thinking about what should I do, a dissertation or not. And, you know, when you’re when you become too comfortable and something changes, no, you’re out of your comfort zone. But if you can just even going through the process of doing a dissertation, getting out of your comfort zone, struggling, once you get through that, there’s very few things in life that are going to come out you that you’re not going to be able to solve later on. And then you’ve got a whole new set of skills.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:26:19] It’s from working at something, being uncomfortable, maybe failing in some sense of the word. You didn’t you didn’t accomplish things the way you wanted it to be longer than you want it, whatever the case might be. But I firmly believe that the only the only true failure is quitting. Deciding you want to do something else is OK, because, again, like we’ve mentioned before, sometimes your priorities change. But if this is what you want to do and you just give up on it, that’s the only real failure. Anything less than that is you learning, adapting, overcoming and becoming more and more confident as you go.


Dr. Fergus Connolly [00:26:55] Yeah, and the other thing, too, and this is the irony, you finish your Ph.D. and shortly afterwards you look back and you come on, it could have done not better. It could have done a good thing. But that’s what’s going to happen is a good friend of mine that I work with at Google, she just finished a brilliant book on building for everyone, diversity and inclusion. But we were just talking that she’s just published it. But even she’s looking back. And again, there’s things that I could change now, but that’s what’s going to happen. But that, again, is something that’s a trait that you will learn that you’re always going to try and do things better and get them better. And those are good skills to learn.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:27:34] And I actually look at the flip side of that, too. I think it’s a good skill to learn to when to cut things off and get them out into the world, because those that are going into the doctoral program have this sort of perfectionism gene that they have to contend with. And I know I’m a recovering perfectionist, like I work on it every day. There are things that I look at and I know I can do that better. But if I if I get it out into the world, most of the people that I that I would be publishing, I think that would be putting that thing out into the world for will. Appreciate it. Most of them might not even notice the shortcomings, but even if they do, they’re going to see that there’s 80 percent good and 20 percent can be better or 90 percent good, 10 percent can be better. And that’s still an overwhelming benefit to the people that you’re out there trying to help. And so for a lot of them, that’s what they have to learn, is how to say this is good enough, let’s get it out to the world. We might make it better later or we might do something else that’s good and get that out into the world later. But if we’re just iterating on one thing, nothing ever happens. We don’t make the world any better.


Dr. Fergus Connolly [00:28:40] Yeah, there’s a there’s there’s a concept it’s a good book that I read a number of years ago called The Effectiveness sorry, the efficiency, thoroughness tradeoff. In other words, it has to be effective. Right. You know what it. So you have to be efficient, but it has to be thorough. But there’s a tradeoff between that in order for it to work. Right. And that’s a that’s and like you said, that’s a tough realization. But it’s very important in life as well. You know, it has to work and you have to get get it over the line. You have to accomplish something still with the knowledge that everything could always be better and that perfectionist mindset is a good thing. And it’s a good thing to, you know, to learn, because if you go on and you you publish anything, you do anything, you have to acknowledge that you’re doing your best at that moment. But it’s never going to be perfect. But you’re going to strive for it.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:29:35] And that’s that’s the trade off. That’s the balances that you can do something that you can say is your best. While you know that it’s not perfect, you you could conceivably do better by making it perfect, but in a reasonable time, limit it with a reasonable amount of resources. This is the best I can do. And I shouldn’t devote more than those that time and those resources to this project, because if I do, then they’re not paying out the benefit that they should. For example, they’re not out in the world helping other people. And so, so many I mean, companies are really good with this. Apple, for example, is constantly when they when they put out something new, it’s good enough and it works. It’s not that it’s bad. It certainly works. But they add to it and it works better and it gets better with iterations later on. But still, it’s out there helping people right away as soon as they can get it reasonably to market. That’s what they do. And that’s what we should do with our ideas as well. Whatever that takes, whatever form that takes, if it’s services that you produce or a book that you want to write or whatever it is, get it out there so that it’s good enough to help people. Don’t put it out there but your grammatical mistakes and wrong ideas. But once it’s right and it works and then it’s good enough to help people get it out there. And if you want to, you can always publish a second edition or do an add-on service later or whatever the case might be. But that notion of fighting perfectionism and doing good work but getting it out into the world I think is really important, knowing if you’re doing it.


Dr. Fergus Connolly [00:31:07] I mean, I think one of the and I struggled with this as well was, you know, look, if you’re doing it already, you already have a high standards. So don’t think that you’re like you’re not saying to people produce something poorly. It’s not bad at all. The other point about that is I don’t believe you can do that on your own. I think you need I think you need a reference. I think you need somebody who can help you because and I do it all the time. I go to people on different projects and sometimes it’s on it’s on huge pieces of paper. And I’m putting it in front of me going, do you think this is like, you know, is this good enough? Or and I have different phrases like can break this for me. I mean, like, why is it not good enough? And if it is, OK, let’s let’s move forward with it. But like, I need people to to look at things and to critique it. And that’s a good that’s a really good quality to have is to be able, again, to get used to taking critiques and criticism of your work.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:32:12] Yeah, and I appreciate when you say that you’ve got to go out and get other people’s feedback, that I think that’s really important because if you as you mentioned, when you’re in a PhD program, you have high standards for a lot of those that that I work with. Their standards are actually higher than their university standards. And so just get it done. Don’t don’t necessarily mean that it’s got to stake your standards. If you’re if you’re schools telling you this will do, then do it. And when I when I talk about that in the context of a dissertation, it’s often people want to add on pieces. I want to not just do one or two things, but I want to do 10 or 20 things. And for a dissertation, you don’t have to do all that. You can focus on something fairly narrow, do that, do it well and then move on. But whatever the case might be, it’s just important that you that you can take that feedback, whether it’s from your dissertation committee or someone else in the marketplace, and understand what good enough is produced that get it out the door and and get it to helping people, whether it’s helping you to graduate or is helping other people in the marketplace.


Dr. Fergus Connolly [00:33:19] You see, the unique thing about it is you’ve never done it before, so you don’t know. It’s it’s not like an exam or something else that you’ve generally done one before. So you have an idea. So knowing what’s relevant to knowing what to put in, knowing what not to do. The other thing, too, is it’s obviously very personal to you. So you that’s why you tend to want to do more. And then there’s also, like you said, there’s imposter syndrome. You do a lot of work and then you go hang on, money putting this much in. But I’ve done all this other work that I need to show them how much I’ve done. Right. And a lot of that comes down to, you know, do supervisor not, but knowing as well what, you know, what you should do and what’s important to put in those things are critical.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:34:00] Yeah, absolutely. Well, tell me first tell me a little bit about the work that you have been doing since you mentioned that you’re coaching folks, high performance individuals, corporate and elsewhere. Do you have any any kind of stories of things that you help folks with that maybe you would not have been able to do before you had completed your your doctoral degree?


Dr. Fergus Connolly [00:34:25] Yes, my very first job was in professional sport in the Premier League and at the time, you know, was the start of sport, science and monitoring and tracking players, which was very new. You know, I had an interest in sport and worked with different coaches, but it was it was my my Ph.D. and my expertize in computers and understanding how to apply technology. And it was in manufacturing, but being able to combine those two things. There wasn’t anybody else in the world at the time I was able to to do or had that experience and was able to play it in sport. And so from there, working in rugby, soccer, in the NFL and implementing different technologies like, you know, when I was with the San Francisco 49ers, we were the first to start monitoring and tracking players. So all of the data that you see now with distance, Ron, we had them on the practice field, but again. On, you know, if you if you just go down a particular vertical of sporting and performance, you can’t and you don’t understand technology, you can’t make the two things work together. For me, that was the beauty of my dissertation. My work was that I strongly believe that people who work in this gap between paradigms and paradigms meet. That’s where the greatest progress is made. So people who have life experience and want to study a particular area generally are going to contribute a lot more than if it’s just been in one specific specialized area alone. And so that means getting uncomfortable. It means you’re going to be out of your comfort zone. But that’s where the greatest growth is, you know, and yeah, it’s it’s not been plain sailing. And I remember one time I spent a lot of money putting educational posters on the walls for recovery. And I remember it was actually Colin Kaepernick called me, said, hey, what’s this? And when I we had spent the money we designed, we put them up and I had put the the temperatures in European metrics, not in US metric. So all of the numbers had to be changed and at a significant cost. So even even despite all of those things, you’re still going to make, you’re still going to make mistakes, but you got to learn from them.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:36:54] But I think that I’d like you to give your feedback is so valuable with Colin Kaepernick had just looked at it before it went to press.


Dr. Fergus Connolly [00:37:01] Yeah. Or actually and not just write off some of the ads to look at it first before we’ve even done that. It wouldn’t have even gone as far as a player. But again, you make a year old, you’re always going to make mistakes, just don’t make the same one twice. But that’s the important thing. But again, I, I that’s the value of the value of a dissertation. I probably underestimated it a lot early on. And in hindsight, again, and even simple things like just writing a report, being clinically knowing how to knowing what to leave out. You know, I did an audit for an NFL team a few months ago. And again, it it would read very much like my dissertation structure and the system, the processes, the conclusion, how to sum it up. Quite honestly, it would be that I would not have been able to do it if I had not done it.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:37:53] And I think that’s one of those things where I ask my students to learn this as soon as possible. You need some professional detachment with the dissertation process. As you mentioned, this idea of it being deeply personal to me, that doesn’t in the whole folks back if they’re interested in finishing their dissertation, because if if this is something that’s deeply personal to you, you’re going to have that perfectionist problem cropping up over and over again. You want to make sure you do it just right. You do it your way. And lots of things that that get in the way of progress with the doctoral program when your dissertations to personalty so you learn professional detachment, then that helps you to see what’s important, what’s relevant, what I need to put out there. And I don’t have to worry about everything else and all the things that we did to get to the point where we can create this report. Here’s the report. This is what you need to know, and that’s what I’m giving you, not everything I could give you, everything I do now. I’m giving you what you need to know.


Dr. Fergus Connolly [00:38:46] Yeah, that goes back to your flight. Like, why are you doing it right? You refine that and you career about it, then you can detached from it. But again, you know, like I said, you’ll make a mistake. I did myself. Like, this is person to me. I’m going to go lettering on it and it’s my baby. And you spend so much time on it, but sometimes you lose track of what your wife is and why you’re doing it. And you just need to you need to remind yourself of that in order to be clinical and cold about it, to detach yourself. And it’s not a bad thing because if you become attached to it and you have to remember as well that you aren’t writing this for you, you’re writing this for somebody else that’s going to read it, you need to consider what they’re going to read, you know, and what they’re interested, what they really want to get from this in order to be able to prove.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:39:37] And that’s true in a professional setting, but it’s also true in with your dissertation, whatever whatever your committee needs to see in order for them to be happy with it and for them to approve it. That’s your job.


Dr. Fergus Connolly [00:39:48] Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. That’s what that’s what’s going to determine. It’s and it’s not what you think. You know what I mean? It’s not what you think is important. It’s what they think your supervisor, your that that’s what matters. And keeping that in your mind and.

Previous 1 2 3 Next

If you need extra support and guidance to make it to graduation, I may be able to help. If you'd like to find out whether you qualify for the support we offer throughout the dissertation process, then...

Let's Talk About Your Dissertation
Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.