Education Blog

Stanislav Nemeržitski: “Emotions will get us nowhere – so let the voice of research be heard!”

Stanislav Nemeržitski of the School of Educational Sciences at Tallinn University defended his doctoral thesis entitled ‘Conditions for Creativity in Estonian School: Teachers’ and Students’ Beliefs about Creativity and Creative School Climate’ in July this year. In this interview, he shares tricks on how to stay motivated when writing a doctoral thesis, recalls his most memorable moments from that time, discusses the voices of researchers in our society and gives a few book recommendations.


How did you come up with this topic during your studies?

I have always been fascinated by the topic of creativity during my studies. I wrote my first so-called research paper during my Bachelor’s studies, supervised by the late professor Voldemar Kolk and focused on the possible relations between deindividuation and horror films. That research paper and my doctoral thesis might not seem related to each other, but I used a lot of creativity when connecting these two terms. In my Master’s thesis, I took a closer look at the topic of creativity. From that time onwards – since 2004 – I have been working together with my supervisor Eda Heinla. I have been fascinated by the various facets of creativity and their connections with the school climate.

Writing a doctoral thesis is a huge task and definitely needs constant self-motivation. What’s your trick? How were you able to consistently work on it to achieve a successful final result?

I have been working on my doctoral thesis for the past 14 years. If Tallinn University had a book of records, then – half jokingly – I would be in at least the top five for duration of doctoral studies. During that time, I tried dozens of different tricks. Some of them worked, some didn’t.

This might sound a bit unexpected but what worked the best for me was accepting things. In other words, if you feel stuck for a while, just see it as part of the natural work process. Similar to the creative process, there is an incubation period – a long or short period of time where the person works on their idea (often without even understanding themselves that they’re doing this, unconsciously). And this is followed by a burst of motivation that you need to take advantage of.

Another trick – or rather a thought – is to not give up. However slow, difficult or boring the academic grind is, you must never give up.

The third trick my Swedish supervisor sometimes reminded me about is that if you make a plan and account for a time period that seems reasonable to you, always add extra time for the unexpected. Whether that is your aunt’s unexpected anniversary party, an illness, a computer malfunction or simply a lack of motivation, you must be ready for the unpredictable and if you are, then you won’t be disappointed when it happens.

And lastly, and this might even be the most important trick – find yourself a time and place where you can work on a specific section in concentration. I had two places for these “writing camps”: my grandma’s home and at my supervisor’s seminars at Lund University. I took the time, I switched off from everything else and focused solely on working on the article, chapter or analytical summary. And it works!

Please describe a memorable or funny event that happened while you were writing your thesis.

There have been many funny moments during these 14 years, I cannot think of anything specific. But I would mention two of the most vivid events that are engrained in my memory. One of them is the publication of my first big article in an international peer-reviewed journal which, according to TU, holds a 1.1 classification – the highest category. I wrote it together with Krista Loogma, Eda Heinla and Eve Eisenschmidt. Working with them was a huge deal for me, a young doctoral student who had already exceeded his nominal period of studies, not to mention the fact that the article was accepted and published in such a high-ranking journal. Another event – or rather an experience – was connected with my first seminar at Lund University. My Swedish supervisor Eva Hoff had invited me to attend a writing seminar where I was able to work on my doctoral thesis in a very concentrated manner for three days straight. This experience, the magnificent and historical aura of Lund University – you can sense the hundreds of years of research tradition, the dedication as well as the freedom to do what you want and explore. It was amazing!

How is your research going to change the world?

I don’t know if a doctoral thesis in the social sciences can change the world. But I hope it will give courage, curiosity and a desire to explore the topic of creativity even deeper. If we look at the particularities of the school climate and take into account both the viewpoints of students and of teachers, we can create an environment where everyone’s creative endeavours and skills are empowered. That is the conclusion I reached and I really hope it reflects in my work.

Maybe my work will help someone find the strength to work on their research – someone who might be temporarily struggling with lack of motivation or creativity, whose thoughts are somewhere else or who is occupied with other worries. Belief in your own powers is difficult to achieve but if you see that someone else has done it, then you also feel more confident to take the first (or second or even hundredth) step.

How much are the voices of scientists and young researchers heard in our society?

I can half-jokingly say that they are not listened to a lot. In today’s complicated world, researchers, including young researchers, give a lot of themselves to get life back on track with the help of reason, logic and facts/science. We have seen in the news what has come of it. Maybe scepticism towards science as a whole is behind it? Or maybe the old trend where young researchers didn’t have much of a voice? I sincerely hope that both young and more experienced researchers are given more opportunities to contribute to the organisation of our society and the continuity of humankind. Emotions (if they are not scientifically researched, impacted and concluded) will get us nowhere – so let the voice of research be heard!

What are the most important values and beliefs that you live by?

Trust, responsibility and dedication – I have tried to use this triangle to build up my professional development. They are also key aspects in research – the sources that I use must be trustworthy, I must take responsibility for the results I present and I only work with dedication. Now that I think about it, I should also mention love. When I am giving Russian lessons to my students, I always say that whatever language it is, love is the most important word. A person can’t live without it.

Please tell us about a book that you recently read and would recommend to others. Why would you recommend it?

Oh, there are so many. Maybe the most unexpected discovery was the Harry Potter series that I read in the beginning of the year. Research is like the world of magic: unknown and mysterious until you start doing it yourself and try to understand it. When you add the human soul, growing up and understanding the world to this mystery, it makes for a really great read.

From a more practical angle, I would recommend Hans Rosling’s ‘Factfulness’ – a book I am rereading right now. Why? Because we can either agree or disagree with various postulates but nothing replaces critical thinking when trying to improve the world. We tend to overdramatise what is happening around us and we often forget that humankind is still growing and the world is turning into a better place in the broader perspective – it is important to look beyond the initial emotional reactions and recognise the ironclad facts.