Friday, July 06, 2007

To Be A Reseacher 2

This is my second installment on being a researcher. The first is here.
The strange thing about being a researcher is that you have to be creative, imaginative, and take risks.

Creativity, imagination, and risk-taking were not words I would have associated with being a researcher a year ago before I entered into my doctoral program. What creativity or imagination does it take to crunch numbers? How risky is a spreadsheet full of numbers?

Oh, but the spreadsheet full of numbers is just the means by which you arrive at something meaningful. The creativity and imagination comes in the questions. Yes, there is the literature search you do to come up with questions, but that is limiting yourself to other people's imagination if that isall you do.

An incurable imagination must be what drives the researcher.

"I wonder what would happen if..."
"Has anyone ever thought about..."
"Is anyone asking ___________ about this phenomenon?"

Taking risks means doing something different in front of other people. It might be using a different method of analysis. it might be asking unconventional questions. it might be trying out a sophisticated method you have never tried before. It is presenting your findings in front of other people at conferences.

There are political risks in research as well. Your findings might get you tagged as a liberal or a right-winger. You might be misquoted or taken out of context. You might get challenged or refuted. You might get completely ignored altogether.

In my first year of doctoral work, I tried super hard to think of the right question. I wanted to do it right. I floundered badly for weeks on end. What I failed to do was get curious, get creative and get imaginative. I failed, in essence, to take the necessary risk which is required in a full and generous use of my own imagination. An imaginative person is motivated to work hard because his or her work is a mission, it is an adventure, and it is fun.

Yes, I said fun.

If you cannot have fun being a researcher, then I wonder why you would want to be one. Change the world? OK, maybe, but even then, change it into what? Even in landmark, groundbreaking research, there has to be a sense of adventure and curiosity. I guess you could bring home a paycheck and that is enough for you, but that is enough to create something that matters to anyone else? Maybe.

One of the most important lessons I have learned is that researchers are creative.


Chris said...

There seems to be a lot of creativity and imagination in research. For example, in the realm of diet, why is it that conclusions reached today are often refuted tomorrow?

Fajita said...

The world of fad dieting is not the best of the world's research. I do not believe that represents research in general.