The Juxtaposition of Research...I Love to Hate it.
My first, first author publication took 7 years to write and be published. 7 years. I started data collection in 2014 as a full-time physical therapist with maybe an ounce of training on how to do research. I just wanted to help some local athletes by installing an injury prevention training program. I wasn’t sure if it would work, but I wanted to try.
As I’m writing this I’m thinking, “Bethany, that is not a great way to start out a blog on encouraging your readers to do and publish research. Who in their right mind would want to sign up for something that takes 7 years to get done?”
Exactly…who in their right mind would want to do that? Well, first of all…I wasn’t in the right mind when beginning the research and it took 7 years to get to the right place in order to get the publication done. Second of all, knowing the process of research and publication are going to take time can soften the blow just a little bit.
What is research? I was recently asked by one of my PhD professors to answer this question in a 2-3 page reflection piece. I was d-r-e-a-d-i-n-g this assignment. Do you ever go into an experience knowing you will have to do things you won’t like, but the good that you will get to do outweighs the negative? If I am being honest this is how I have approached going back to school for yet another degree. I know getting my PhD means I will be trained to become a researcher and be held accountable with producing a dissertation at the end of this fun trip, but at this point in time that is not the good I’m looking forward to. Not because I’m scared of a dissertation or doing hard work…I love working hard and being challenged in new ways…no, I’m not looking forward to it because I don’t like researching.
The class is Research Methods and my professor is so stinking passionate about research that you just have to be excited about it too. (sidebar – I hope some of my students think that way about some of the more mundane and unexciting things I teach.) I started my second paragraph with this statement, “Research and I have a love/hate relationship. I love to hate it.” I figured honesty is always the best policy, so I would let my professor know how I truly felt. But, as I unpacked my reflection on what is research I realized I don’t have it out for research as much as I originally thought.
What is research? I think it is simply asking questions and finding answers. Research is the process of asking a question and then running an experiment to find the answers. It is actually a really simple, beautiful thing. In fact, I get to watch my son do it on a regular basis as he is exploring the world from a 3-year-old’s eyes. “Mommy, watch this…” he says and then proceeds to ramp his race car off the side of the deck chair and watch it crash and break apart. “Oh! It crashed and broke…Don’t worry mommy, I can fix it.” Just in that instance he did research. His question, “What will happen if I ramp this car off the chair?” His answer, “The car will break.” His response, “That’s okay, I will fix it.” Then he is off to his next experiment on how to fix his car. Simple, right? Nothing daunting or terrifying about his research methods.
I think as I have grown and matured, I have made researching out to be a monster of sorts that is so complex I don’t even want to attempt the process. I have lost the ability to look at situations through my 3-year-old curiosity eyes. Instead I see barriers and all the negatives before I even get started. Has anyone else ever felt that way? If so, I want to encourage you this week with some actionable steps to gain your childlike curiosity eyes back and begin to move forward in your research journey.
#1 – Keep an idea book.
Do you ever find yourself asking questions in your head or aloud? Are you truly curious about things around you? If not, I encourage you to start letting your mind wonder into a curious state. When you were a kid, it was a natural part of your learning and development. Somewhere between being a kid and an adult, we lose that sense…it’s like the culture says you aren’t a mature adult if you are curious. That is a totally and utter falsehood. Some of the most curious people I know are the most responsible adults I know. I also believe fear looms when we begin to let our minds wonder. Fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of looking stupid are all barriers that lurk in the darkness of dreams and can prevent us from fully developing thoughts. To break those fears, begin by writing down your ideas. This idea book doesn’t have to become an action book just yet. This book is just an idea book. It is the safe place where you can place your questions, your thoughts, your ideas. You will develop these ideas in a future step, but for now just start dreaming and asking questions. Let that little 3-year-old inside you look at the world and wonder with you.
#2 - Find and develop a team.
Researching alone can be a daunting task, but doing it with a group of people you enjoy being around makes it actually fun (or maybe at the least bearable – just depends on the people you choose to have as your team). The other big plus of having a team is the accountability. Throughout time as a student, I had deadline after deadline. Everything I did was scheduled and I knew when it needed to get done. When you are out working as a clinician or as an educator, deadlines do not come as clear as they once did. There often isn’t some grade dependent deadline looming in the near distant future that spurs you into action, but when you know you have a meeting coming up in the next week with your research team, you will feel the pressure to have the work completed. If you are the sort of person that can give yourself deadlines and hold yourself accountable to them…good for you! (Maybe share your secrets below in the comments…we could all benefit.). If you are more like me where I gave myself deadlines and then watched them past because nothing bad would happen, then maybe getting a team would be just the ticket of accountability you need. Recruiting a team can also be helpful to fill in the areas you lack when it comes to research experience. My team was made up of two seasoned researchers with over 30 publications between them under their belt and a statistician who could make sense out of any data thrown her way. I had the story to tell, they had the experience and skills to take my story to the next level. The other best part…they are just some great people to be around. They make researching fun and encourage me to learn and grow…that is the kind of team we all need.
#3 - Stop waiting and make it happen.
The third and final piece of advice today is to simply begin. Just get started. Take one of those ideas in your idea book and share it with your team. Ask your team for accountability and help to make your idea into a reality. Who cares if it takes 7 years or 7 months…just start. From data collection to publication was 7 years for my first publication, but in reality, the writing and publication part took 7 months. I sat on my data for 6 years because of my fear and misconceptions about research and publication. I sat on my data for 6 years because I just kept looking at it and then looking over it. It came to the point that my data was buried so far deep in my file cabinet that I didn’t have to see it anymore when I opened my drawer, but deep in my mind I knew it was there. I needed an idea to start wondering, I needed a team to help me get going, and then I needed me to just get started. I want to encourage you today to take an idea you have been sitting on and begin to run with it, develop it, build a team that is passionate about it just like you and get started researching it. What is the worst that could happen? Failure…well, that is a soap box for another day, but for today just know failure is a form of progress, not a reflection of who you are as a person or a reflection of your idea. It is a place to allow for revision and deepening curiosity.
My hope is these three actionable steps allow completing research a little bit easier for you. I am continually on a path of development and I do hope that I fall more into love with research then how I love to hate it right now. In the meantime, we will all keep pushing on and looking to the world through those 3-year-old curiosity eyes.
How can you develop your curious eyes more? What questions do you have and how can you move forward with making them into a research reality?
Thank you so much for your time today. I truly appreciate it and hope that my content brings you some encouragement each day. If you have enjoyed reading, would you mind sharing a link on your favorite social media spot? I would greatly appreciate it. You can also be sure to get each week’s blog post by subscribing below or liking/follow me on Facebook and Twitter.