If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it? –Albert Einstein
If students have one misconception about research, it’s that it is contained in the classroom, something that they’ll never have to do again after they go out in the ‘real world.’ In fact, there’s even a television commercial that makes that distinction: a proprietary school graduate says that she’s already in the exciting field of medical assisting while the waitress serving her says, with a mighty frown on her face, that she’s still writing term papers. The implication is that this is the sort of grim task that no one will have to face after college.
Of course, undergraduates do not always bring their most creative selves to the research paper. Beginning researchers find the whole process overwhelming and often choose topics based on one of two criteria: what they already know most about or what has the most hits in their instructor’s approved databases. Neither approach is likely to bring about an understanding of the beauty of research.
But research is a necessary skill in the real world. Whether one is looking for a new car, trying to discover the best medicine for allergies, or exploring the best way to train a puppy, research is important. And in the real world, we usually start the research process in a very different way than we do in freshman composition. First, we don’t have an answer already. Second, not any answer will do, so we put some thought into the sources we look through.
Furthermore, most students find that they, in fact, have not left research behind when they go into the work world. Although in this world, research is more likely to be on a Pass/Fail basis. The research you do either gets you the client or it doesn’t. The project works or it doesn’t. You get the picture.
But beyond all of that is just the pure beauty of research. Small children understand this; that is why they drive adults insane with the question of why? They want to understand their world, and they’re willing to ask until they get a satisfactory answer. Somewhere along the line, we lose this curiosity. But we don’t have to.
Think of something now that you have wondered about in passing. Here are things my colleagues and I are currently pondering:
- ways to improve my distance when running
- how to make an old cat get along with a kitten
- literary allusions in alternative music
- how to build a compost
- how to garden year-round so I can eat more nutrituously
- how to put more self-discipline in my life
Then pick one. See what already is known on your subject. Then experiment with some options, making modifications as you go. I’m willing to bet you’ll not only improve some things in your life, you’ll also have some fun.