I was hesitant about my title today, afraid that it would turn people away. But I decided to stay with it because it’s a basic truth. Research is hard. But it is also exhilarating and just plain fun.
I fear we faculty may forget this as well. After all, I am probably representative of most of my colleagues. I have a Bachelor’s Degree, two Master’s degrees, and a Ph.D. After my B.A. in Journalism, I actively chose a life that included researching. By this time, I am fairly decent at it. I know what I have to do to find my sources and write them up. And that first semester in freshman composition is so far in my past that it’s tempting to forget that I was ever a beginning researcher.
But I was, and, until recently, I had the proof: my research paper from ENGLISH 111 so many years ago. My topic was The Black Plague. My face is red as I type this; it is the very topic I would now ban as an instructor because it has a tendency to lead into a report (and plagiarized at that) rather than a well-reasoned argument. And that’s what I turned in: a basically half-plagiarized report.
It took years of practice and instruction to improve my skills. And I’m still improving each time I write a paper. I won’t even look at my Master’s thesis now; it just seems so poorly done compared to my dissertation. And I’m sure if I happened to take out my dissertation these days, I would immediately find many areas I could have done better.
Research is like any other skill. It takes practice. It’s kind of like football. Even if you’re the best player in your high school, that’s not going to get you very far in college unless you practice and improve. And the best college players also must improve to be good professional players. And football players know this; I’ve never seen an interview where a football player says, “Hey, I was excellent in high school, so I’m not going to attend practice, study the films, or work out any more.”
So I’m not sure why students sometimes believe the research skills that got them through high school will be enough to ensure success in college. They must build on and refine those skills. And they will be required to learn new ones, and it will be hard.
But as any researcher (or football player for that matter) will tell you, ‘hard’ and ‘fun’ are not mutually exclusive terms.