Thursday, November 19, 2009

Research as a social process

New researchers often see research as a solitary activity. If only they could lock themselves away in a room, even better an ivory tower, for a few years and come out with a list of high quality publications. LOL. These researchers are missing the point that research is a social process and that solitary activity as a long term aim is unlikely to lead to success.

The social activity related to research makes it sustainable. Being able to discuss our ideas with someone else, or research processes with another person can be intellectual fun and sustain research activity over the long term. In other words, it gets boring on your own after a while. It is also difficult to learn when you can't exchange ideas with others.

Collaboration should lead to better outcomes and increased activity, even though in the short term it might seem that time is being wasted.

Conferences can be fun for that reason. Research talk, tea and a bun, may not seem like the pinnacle of life when expressed in a few words of text but if you are that way inclined it is one of the most worthwhile ways to spend some time.

Many years ago, when I was an undergraduate at Lancaster University in the North of England, I and a couple of close friends were told by the landlord of a local pub that we would be thrown out if we didn't lower our voices - well after all people in the north of England have loud voices. In actual fact, I remember the topic we were passionately discussing was "Are multi-nationals good for society?" This was 30 years ago. I guess we should have been chasing young women (or any women for that matter) but we preferred a pint and a good rant, well at least on that occasion!

It is just the same in research, the social process creates enjoyment, a chance to receive feedback on our ideas and work.

So my point is, try to enjoy research, spend some time on your own and reflect and write but also seek out others and exchange ideas, collaborate and develop friendships. It will develop you as a researcher and may prove to be something that you never want to give up!


  1. I totally agree that it is necessary to strike a balance between quiet time for reflection and social time for discussion.

    I would just like to add one other benefit of approaching research as a social process: productivity through peer pressure. For instance, if you tell a colleague that you are working on a paper for conference x, you might feel more compelled to, indeed, finish it and submit it than if no one else knew.

  2. As a new researcher, I have not spent as much time as I would have liked, collaborating with others. But this was not because I wanted to lock myself away to produce high quality articles, or because I didn’t want to collaborate... it was because I had not developed sufficient understanding of research, or my topic (which I had changed a few times), or developed my vocabulary to the point where I could articulate what it was I was thinking, let alone communicate with other people. The only way I was able to reach this point was to read... and it has made a huge difference.

    I think at the initial stage of a research project, taking time out, to get sufficiently up to speed with a topic and research methods, can be a positive, if it enables a new researcher to develop just enough understanding, to formulate ideas and generate some questions, and facilitate meaningful and productive dialogue with others.

    There may well be other new researchers out there who, like me, do not intend to work in isolation, but are just getting to grips with learning research as a second language, may feel overwhelmed to begin with, and are keen to learn how to be a good researcher... but just didn’t think to ask or know how to....

    I think this blog is very helpful in this regard. Thank you.

  3. Good point, you do need time to research a topic and get familiar with the knowledge and vocabulary before you are ready to talk to others.

  4. Thanks, a very good info and knowledge from your postings for novice researcher like me..
    -Adan, uum

  5. A couple of points here about a good topic.

    First, I found that talking with academics and non-academics at the early stages of a research idea really help. Academics can add to your reading list, which ensures you don't miss a needed citation down the road. Also, the academics can ask questions and offer additional comments. If you cannot answer their questions, then you still have some reading to do.

    Non-academics provide a sounding board of a different sort. If they don't understand what your up to, then reviewers and colleague will probably not get it either. Avoid dismissing their comments as, "if they only knew as much I did..." Chances are reviewers don't know as much as you do either, yet they hold a lot of power in determining your article's success or failure.

    Of course, you should keep talking about your research project, and will find that your language changes the deeper you get into it.

    To another point, I will offer this question for this blog's followers. When do you send an analysis to a co-author or co-authors? I usually analyze the collected the data. I see my role as the first step. I look at it from many different ways, trying to find the story. Once, I feel I have the story, I send it to my co-author.

    On many occasions, my co-author returns with a different analysis or takes my analysis deeper. The finished analysis is rarely the same as my initial analysis.

    I feel guilty because I feel that I holding my co-author back. Also, I feel like I am not pulling my own weight.

    Am I the only one with these feelings? If not, how do you cope with it? If so, then I will seek professional help.