So here we are, last research class for the term.
There are a couple of things I would like to end with.
At this point, you have learned enough about research to easily make your way through a Master’s Thesis if so desired. You have enough background knowledge to design a qualitative or quantitative study, using human subjects if necessary. If you do begin to design a study, you have worked through enough of Kumar’s text to know exactly where to go to find additional information if need be to do a good job organizing your proposal. You also have other additional resource that you have read (or skimmed) to know other research options at your disposal. You have gone into depth with regard to dealing with human subjects and requirement for the IRB. You have also had the opportunity to read through the graduate studies research requirements and exit requirements. That’s a lot. And even if you decide not to do research in the future you have enough background to know the type of research you are reviewing if you are making decisions based on research.
If you decide that you would like to do more advanced research, then you will likely consult more advanced readings to gain a deeper understanding of research protocols.
But let us remain realistic in our expectations of doing Master’s level research.
The Master’s research project demonstrates that you have the ability to do research. It is a chance to work with a research advisor so that you can develop your research skills. The time-line is short so your research aspirations have to align with the time you have available. The graduate thesis or project is not meant to transform broad-based practices, or take on the problems of humanity. That’s not to say that it can’t, but realistically, that is not the purpose. If you continue on to do doctoral work, you will have years, not months, to work on your research. This is a starting point. It gives you the necessary background to know what to talk about when you consult with your research advisor. When your research advisor says, “Well, that will require IRB approval,” you will know that that means and what is involved. For those who do not even know what the IRB is, they are at a distinct disadvantage. When your research advisor asks whether you think you would like to do a project, action research, qualitative or quantitative research, you have a good idea of what is being asked. Knowledge is power they say. You might just have the power to know what you don’t want to do.
Some tips on moving forward
Sometimes it helps to look at other students research projects. You might find it valuable to spend a couple of hours here:
Looking at examples of other Master’s research.
There is an upside and a downside to reviewing other graduate students’ research theses and projects. You will be exposed to the good and the not so good. Of course, with your background, you will be in a better position to note some of the good and negative aspects of the research you read.
In our library you can look at the published Master’s research.
You can browse through all the WOU published Master’s theses and projects that go back to the 1970s.
It is also easy to do a search online and download pdfs of Master’s theses from other universities. This can also be a way to see what might be reasonably expected from you if you do a Master’s thesis in a particular area. I have, in the past, when students were unfamiliar with what is expected in a literature review, for example, downloaded a similar Master’s theses and shared that with the student. Fortunately you have a good idea of what a literature review entails.
The second thing I wanted to share with you, and end with, is more of a personal and philosophical question.
As good as Kumar’s textbook is, it is, like most others, a ‘how-to’ book on setting up and doing research. It is a recipe book. Certainly valuable in what it offers, but we shouldn’t leave this class thinking that this is what research is.
It reminds me a bit of a work sample that beginning teachers have done to design and teach units and lessons. As helpful as it is to have a template to follow, this is certainly not what teaching should be reduced to. If this was the foundation of teaching, we would certainly have few teachers finding the joy one can find in teaching.
So, with Kumar’s text, we have a how-to, a recipe, a template or a blue print of sorts. All helpful in developing our research plan, but not what our research should be reduce to. All sorts of activities and endeavors have blueprints. But to confuse the blueprint with the underlining purpose would be doing a disservice to ourselves and others.
When we start following recipes, there is the chance that we lose sight of the meaning behind our work.
Not too long ago I was able to drive up to Victoria and spend some time with my daughters. As we sat out on the patio Sunday morning, we discussed the experiences many university students seemed to be having.
“Something has changed over the last couple of years,” I said. Obviously nothing really revelatory, but certainly something significant to warrant consideration I thought.
Shortly into our conversation my oldest daughter brought Joseph Campbell into the discussion. “He says something important,” she says. “He says that in our schools we teach information. But what people really desire is to experience life.”
I respond by bringing up something written by John Taylor Gatto. “Gatto, says what all sane human being seek is meaning. Is it possible that over the last two years we have somehow lost our sense of purpose, or meaning in our lives? Has that had an effect on our experience?”
“Is there a meaning of life?” one says.
“I don’t think one meaning,” another responds. “Meaning will change with context. What is meaningful for you is not necessarily meaningful for your students.”
“I agree. But what is meaning?”
The discussion continues until it is time to drive to Butchart Gardens.
Meaning is worth considering I think. I have trouble shaking living and meaning from my mind.
I suppose that I would like to believe that learning and becoming educated, and of course doing research, should be a meaningful, if not joyful, activity. But as seems to be often the case, we can lose sight of that joy and get caught up in activities that are being done for purposes that might really be of other’s choosing.
I guess one of the things that always concerns me is that we get caught up in the technological/procedural aspects of what we do and we lose sight of the meaning behind our actions.
If you are teaching in a public school you often encounter required procedures based on the expectations of those with a vested interest (such as publishing companies, external administrative units, or political influences). When the focus is on the techniques we can lose sight of the students we are really caring for. We take a step away from what is meaningful for the students and ourselves and simply perform tasks that are meaningful for the institution. This is something I see with graduate students. The research project becomes a task to complete. The procedures become the focus. Perhaps a balance would be helpful.
Meaning, joy, and living are not messages that appear in Kumar’s book, nor are they messages that I have found in other research text books. I am not sure whether or not this is an academic phenomenon or not. The importance of joy is certainly not something that textbooks are known for.
And yet, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of other manuals that include, if not begin with, the sense of joy one should find in activities being pursued. I am sure you have come across books such as the joy of cooking, the joy of skiing, the joy of flight, the joy of gardening, the joy of reading, the joy of writing, and on and on. And yet, I was only able to find one book called The Joy of Research (by C. Bali). Perhaps you will find more.
I can buy a book that teaches me about cooking. But without the joy that should be inherent in cooking, the book would be little more than a series of tasks to be accomplished.
I haven’t done enough to analyze this idea, but I think you know what I mean. What does eating a good meal mean to your? What does talking a walk in a forest, or on the beach mean to you?
Notice the relevance of what Joseph Campbell said about being alive. We feel alive when we do these things.
How do we keep the meaning and joy relevant in the research that we do? How do we maintain that joy while, at times, being caught up in the techniques, the practices, the protocols, program completion.
It reminds me of a poem by Walt Whitman. Here is an example of seeing wonder and fascination obscured by technique.
When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer
BY WALT WHITMAN
When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
When I was working on my doctoral degree, I came to really know researchers for the first time. It surprised me how excited some of them were as they were analyzing their data, crunching their numbers, talking about their findings.
Then I would meet up with philosophers, passionate about their writing and research. Defending their ideas, taking verbal jabs at each other’s arguments. I would have to say that these researchers did find joy in their work. I know many spend their entire careers doing research so something is sustaining them. In my interactions with them they were certainly animated by their work. One might say that their research gave them life. They were alive.
Where am I going with this you might ask? I suppose I am sharing with you where I am now in my own thinking. For example:
I know what a meal is. I know how to make a meal. What does a meal mean to me? Well, I have a pretty good idea. I know what sharing a good meal with others means to me and I know the joy I experience with that.
I know what a garden is. I know how to garden. I know what gardening means to me and I know the joy I experience with gardening.
I know what skiing is. I know how to ski. I know what skiing means to me and I know the joy I experience when skiing?
I am quite sure you would be quite comfortable speaking about meaning and joy in the many activities that you do.
I guess that it seems rather intuitive what these sorts of activities are meaningful and can bring joy. But I am not sure that the same can be said about doing research — especially the way it is approached in graduate studies.
So, here is how, I think, we should wrap up this class. We should be asking what research means to us, and how we can experience joy when doing our research. This, as with any other activity that rightfully elicits meaning and happiness, should be the driving question. And yet, as I said, it is the aspect that seems to remain unconsidered in the research textbooks.
Now, I have searched for articles that speak to what research means to those who love doing research. It was much easier to find articles that spoke to how research should be practiced. But here is an example of something talking about there love of research:
Of the Many Reasons to Love Research
I am constantly asked why I do research and what it is I like about it. For me, it’s more than just gaining experience or improving my resume, it’s every reason— whether good or bad, frustrating or exciting, mundane or extraordinary. There are plenty of reasons to love and to do research, here are a few that come to mind:
- Research makes a difference. There is nothing cooler than knowing that you are contributing to the discovery or development of something that can make a difference in people’s lives or a change in the world! Every contribution matters!
- Research introduces you to great people! Not only does working in research give you the opportunity to work alongside incredible faculty mentors, research also provides the opportunity to work with a mentor and lab group that may serve as guides, counselors, and as friends outside of lab! Shout out to the Mitragotri Group!
- Research is applicable. One really cool thing about research is that it transcends beyond what is taught in the classroom and enables you to apply all that you know or have been taught and apply that knowledge into what you are learning and doing in lab.
- Research can help you! As mentioned above, research can enhance both your professional and academic credentials for future graduate/professional school or for career advancement. It can also help support applications for internships, scholarships, and other awards!
- Research opens doors. Participating in research can afford the opportunity to go present your work at professional conferences, to meet other researchers like yourself, and to participate in great events. Research can also aid in networking and in making contacts early into your career! (Check out Lunch with Faculty every quarter!)
- Research changes the pace. Unlike with practice set exercises or protocol lab experiments with predetermined solutions and expected results, research has you come up with the experiments but also has you come up with the answer. Research makes you think differently by engaging you in the creation of new knowledge.
- Research is challenging. Sometimes, experiments don’t go as well as planned or give you unexpected results. And that’s okay! In these cases, you’re given the opportunity to question you process, make changes, and to think beyond. Research stretches your mind, and challenges and tests you to think of new ideas, new reasons, and new possibilities.
- Research is the future. It’s exciting to be a part of an adventure that will change the face of the future. Research is constantly pushing the frontiers of knowledge, and it’s crazy to think that the theory, the process, or the discovery you make today may determine how the world is structured tomorrow.
- Research doesn’t stop. Every study and every project in the world of research not only provides insights, answers, and details, it poses new questions. And even in the case where answers may be inconclusive, it still puts into consideration what it would take to solidify those answers.
- Research changes you. Somewhere along the way, research helps build traits and characteristics like independent thinking, resilience, communication, and creativity. Research can help mold you into the person you’d like to be while also changing all that you do, value, and hope to achieve!
Whether you’re in research or interested in research, what excites you? Why do you do research? And why do you love it?
Jessica is a Chemical Engineering major with a passion for biomedical science. She is currently working in Samir Mitragotri’s Lab in the Department of Chemical Engineering, developing alternatives to current drug delivery systems to better treat diseases and illnesses like diabetes and cancer!
Final question — Three Choices
Let me propose three choices from which you can choose as your final interview question. This will be our question 15 on our list of interview questions.
Question 15: What does research mean to you? And, how does one fine joy or happiness in doing research?
Question 15: Can you share a rough draft of a proposal with me?
Question 15: Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share with us about how you think about research?
There are some objectives that Postman and Weingartner, (in their book Teaching As A Subversive Activity), list as important objectives for any class. I hope some of these apply to you and your understanding of research.
To pick a few of the standards developed by Postman and Weingartner (and to relate them to research):
Does your new understandings increase your will as well as your capacity to learn more about research?
Does your new understanding give you a greater sense of joy in researching?
Does your new understanding provide you with greater confidence to learn more about research?
Do you have a greater degree of confidence in talking about, thinking about, or doing research?
I hope some of these apply to you now, and continue to develop if you do engage in research in the future.
Thanks for taking the class with me. Please do send me your final question as soon as you are able.
I will talk with you soon 🙂