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On the importance of teaching the mechanics of doing research

I enjoy writing my blog because I can then use my blog posts to teach my own students and research assistants every technique I need them to know. As I said on Twitter the other day, my writings on this blog are a shared knowledge base. I just opened the knowledge base to everyone in the world who might need it.

What has surprised me as more and more students, and even early career scholars and seasoned professors have emailed me and tweeted at me about how they’ve found my blog helpful was – I *thought* professors taught this stuff. This was my belief up until, well, I got to graduate school, and then I realized that NOBODY was teaching this stuff, the mechanics of doing research.

AcWri highlighting and scribbling while on airplanes

Graduate students seem to be expected to learn how to do research by osmosis or some kind of magic process. As for how I learned, I have always been inquisitive, and my professors at UBC were kind enough to mentor me and share techniques with me, but a great deal of how I learned to do research was also intuitive, reading books, and looking at professors I admired and seeing how they worked and interviewing them about their daily process. Lucky for me, they were very open and direct about how their writing and research process worked. Also, I will have to acknowledge that my qualitative research methods professor was very specific about how to write memorandums and do thematic coding.

I am always frustrated to find that there are incredibly high and ridiculous expectations placed on students by their professors that they should know a lot of stuff that they were never exposed to in high school, undergraduate and even graduate programmes. This, and knowing that my blog is helpful to people, are very strong drivers for me to keep doing what I do.

I know for a fact that many students don’t know how to write a literature review, an annotated bibliography, or how to contextualize their research.

These techniques (the mechanics of how to do research) can’t be learned through osmosis. We need to do better and teach our students how we get things done.

In the end, we are all better off if we are able to train our students on how to conduct research, and walk them through the process. Even if the process we document isn’t perfect, it can still help others figure out methods and techniques for their own research strategies.

Posted in academia, research, research methods.

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2 Responses

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  1. Cindi Tysick says

    Did you go to your subject librarian early on and not get help? We go through the process all the time with all levels if student. What we cover depends on their level and deliverable. Many of my department professors either mandate or highly recommend their graduate students see me for a 30-60 minute session in my office where we talk through their research ideas, determine the data or primary sources they’ll need to get started, and run queries in specialized databases for secondary sources. They leave knowing my door is always open and their projects are organically dynamic and that’s ok. Research can be messy.

  2. Raul Pacheco-Vega says

    I think we are talking about two very different things (and I say this as someone who both studied library science and loves libraries and librarians). A librarian will help my students find resources, search databases, etc. as you aptly said here. Synthesizing information and creating arguments around these, finding the point of conceptual saturation are things professors should be doing and rarely they do. These trainings should go hand-in-hand and in tandem. I actually ask of my students that they visit a librarian, every semester! And I work closely with our librarians myself. I wouldn’t survive as an academic without a librarian and our strong library.



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