I am glad that I have some academic research experience because it has really given me a broader perspective on things. My academic research has taught me several things, but most importantly, it has given me a research maturity that I think would have otherwise taken years to build. Let’s get right into the 5 points rather than beating around the bush — guess I have done that enough!
- No two researchers have the same progress — Don’t compare your journey to that of other researchers. Even though your academic aspirations could be similar to those of the other researchers, your experience is unique. Your process is different, and so are your learnings along the way. Had I compared my journey to my fellow researchers, I don’t think I would have achieved what I achieved. I had my own goals and milestones, and set my own expectations. What’s important is that you enjoy the journey, no matter how tough it is.
- Never be afraid to ask for help — Think of the most independent researcher you know, the one you look up to, the one who you know is very aligned to their goals. Trust me, even that person would have asked for help at some point. I was afraid to ask for help. I was terrible at coding but I needed to get my code right because I had a deadline for a prototype I was building. I finally decided to ask a fellow researcher to help me with it, and in no time, my prototype was ready. Trust me, people want to and like to help. What’s the worst thing that could happen? They might say, “no”, but you can always ask someone else then.
- Patience and passion pay off — An incredible amount of reading is required in research, so at least make sure you are reading about a topic you enjoy! Pick a research topic you are passionate about and one that inspires you. My research project was around EdTech, and it’s an industry I am very interested in. I thoroughly enjoyed literature review as I read through the trends and the developments in this space. It’s very important to be be patient with yourself. Remember, perseverance and resilience always pay off. I won’t lie, but I had quite a few days when I felt hopeless, sat down in my lab and cried. Those days are important to have. But I also woke up the next day, grabbed a coffee and dived right into work — it’s always a new day full of possibilities.
- You will stumble upon discoveries in your journey — You might have hypotheses and assumptions and an idea of what outcomes you want from your study. However, you will be surprised to find that there are other things you will discover that were not in the initial scope of your research project. And that is always exciting and motivating. For instance, in my research, I uncovered a pattern where most of my participants were talking about events surrounding a natural calamity without me prompting any such thought. I realized later that as a consequence to a disaster, the generation of kids growing up witnessing the disaster, showed a lot more behavioral escalations which was related to PTSD. This was a great discovery for me, because it meant there was more “need” now than before for the system I was developing.
- You will never be 100% happy with your data and that’s 100% alright — As researchers, we tend to set high standards for ourselves. Research is not a linear process. You think you’re done with the literature, then you look at your data and find out you need to learn more about a theoretical framework for the analysis. You are simply trying to produce a novel research study, and that’s fine! I used both qualitative and quantitative research to analyze my data. To be honest, a qualitative analysis would have been sufficient for my research but I wanted to validate my data with numbers, so I decided to conduct a quantitative study as well. My sample size was small, and hence the results were not statistically significant. To think of it now, I could have spent more time focusing on the qualitative study rather than conducting a quant study that was not even effective. No regrets in the end though!
To all the academic researchers out there, enjoy your journey now, because I bet you, you’re going to miss it when it’s over.