As valuable as knowledge is, the power to acquire it independently is even more valuable – Mr. Bamuza.
The above statement came to hold so true in an undertaking such as research studies and it plays out in many parts. I hope it’ll be of some insight to you, even in the smallest ways, possible.
The first big mistake (which is undeniably true in most endeavours) is to be psychologically and mentally unprepared—not having enough knowledge about your path, not familiarizing yourself with the important people in your field, and not looking back to see how others have succeeded and many have fallen out, etc. It could be so undermining that it could take a whole year, or even more, to recover. This is quite different from academic unpreparedness or knowledge deficiency, which could be overcome with continuous (and sometimes, even, unconscious) practice and study. Psychological and mental unpreparedness is a nagging limitation, which could take a whole lot of effort and time to overcome. It took me quite a while to get over and, once in a while, it rears its head to affect my performance.
Another mistake one could make is to underestimate the need for practice. A research study has, at its core, the purpose to create something “new”; to push the existing boundaries of knowledge, no matter how infinitesimal. One would, by default assumption, expect a prerequisite to achieve that to be smartness (an attribute I dare not acclaim to myself). But even geniuses, who are inherently gifted, are very very rare. A vast majority of people considered smart in their fields achieved that through—very boring and draining—practice. It takes sheer resolve to keep at it. The beauty of boring practice is that you see the results pay, in interests, with time. Even a fool could complete a research study if he keeps at the habit of dogged practice.
My supervisor once told me that the aim of a research is to transform the faculties of the individual from just a mere student to a researcher. An average student from the elementary through to the undergraduate levels of education goes through with considerably less effort because there is a structured path to follow. If he follows the rules diligently, he could easily breeze through. But even the smartest of students in a research study could be plagued by long sessions of uncertainty, countless failed attempts, and frequent pangs of anxiety about the relevance of the work she is engaged in. In a research, most often, you choose, independently, a path to follow, a process, and a destination, and are staked if it’s not worthwhile or if you are not convincing enough to convince your superiors.
Being transformed from a student to a researcher involves quite a lot—a few I’ll try to mention.
The first is the transformation of the power of observation—being able to carefully observe very little things; the things the people in your field might have possibly missed out in a hurry or lack of resources. It also requires one to go over a lot of past and relevant work in your field and carefully consider things which are of relevance to your research. I confess I’ve lost weeks and months, sometimes, because I wasn’t careful enough to observe little things that could have caused tremendous advancement. The difference between someone who is better than another is usually in the very little things—most often considered mundane by others.
When creating the light bulb, Thomas Edison arguably said, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb”. Completing a research (as any other worthwhile endeavour) requires sheer perseverance. Perseverance, when you think you’re not good enough, when you doubt the feasibility of what you do, when you’re not even certain of what you’re doing; you just have to keep on going.
Lastly, one plague we’ve been cursed with in this era is the abundance of countless distractions. It takes conscious mindfulness to be fully present and involved in your work; to not get distracted after twenty minutes by the many appealing calls requesting your attention. We only have so much resources and the fact that we (as humans) are not very good at multi-tasking enjoins one to expend them on what’s important, leaving the futile ones begging. After three months, sometimes, you could wonder where the progress of your research is, the last time you thought about it. It wouldn’t even be because you weren’t trying enough; it might just be you weren’t mindful and fully present in what you were doing.
Doing a research in a different country requires a lot of adaptation—overcoming language barriers, absorbing culture shocks, blending into different learning systems, resisting unproductive and misguiding habits, learning new skills, surviving financial constraints, etc. I’ve always been a loner at heart, not by limitation, but because I revel in my personal space and try to limit my encounters to meaningful ones. However, I found it necessary to check that beautiful attitude in other to get to connect to people despite many barriers I encounter. A research study isn’t just about acquiring knowledge alone, but the meaningful connections you make through your time, and it could all begin with just a “Hello”.
The final act will be learning to balance. Balancing is such an exquisite art that it takes a lifetime for even the best of us to master. You run the risk of insanity if you’re engrossed in your research 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You’ve got to balance work and “play”, and balance it rightly.
Coming from a different society where a Bachelor’s Degree is taken as a great achievement, having to restructure your mindset to consider it a basic achievement requires great effort. To be able to successfully go through a research, you have to inherently love knowledge or cultivate the love for it. The status or the issued certificate is not enough motivation to see one through.
Knowledge is a double-edge sword—it could either be limiting or liberating.