I don’t normally have guest posts on my blog, but after reading this piece posted by my friend and colleague, Astrid Kendrick, PhD, a fellow faculty member at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, I reached out to her to see if she would allow me to amplify her message by sharing it on my blog. Here is Dr. Kendrick’s post, shared with her permission.
My thoughts on the quip, “do your research”
Facebook Status Update originally posted on April 22, 2021
I have the good fortune to be a funded (meaning paid) researcher over the past couple of years, which means I actually do my own research. It’s actually quite complicated, so here’s a brief (okay, lengthy) summary of how I “do my own research”.
Firstly, and most importantly, I have to do a comprehensive literature review on my research subject. This involves reading a ton of primary sources (e.g., peer-reviewed research articles, philosophical books). Normally, I don’t read secondary sources (e.g., news articles, websites) as those authors are only reporting on what they think primary researchers have said. If I do read about a study from a secondary source, I seek out the primary source and read that too. Often, the secondary reporting misses out on or misrepresents crucial details from the primary source.
This stage takes about 6-8 months and involves reading, understanding, and processing a lot of information. If you look at a citation page for any one of my papers, you’ll see that I usually cite about 20-50 sources. I have usually read twice the number of articles or books that I cite to figure out which actually relate to my research subject. Reading everything includes reading critique of the field to limit my bias.
Once I have read all the things – yes, all of them, including new stuff that’s published while I’m reading the old stuff – then I can apply for ethics approval to do a research study. Getting ethics takes 1-4 months, depending on how busy all my colleagues in that department are. I have to prove, as a part of this process, that my research will do no harm, I will mitigate all risks to human participants, and that I actually have read all the things about my topic. Without ethics approval, my research can’t go forward.
Once everything is read and ethics is approved, then I can do unique research, which necessitates keeping an open and flexible mind about my research subject, finding suitable participants, and collecting related policy or other documents, a stage known as collecting data. This part takes 4-5 months. In the case of my current podcasting study, data collection will take a year and for my compassion fatigue study, data collection has taken nearly 16 months.
Once the data is collected (usually by a research assistant which is why funding is great), I have to read, understand, and connect all of it (interviews, surveys, documents) and determine if what my participants have said or written lines up with all the reading I’ve already done. Not only do I have to know enough about the field to recognize when my findings reinforce already known information, but I also need enough knowledge to recognize unique or ground-breaking findings.
I then get to write about what my specific study has to say in relation to the rest of the known field, and decide if my findings are worth publishing. If I think so (in consultation with my research partners and collaborators), then I submit my writing for publication.
Being published in a quality peer-reviewed journal can take 1-2 years. The journal editors and other scholars in the field read through how my research study was constructed, how I collected ethical data, and they (also having read all the things on the topic) decide if indeed, my findings were either unique or further knowledge in the field. Normally, 2-3 reviewers read and decide if my article is well articulated, my study is valid, and then they force me to re-write it a couple more times so that it fits the standards of the publication journal.
Even those short Conversation Canada articles I’ve written are editorially reviewed and take about 1-2 months of re-writing after the initial submission to the editor. Sidebar: The Conversation only publishes articles by scholars speaking to their own unique research, so before my article is accepted, I have to demonstrate to their editors that I am writing about unique research and not simply writing an opinion.
So, “doing my research” is an exceptionally time-consuming process and tends to last several years. It rarely involves using Google, although I admit that Google Scholar can be helpful in finding newer open access articles not available through my university library.
Therefore, if you ask me about my topics of research (currently compassion fatigue, burnout, emotional labour, preservice teacher education, literacy instruction, and podcasting), you can be pretty certain that I know a lot about them, and you can trust my responses. You can even trust that if I say, “you need to read these 10 articles and three books”, it’s because I’ve read everything else, and those readings are the significant ones in the field. I’m actually saving you time from reading the hundreds of other articles that I’ve read on the subject that were irrelevant, difficult to read, or have similar findings.
If you ask me for my opinion on a hundred other topics, you’re getting just that. I’ve probably read some secondary sources on the topic, and likely even talked to some of my expert colleagues on their research and read the 10 articles they recommended, but my depth of knowledge is not the same as what I know about my research topics. I have not “done my research”, I have simply constructed an informed opinion that I’m willing to change based on new information from expert sources.
Thanks for reading, and to Sarah for posting, because now my husband, John doesn’t have to listen to my “What doing real research means!” rants on our daily walks anymore.
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Sarah Elaine Eaton, PhD, is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, and the Educational Leader in Residence, Academic Integrity, University of Calgary, Canada.
Opinions are my own and do not represent those of the University of Calgary or anyone else.
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