The author, Robert L. Hampel, talked about how one selects a Good Topic for Future Research (GTFR). He came to question the advice he’d been giving to first year PhD students:
Fill a gap in the literature, identify a problem that has not been studied adequately, and add a brick to the wall of knowledge. That might be how I and others justified our research, but was it how we came upon the topic in the first place?
After talking with a dozen or so colleagues, he concluded that “filling a gap in the literature” was not really how anyone went about choosing a research problem. There were four main “lessons” he gained from his collegial conversations:
- Future research arises from current research. Things are never really finished, and many projects don’t work out as we’d planned. All that cleanliness in the literature is misleading!
- Future research can be autobiographical. On this one, I’d like to quote the author at length:
Research is often “me-search,” a friend of mine likes to say. Ideas for research topics can stem from brief personal experiences from childhood or threads that run throughout their professional lives. For example, gender equity in science education has riveted a colleague since she majored in chemistry in college. Another colleague’s passion is the give-and-take of arguments, “so I think that’s why I’m studying fifth graders’ persuasive writing.” What “voice” means for minority scholars fascinates an African-American academic who feels that the traditional norms of scholarly discourse stifle her own creativity. For those colleagues, their lives are inspiration, but not evidence — in other words, they are not autoethnographers.Sometimes a good project arises from family life. A child psychologist extended her work on infant communication when her 14-month-old son was pointing incessantly to the refrigerator. “I’d take one thing out after another, and he finally seemed to find what he wanted,” she said. “So I got excited and found three families, studying how kids make their ideas known and how they correct your misconceptions when you’re wrong about what they want.”
- Future research often arises from conversations. You know this one. Have lunch with your colleagues, visit them in their offices, hobnob at conferences. I don’t care if you’re shy and you don’t like talking to people. Get out there and circulate!
- Future research can derive from what others want and might pay for. This isn’t just the obvious – grants and contracts. It can also be solicitations for a special volume (this is more likely in the humanities and social sciences than in the biological and physical science and engineering).
Don’t miss the comments too; link via Abi.
Tags: research ideas