This blog is serving a dual purpose for me. It's both a space to share information I’m discovering and a place to work through the process of conducting research. This post is focused on the later part (and yeah, its going to get a little whiny – consider yourself forewarned).
You learn a lot about yourself while doing research. As in life, you tend to gravitate towards the things you love doing and procrastinate or avoid the things you wish would go away. I love looking for interesting information, reading it, thinking about it and talking with others about it. I also enjoy writing about it too in formats like this blog. However, systematically doing research is more involved than just tearing through a bunch of material.
I’m struggling with the systematic part.
We’re supposed to be finding information to specifically advance our argument in support of our research question. We're then coding the information, breaking it down and ensuring we’ve categorized it into sub-topics that will align to form the building blocks of our literature review. I find this systematic process really hard. Much of our course has been working on tools to help manage it but actually using those tools effectively is another matter.
Our annotated bibliography assignments are due in a few short weeks. We’re supposed to have gathered and read through a minimum of 100 sources, 50 of which will make it into this assignment. I’m already feeling penalized for having read two books which took me a few days to finish but only count for two sources. If you’re going for volume, you really should go with papers and articles! In doing all of this, the goal is to demonstrate a certain level of expertise about my topic.
But, what does it mean to be an expert these days?
I’ve read a lot of material and there is much, much, more material out there. New information is being posted all the time. Like many of the research areas in our program that deal with technology, this is a fast-paced space. In addition to keeping up with all of the new material, there is also an enormous body of historical literature and context to consider. It feels overwhelming. And this is a master’s program, not a PhD!
I’ve always been a generalist. I don’t identify with being an expert. I know a little about a lot, and I’m really comfortable absorbing new information as needed. Now I’m finding I need to know a lot about something very specific. That’s a huge psychological shift for me. It feels limiting because as I zone in on the one thing, I'm leaving behind so many other really interesting things! It feels like a shame to abandon all that other cool stuff. Yet, to make it through this process and do a thorough job of research, I have to focus and that means letting go.
So, what to do about it?
Part of my solution is simply acknowledging that this is a tough process for me. It doesn’t make it any easier but it does help provide some perspective. Beyond that, I continue to plow through, to drudge through the drudgery (as one of my favourite podcasters would say). I may not be completely happy with the process or with how I’ve done the work, but the work will get done.