Entering the world of research or creative scholarship can be daunting for a beginner.
Quests begin in wonderous caverns of labs filled with multimillion-dollar white boxes housing technical devices that hum and buzz, or in exploring mounds of existing literature in the rare book collection for a key source that unlocks a thesis.
And the terminology? The language is specialized, technical or crammed with acronyms.
But for all the challenges research and creative scholarship presents to beginners, pursuing uncharted discoveries or creating new knowledge delivers world-changing satisfaction. Is the path uncertain? Sure, but guiding a new researcher or scholar along is the steady hand of an encouraging mentor.
These excellent University of Missouri researchers and scholars started their research and creative scholarship journeys as beginners, too, so they know the trials and errors. And their treks are not complete as they continue to examine and investigate.
With a new cohort of researchers and scholars walking into MU’s labs, libraries and halls this semester, a few seasoned researchers and scholars share their advice to them.
Director of Legal Research & Writing
Teaching Professor of Law
School of Law
All Mizzou law students take two legal research courses in their first year. Legal research is primarily done in specialized databases that allow lawyers to access the legal primary sources (cases, statutes and regulations). As a law student, you will have access to these databases. As an undergraduate, the things you can do to prepare for legal research are (1) focus on learning through research instead of just looking for answers, (2) be prepared to back up each of your propositions with a (primary legal) source and (3) be sure to keep track of the big picture to avoid relying on an isolated perspective.
Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business
Here are some suggestions for student researchers:
- Empirical research in the social sciences: One way to think about empirical research is trying to get as close as possible to understanding the underlying data-generating process (DGP) of your focal phenomenon. Since the DGP is usually unobservable, this suggests that it is useful to approach theory development and data analysis iteratively (allowing each to inform the other) instead of sequentially.
- Dealing with secondary or archival data: Data munging (cleaning and structuring noisy or unstructured data) is often the most time-consuming stage of research and always takes longer than you think.
- Navigating rejection: Rejections (from journals, grants, conferences, etc.) are inevitable. While these submission outputs are more stochastic, their inputs are more deterministic, so choose to focus on what you can control.
Educational, School & Counseling Psychology
College of Education & Human Development
I have three primary pieces of advice for new researchers:
- One of the most common questions I get asked is how to identify a research topic. This is always a personal process; however, I recommend new researchers pay attention to what piques their curiosity in class, fieldwork or their other relevant experiences. Usually, this is something that you can turn into a research project that you will be excited about conducting.
- It’s also important to get involved in research projects early on. If you are not already part of a research lab, reach out to a faculty member who is doing research you’re interested in and see if you can join their lab. Being involved in this way will give you hands-on experience with the research process that you often don’t get through your coursework.
- Finally, take advantage of the resources available to you at the university. Being able to effectively search the literature, articulate your research through writing and conduct statistical analyses using open-source software are critical skills for new researchers, and there are plenty of resources at the university that can help you master these processes.
Director of Orthopaedic Biostatistics
School of Medicine
I always tell my mentee to (1) create boundaries, (2) always take your breaks, (3) be sure to have a hobby that has nothing to do with your research or work, and (4) that I appreciate “over-communication.”
- I tell mentees that creating healthy boundaries for collaborations and work/life are important skills for them to learn and practice now, while in training. That way they will be able to handle how to manage their time later and ensure they have time for important things (related to their work interests, their home or family life, etc.) and do not get drained by things that are not a priority.
- I encourage them to always take their breaks – take their lunch break, take their vacation. Sometimes the best thing to do is to take a walk and walk away from the problem to figure it out. This is important to maintain their health and ends up being an investment in their productivity. Sometimes I have to phrase this in that way and then they understand the importance!
- I also tell them it is important to have a hobby or thing that they do to decompress or relax that has nothing to do with research or work. They are not their work, and the research actually tells us that people who do that tend to be more reproductive and creative.
- Lastly, I let them know that I prefer over-communication, as sometimes seemingly “little” things to mentees may have important consequences, and I’d much rather have a heads up than be working to fix something.
School of Journalism
Have fun but focus! Research is great and can answer questions and generate more questions. That is why people make a career of it. One project first, get that done and then start another. No single project will answer all the questions, so enjoy the journey and all it has to offer (including mistakes).
John A. Hartford Foundation Claire M. Fagin Fellow
Sinclair School of Nursing
First, find a problem you are passionate about solving; importantly, one that has great potential for funding. Once you know your interest area, align with a mentor who is experienced in that area and then absorb all you can. A strong mentor will challenge you to think in new ways but will always have your best interest and growth in mind. Stay the course; then, pay it forward.