Sometimes, I have a bad day. Last Thursday, for example. It started badly, with a meeting where I had to defend what I was trying to do. It ended badly, with a meeting where people who understood what I was trying to do gave me really stupid reasons why I shouldn’t do it.
Last Thursday was an exception. Most days, I love my job.
1. Researchers are nice people.
Thesis Whisperer has taught me that supervision relationships can be fraught, and research is one long, slow argument. There are always a couple of people in any area that you won’t get on with but, generally, researchers are people I like.
In part, I like them because they are like me. In part, I like them because they are smart, forward-thinking people who are passionate about what they do.
Mostly, though? I like them because they tell me interesting stuff.
2. Ideas are wonderful things.
If you want to grab my attention, tell me something that I don’t know. Not some trivial thing – something that helps me to understand the world around me in a new way. Tell me an idea. Tell me stuff: Interesting, fascinating, cool stuff.
Ideas are the stuff of which research is made. Ideas are the currency, the building blocks, the glue. I like ideas.
3. Research helps.
Being open to new ideas is one of my mantras. I work with artists, designers, educators, architects, policy makers and planners. These are people who are often open to new ideas. They are usually tackling big problems, hefty questions and trying – in their own ways – to make the world a better place. Sometimes, it doesn’t work. What matters most to me is that they are trying. They aren’t just marking time and waiting for things to happen to them; they are engaging with the world and trying to improve it for everyone.
4. Research is collaborative.
Occasionally, a lone researcher makes a critical breakthrough that changes everything. Mostly, research is cumulative, with each project building upon ideas that came before. Most projects only make a small contribution to progress, adding a tiny amount to the sum of all knowledge.
That means that researchers have to engage: they have to engage with other people’s ideas, and with the world around them. Mostly, it is a team sport with a varying number of people on the team, depending on your discipline, and the teams are getting bigger.
5. Research isn’t business.
I don’t mean that in an “all business is bad” way. I mean that research isn’t constrained by the same laws that business is. Think about this: if a business deliberately collaborates with another business to gain control of a particular market, they are breaking the law because most people lose in that situation. If researchers collaborate together to crack a problem, they are encouraged and applauded because they have improved their chance of solving that particular problem.
This means that it is reasonably common for a researcher to write to a stranger saying, “I like your approach. Here is what I am doing in this space. Let’s talk.”
I like that. What do you like?