Five reasons research rocks!

Brainstorming on a whiteboard
The Writing is on the Wall by Jonathan O’Donnell on Flickr

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.

Here’s why:

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?


  1. Thanks for this great post, it reminds me of why I love (loved?) research.
    Ideas, building blocks, team sport, reaching out into the ether to connect with a stranger on the basis of an interesting thread you’ve found that may ‘match’ the thread you’ve been unspooling….

    How does one research without the scaffolding of a ‘university’ or other educational institution around them? Its very lonely, and painstaking without those sorts of meetings you had today ( :


    • Thanks for those kind words. Even though I complain a bit, I shouldn’t take my university connection for granted.

      My partner is curator at a small museum. She has an honorary research position at a local university. The university gets some credit for the papers she writes while she gets access to the library and a few other benefits.

      I’d love to hear more about the highs and lows of being a solo researcher, if you want to write about it.


      • Research, by its very nature, leads to growth–people, their ideas, the thoughts/ideas that can be refreshed and watered to grow by simply writing thoughts down or having the thrill of others and ideas that stimulate thoughts of the “original” research subject. Research reflects curiousity, a dedication andcommitment to digging, thinking more originally as well as creating a ripple effect for others who might share a similar idea.While sharing is great, thoughts brought about by others and with others always spark new research ideas.


  2. Hi!
    I respect your arguments to be engaged with research… however I find then a little bit weak … I think that anyone can find nice people and collaboration in other places such as the office.


      • Ah, and are ideas not your own, after all? Perhaps sharing such things have other purposes for you. You sound intelligent plus to me.I can think of many things more challenging than being an individual researcher alone.


  3. Thanks, MaryLynn

    Yes, it is the ideas (mine and other people’s) that I love. And, as you said, the way that it might create “…a ripple effect for others who might share a similar idea.”


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