My first semester as a PhD-Wannabe is done. Time therefore, to reflect on my experiences and what I’ve learnt, something I do as a matter of course anyway, it’s a life skill in my opinion. So, what have I learnt in this, my first semester as a doctoral student? There is, of course, the “academic” knowledge I have garnered; cross-cultural studies is a whole new realm for me and getting acquainted with the masters and theorists in the field such as Hofstede and House has been interesting and exciting, and I look forward to learning more. Trying to integrate it with my interests in technology and media is still a challenge, but I presume it will manifest as I progress.
However, a doctoral education is not just about theories and frameworks, at least not in my book. The real deal here, and perhaps, the thread that weaves it all together, is “research”; I have become an apprentice to the “Research Muse”. So, the real question is, what does it mean to be a researcher, what skills and qualities should one posses or develop?
Inquisitiveness and Curiosity. One has to be interested in discovery and exploration; “what if”, “I wonder”, “how”, and “why” have to be among your favourite – and oft-used- terms and phrases. And if it doesn’t come naturally to you, then you just have to develop it because it is crucial to being a good, maybe even great, researcher.
Go where the research takes you. As the cops on TV shows are fond of telling us, you go where your investigations take you, and that might well be someplace where you’ve never been before. A good researcher has to be ready to boldly go where no researcher has gone before (to borrow a page from Star Trek ;)).
Multi-faceted viewpoint. Next on my list is the ability to look at an issue or problem from multiple perspectives, examine all of its facets. This is not to say the researcher shouldn’t take a position, not at all, just that it should be informed by aforesaid examination.This may, sometimes, lead to a state of decision paralysis as you try to decide what your stand should be; after all, if you can see all the different angles, you might find merit in each of them.
The ability to listen. This may seem strange, but if questioning sets you on the path of discovery, listening gets you the answers. In fact, this may be one of the most important tools in the qualitative researcher’s arsenal, and it requires him/her to shut down their own thought process, focus on the respondent/research, and just listen. It is perhaps, the most challenging skill of them all to develop.
Time and space to reflect. This is often relegated to the back burner amidst writing assignments, their associated research, presentations and the like, but it is important and necessary to regularly reflect upon what you’ve read/are reading, what you’ve studied, learned, experienced, listened to, and think about how it connects to your research.
Interestingly enough, when I began my professional journey 20-something years ago as a journalist, I did not think of myself as a “researcher”, but now, when I look back, that’s exactly what I was doing, albeit in a different context. But it was research; it began with the questions, and then I had to go out there and find the answers, which often entailed listening, a lot.
And so the wheel comes a full circle, and in a quirk of fate, I’m back where I started, as acolyte to the research muse.