Readers, in my non-Emmett Wilson life, I teach professional research and writing for the University of Maryland, in the University College division. This is my 20th year as a faculty member.
Two important concepts in my instruction each semester include narrowing the research topic and framing a research strategy, and these take time to figure out. Once you know where you want to go with your research, the strategy is your road map. It makes your research manageable — although not necessarily faster.
As with everything in life, you can plan, but you can’t ever plan the outcome. You never really know what you will find once you start the research.
For instance, the trip to Pensacola for Emmett’s research took about four months to finalize, and yeah it was time consuming to put the plan together. I just couldn’t show up at the University of West Florida with a general idea of what I wanted to see in the archives. You have to be specific. Also, in a few instances I had to get advance permission to visit historic sites with limited (or nonexistent) public access.
Unfortunately, I see a growing number of students who simply are not interested in putting the time into the strategy itself. A few students have told me this process is ‘boring.’ Yeah, I tell them, I agree. But, you can’t hurry good research.
Each semester, I have real concerns about some of the folks who take my class. I usually have two or three who are the most impatient souls in the world. They want to get the class and the research project over with ASAP, the final report out of their hands, and themselves out of the University with a degree as fast as humanly possible.
Mostly, these are graduating seniors who are simply antsy. Psychologically, they have already checked out and moved on. I get that.
But you can’t hurry good research.
The thing is, I know that whenever I get impatient or take shortcuts in my everyday life (because I’m tired or just want to move on), I make a mistake.
Once, a long time ago as an undergrad, I rushed a project (because I was tired of it), and not only was the mistake damn embarrassing, it was expensive to correct.
Thankfully, the lesson from that ‘teachable moment’ long ago stuck with me all of these years. My professor said to me, kindly, “Patience, young grasshopper.” Patience, indeed.
When I feel antsy about Emmett’s research, and I want to start moving things along faster, it helps me to think about why I want to speed things up. (Usually, it is because I’ve been stuck in a dry data run and I haven’t found anything new in awhile. A switch to another topic in Emmett’s life to investigate helps.)
Speaking of teachable moments and being in a hurry, one student said this to me in email earlier this year:
“I don’t have the time to read or think about this research stuff too deeply. Research isn’t going to be that important in my job anyway. I need to get on with life.”
This was about a week before a final research report was due. You probably can guess what happened (but I’ll tell you anyway!): This student submitted an obviously rushed, shallowly researched final report. The report weighed heavily in terms of overall grade. Because of the poor report, the student did not pass the class; ergo, the student did not graduate.
Four days later, I received a formal notice from the student, via email. The student was going to challenge the grade. Guess what? The student’s email message had many grammatical and typographical errors. Like all previous work from this student, it was, obviously, written in a hurry.
I responded to the student that he/she was entitled to challenge the grade, “…but the formal notice has many grammatical and typographical errors. Submitted this way, your challenge may not work in your favor. As suggested in class and assignment feedback, I strongly suggest that you slow down and proofread your writing.”
The response? (This is a direct quote, by the way.)
“U ned to get out of my way. Ineed to get on w/life.”
This experience may not yet have been that student’s teachable moment. We’ll see.
My classes start in two weeks. As always, I look forward to whatever new experiences a semester brings! I’ll keep you posted. 🙂