Part one of this series focused on operational definitions. Part two was all about asking The Question. In part three we braved the terrifying world of ethics boards. Today, our research project hits the ground running: we’re talking about data collection.
Data collection is a very exciting time for researchers. All the long hours of preparation they put into literature reviews, research proposals, introductory chapters and ethics board applications is finally behind them, and the real action of research can finally begin. They can actually start carrying out their study and recording their observations.
It’s immediately obvious that without the act of data collection, research would never really happen.
There’s one key element in the statement above, and it’s worth repeating for emphasis. So allow me to phrase it in a slightly different way: if researchers never did anything, no research would ever get done. Despite the intense critical thought and careful planning that marks the earlier stages of research, the only way to actually get any sort of results is to get out there and start collecting data.
Data collection means action (even if it’s tedious, repetitive, actually quite boring action)—and when it comes to careers, the best thing we can do is to get some action.
Research relies on action to produce results. A researcher in the humanities might have to get human participants to complete a series of tasks and some questionnaires. An academic in the natural sciences might have to introduce a sample of bacteria to a specific kind of solution. An anthropological field researcher might simply hide out in a bathroom stall observing the behaviour of washroom-goers (good luck getting that one past ethics, though). Whatever the field, whatever the research question, without these actions, there is no data, and therefore no research.
Guess what? The same is true in your career. Nothing results from nothing.
Reading that, it probably seems intuitive. But ask yourself, what are you currently doing to move forward in your career? You might be under the impression that it’s best to know what you’re doing before you do it. The statement “Knowing comes first, doing second” might then sound like a pretty good summary of how life works.
But let’s pause for a minute and go back to thinking about the scientific method. Although scientists are encouraged to develop clearly laid-out plans for their research, it would be wrong to claim that scientists know what they’re doing before they do it. It would be even more wrong to assert that, for scientists, knowing comes before doing. The very nature of the scientific method relies on discovering knowledge as a direct result of doing—not the other way around! Scientists have to show a clear relationship between cause and effect, to the degree that no reasonable doubt that chance produced their results can be claimed. In other words, scientists know nothing until experiments are carried out that demonstrate that knowledge in action.
Furthermore, many hugely important scientific discoveries have been made completely by chance, penicillin being foremost and most obvious among them. So, it’s not about “knowing comes first, doing second.” It’s quite the opposite, actually. “Doing comes first, knowing second” is a much more accurate statement.
So, let’s focus less on what you’re thinking about, and more on what you’re actually going out and doing. You’re not going to learn much of anything new—about yourself or about the world of work—by sitting at home, looking at job postings that all look the same, or trying to write the “perfect” cover letter. You’ll probably get discouraged, maybe depressed, but that’s about it.
What if, instead, you went out and talked to a few people who actually work in the fields you’re curious about?
How much more real life information would you learn?
How much greater are the chances that something unexpected might happen?
You don’t want to be doing research forever. The only way to finish is to go out and get some action. You deserve it.