Sunday, July 10, 2011

The highs and lows of research

Earlier in the year a lecturer described research as an emotional process full of highs and lows. Wondering why?  Read on...

About a month ago I broke into a silent victory dance outside the psychology office.  I had just submitted my research proposal!  It felt so good to finally hand it in after two months' research, writing and discussion.  Correction, it did feel good until later that night during 'Gray's Anatomy' when I realised I had made an error with one of my hypotheses.  It turned out later that it was right, but I did not find that out until my thesis committee meeting.  Can you imagine what my stress levels were like during the intervening time?!

My thesis committee meeting fell on a chilly June morning.  I began this rite of passage with a brief summary of my project before my study design, analyses and introduction were discussed.  It might sound daunting being seated round a table with lecturers and trying to hold your own, but the experience was not as intimidating as you might imagine.  It was reassuring to hear that I shared my problem areas with previous honours students and everyone thought my project worthwhile.  The guidance I gained, fresh perspectives and new ideas were invaluable.  I still wonder what I looked like after that meeting though, having watched the mingled expressions of relief, amazement and information overload on the faces of other students after their meetings.  I remember feeling disbelief that it was all over, that I could shelve my introduction for a while and get my study ready.

Applying for ethics approval, the first step in preparing my study, was also an emotive experience.  I had submitted my electronic application and its numerous attachments for letters of introduction and consent forms etc. a few days after the deadline.  I was worried.  My late submission meant I would be unlikely to gain ethics approval until August, giving me less time to collect data.  Someone up there was looking out for me though because I was informed my submission would be reviewed earlier than I expected.  I sat in the library grinning from ear to ear,  fist pumping the air, little caring what anyone thought.  I had been unbelievably lucky.  What did I learn from this experience?  Chiefly, that I never want to be in that situation again.  I plan to check deadlines religiously in future, and to let someone know in advance if I am unlikely to meet them.

Achieving these three research milestones introduced me to the highs and lows of research but I wouldn't trade them, they are all part of the experience.