Getting back into research mode takes a bit of adjustment. Course assignments for LIS classes notwithstanding, it’s been over 3 years since I tackled legitimate academic research outside of my coursework. The time has come to jump back on the wagon* and I’ve been thinking: how will it be different this time around?
Before, I was working on a master’s degree in the humanities, now it’s a master’s in the information sciences. Before, I was studying a text, now I’m studying people. Before, my organizational system was entirely analog, now it is almost entirely digital. I want to explore some of these changes in more detail.
Transition #1: From Humanities research to the Information Sciences
This is the hardest of all the transitions. When I first learned how to do proper research, I was studying English literature and using methodology texts like Booth’s The Craft of Research (University of Chicago Press). Now, I look to reference works such as Creswell’s Research design : qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches (Sage Publications) and Neuman’s Social research methods : qualitative and quantitative approaches (Pearson). More than just the subject matter and the audience, the way that I think about a research project in terms of its objectives, its methodology, and its impact has fundamentally changed. For one, it has become more social. While humanities research, especially in the digital realm, is moving toward more collaborative opportunities, the subject has traditionally been a place for the solitary researcher. The infrastructure of scholarly communication and peer review requires a certain amount of cooperation, but the humanities scholar can do her most complex research almost entirely on her own. To some extent, it is even expected. With LIS research, the expectation is very different. Quite often, research is done as part of a team. Working well with others is a prerequisite for the job and, at least in my LIS program, heavily emphasized.
Transition #2: From working with texts to working with people
Not only has the method changed, but so has the medium. As a humanities grad student, I focused all my time and thought on a particular text or groups of texts. My attention was spent examining the words on the page, searching for an essential “thing” in the work. As an LIS students, my attention is drawn to the thoughts, actions, and needs of other people, the user. Research in the information sciences focus on the relationship between people and information, how they interpret it, how it affects them, and how they use it. What is most practical is often deemed as the most essential. While social theory, cognitive science, and hermeneutics certainly play an important role in literary and historical theory, in the information sciences, they are the sina qua non.
Transition #3: From analog organization to digital organization
If the conceptual changes were not enough, my work flow has changed dramatically since my days as a humanities student. It was not until late 2007 that I fully jumped on the bandwagon of digital knowledge management. Up until then, I still kept notes on paper (or printed them out) and stored research in binders and hanging file folders. I preferred monographs to serials and print editions to electronic (which probably crippled many of my undergraduate papers). Still, it was easier to manage all the information that way: if I couldn’t lay it all out in front of me, it was too much. Now, I keep everything in digital format. I have not gone as far to adopt a universal inbox like Evernote; I still set up hierarchical folders for all my information. But everything is synced to the cloud and all my information is available from multiple devices.
Moving forward is going to be rough. Once I manage to settle on a topic and begin the research process, I will probably find myself stumbling along the way. Obviously, some of my findings and thoughts will work their way to this space. My plan is to build the foundation for a legitimate research project by the end of next year (when I will graduate) that could be continued (possibly with funding) in more depth under the auspices of some institute of higher education. We shall see. Until then, my objective is to get back into research mode and to start thinking like a serious academic again.
So what are your thoughts? Have you transitioned from one field of research to another? What was your experience? Please share it in the comments!
*I made a promise that if a certain opportunity didn’t pan out (it didn’t), I would utilize my free time toward a research project. Hence…