The Lessons from Research for Life

It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.

(Proverbs 25:2, NIV)

The above verse tells us that God is glorious because He is “mysterious”, whereas a king will become glorious when he is able to disclose a mystery. Being a researcher is everyone’s duty, which is a great privilege, because the way of a researcher is the way of a king.

In this short article, I would like to share a few lessons from my research life and daily routines over the past few months. (It is a perspective of an engineering student).

Research is a long-time process that demands patience, endurance, and persistence. 

Researchers must realize that “nothing great comes easy”. One may not expect an instant good result without any struggles. Oftentimes, we must deal with tedious works, revisit the (same) problems, and exercise our problem-solving skills again and again. As I described in the previous article, research essentially means a “repetitive search”. It is true not only for people who work in science or engineering field, but also for those who study other disciplines, such as music, religions, politics, sports, arts, etc. In this sense, we could say that basically everyone is a researcher.

A simple case is that when you are planning to travel, you must first do a “research” about the locations, transportation, accommodations, foods, etc. In doing so, we must allocate time, energy, and money; we should be ready for a “long suffering” if we want to get the best results and make the most of our journey. To survive this long and rough journey of research, we need to understand what is our motive in the first place. I believe that the basic motive of doing research is genuine curiosity, which will eventually determine our true passion.

In addition, we must however realize that it’s impossible to research everything; just like we can never resolve every problem in life. We might have an unlimited potential, but our time, energy, and priority are all limited. That’s why, we need to keep in mind that even after graduating and holding an academic degree, we may not stop researching. (Now I feel that it’s probably not just a long-time process; it’s a life-long process!)

Research will reveal our personalities and how we deal with problems in life.

We can do research because problems exist, hence the quality of our research will be determined by the extent of problems that we can resolve. The more problems we overcome, the greater impact we make, and thus the higher quality of research we’ll end up with. In a real life, we also have to deal with such seem-to-be-never-ending problems everyday. The way we deal with problems in life will pretty much reflect the way we do research, and vice versa. Our hidden strengths and weaknesses are often revealed by problems, both in life and research. Our characters or personalities are going to be tested by and developed through the problems.

A successful research requires good communication skills and creativity. Think about of how we deliver our ideas, how we collaborate with others, how we organize our thoughts to approach a series of problems, how we cope with our own perfectionism, how we treat our “superior” or “inferior” ones, how we prioritize contribution over recognition, how we can become a true impact beyond just giving a good impression, and so on…

Research will tell us whether we are an optimist, a pessimist, or a rationalist. The optimists are usually very ambitious toward publication; they believe their works deserve attention and can get published as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the pessimists are normally a type of people who don’t really enjoy “spotlights”; they may like publication, but they don’t actually like publicity (and sometimes get confused by two of them: publication vs. publicity), therefore they are not very eager to build a reputation based on the number of publications. In between these two, the rationalists are those who demand compelling evidences in order to believe any claim or theory; they are usually more concerned with the depth of understanding than the quantity of papers, however they could be pessimistic if neither solid facts nor strong reasoning is provided. We see now that research may reveal whether we are “believers” or “doubters”.

I observe that research may also help us identify ourselves: whether we are a “broad learner” or a “deep learner”; it might tell our preferences when dealing with problems, whether to approach a broad or a deep learning. After all, one good thing is that research is a humbling experience that will encourage us to willingly learn from others and neither rely on our own understanding nor think that we are the smartest person in the world.

Research is preceded by vision and leads to an innovation.

The normal stage of PhD life is to spend most of the first year for an intensive reading (literature review). In this stage, we should learn from “history” of what is already known and what is still missing or remains unknown (i.e., knowledge gaps) in a particular field that we investigate. It is the time when we brainstorm ideas and develop a critical thinking. We are expected to have a good sense to criticize one’s works or publications, to tell whether or not a publication is insightful and really has a great quality. In short, we should have an ability to examine whether or not any claim or theory is true and thus we are able to distinguish the truth from any misleading information. By the end of this stage, we are expected to have a “big vision” in our own research. Again, this is true not only for research, but also for life, in which we should know what to do as well as why and how we do something. Don’t be upset if your supervisors ask you the same question again and again, “What’s your goal?”

Here is the good news: a great research will lead to an innovation. After we develop our critical thinking and visions, we have a chance to formulate our own originality and novelty. It is now possible for us to be a pioneer, the one who opens up a new way and make a breakthrough or ground-breaking research in the particular field of interest. We have seen that the rapid development of technologies, say in electronic devices (like smartphones or computers), is always driven by innovation, developed through research, and initiated by vision. In other words, without critical thinking and curiosity there would be no vision; without vision there would be no research; without research there would be no innovation; without innovation there would be no advancement/progress. It is now true what the Bible says:

Where there is no vision, the people perish.

(Proverbs 29:18, KJV)

Interestingly, to have a vision, oftentimes we should be able to see the unseen. It is our faith that will determine the “size” of our vision. As I heard someone says, “The eyes of our head give us sight, but the eyes of our heart give us vision“, it is actually important for us to develop faith, not only logic or human reasoning, in doing research and dealing with problems in life. We are to use not only our head, but also our heart.

On a side note, I believe that we should not have an “anti-criticism” attitude in our minds. A good governance should embrace critics if it desires to progress. Otherwise, the nation will suffer due to its corrupted government (which can’t tolerate any critics and refuse to change or innovate itself). As a final remark: a nation will be blessed if the people are passionate in research.

Vancouver, February 28, 2018

The Life Lessons from Research

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