The Six Senses of Researcher

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Humans are in the journey of understanding life. There are always things to ponder, questions to ask, challenges to face, and/or problems to overcome every day. I believe that basically everyone has an inherent quality as a researcher. Whether you are a business person, a sportsman, an entertainer, an artist, a politician, a farmer, a traveller, you name it – different people may have different research interests, but we all must research to thrive and survive. In each of those fields there is always room for curiosity-driven questions, which lead to improvements and innovations. That’s how we grow – by developing our knowledge and making a progress continually.

In our personal research, we are looking for “patterns,” “trends,” or “principles” that apply (or govern) in a particular system under specific conditions, in the midst of uncertainties or random behaviors of the objects under investigation. Sometimes, if not oftentimes, we have to set assumptions, simplifications, or boundaries to help confirm the validity of our approach or hypothesis. During the process of understanding, we will need to frequently ask ourselves why, how, what if, what for, what’s next, and the like – to discover truth and meaning. In my observation, researchers are often characterized by some qualities which are necessary to help improve their “performance.” There are at least six “senses” that mark a researcher from my perspective:

Scientist: investigating the roots of phenomena

If you enjoy making an observation, doing experiments, and trying to explain the why of things, then you probably have a characteristic of a scientist. It’s not only true for those who are studying natural or physical sciences, but also seems to apply for “social” persons. (In fact, you may have heard the fields of social science, political science, business science, or even sports science). This scientist’s sense encourages you to dig deeper into the roots of any problems or phenomena. For instance, you may be curious on things like how rainbows are formed, how music affects your brain and body’s health, how exercise and dietary habit affect your muscle growth, why some countries are prosperous while some others are poor, etc. When you ask someone about these kinds of questions, you would likely expect “mechanistic” or more “philosophical” answers to satisfy your minds. You demand the rationale behind the explanation.

Engineer: optimizing the efficiency and productivity of a process

It’s about how to make a process more efficient, meaning that you want to get optimum results with as minimum efforts as possible. In this regard, efforts can be energy, time, and/or money. If you are a type of “engineering” person, you would like to discuss about the how of things, which can be about design, improvement, optimization of your process or product. Your main concern is to develop a process/product that is cost-effective and energy-efficient, by trial-and-error and modifications based on the ideas of what if. Normally, you are more interested dealing with practical things and a stuff that has real applications (what for) in your approaches. Another prominent attribute of an engineer-type of person is the capability of resolving technical problems. If you notice any of your friends can fix electricity, machines, or internet connection problems very quickly, chances are you’re just surrounded by problem-solving-skilled engineers!

Journalist: storytelling the research to general audience

The ability to communicate your research to layman is very valuable. You will need to choose your words and construct your sentences carefully both in your written and oral presentations. A good story-teller will have a better chance to attract more audiences. You may want to tell your story systematically and persuasively – and avoid using offensive or bias statements as well as minor-but-frequent errors like typos or grammatical mistakes. It’s also important to keep humble and admit your limitations since you realize that your output is not perfect – even though you may also want to objectively disclose all the positive aspects or benefits in your “product.” Bottom line is to always feature honesty and integrity in your work. Believe that you can always deliver your messages or ideas effectively if you respect yourself and others. A good, concise summary of experimental results and findings written by a journalist-skilled researcher is usually easy-to-follow and provides a lot of meaningful information. No wonder if such work would later on have a great impact, indicated by a large number of citations.

Psychologist: mastering interpersonal and communicative relationships

This sense of psychologist is probably very much related with the sense of journalist. You know how to communicate effectively with different groups of people. It would be different to talk with your boss, with your colleague, and with your juniors, right? In your conversations, wearing different “masks” does not mean you’re not being genuine – sometimes it just means that you are using different “languages” which are more relevant and effective to one than the others. It is essential to master this art of communication because you have to deal with a lot of different personalities at your workplace. Bottom line is that we are to treat everyone respectfully, but not necessarily equally. Equity triumphs over equality. However, you’re most likely going to use this sense/skill, not only in your oral communications, but also in your written ones, for example when writing a cover letter for a journal publication or an e-mail to your boss. Remember courtesy!

Artist: embracing freedom of aesthetically authentic expression

Even if your research has nothing to do with arts, you may still consider artistic aspects in your work. It could be the way to express your uniqueness and authenticity. Moreover, if your presentation is attractive, then people will more likely pay attention to your work. This, of course, does not mean that you should emphasize “beauty” in your product. Both “content” and “packaging” are important, but your “customers” might be disappointed if they found the “content” was not as great as the “packaging.” However, some people might argue that first impression is very important and therefore they would put more efforts in “beautifying” their presentations/products. And some others might consider a complete work should have both scientific and artistic qualities – both the content and the packaging must be appealing. After all, arts is a universal “language” that everyone can enjoy and appreciate. I personally believe in the significance of “artistic sciences” as well as “scientific arts.”

Oracle: perceiving the current trends and anticipating the future events

Being mentioned last, this “futuristic” sense is, of course, not the least. In fact, this is the sense that will keep you up-to-date. This is also the sense that will bring novelty or innovation in your work, because you have an ability to predict what will happen in the future – and that’s why you don’t want to settle with the present. (Plus, if you are fortunate enough, you can be a pioneer!). Based on limited evidence you currently have, you are able to make a hypothesis on what is likely to happen next. For more scientific purpose, people may consider using a model or simulation in their approaches to make a better forecast. In the fields of engineering and even economics, people use mathematical modelling and analysis to understand behaviors of a system and propose ideas for future improvements. I find this oracle’s sense is very crucial, not only in the academic fields (i.e. science, engineering, business, etc.) but also in religious or spiritual subjects. People who can “see” the future are called prophets and their predictions are called prophecies. They claim to have received a “vision” from God regarding future events, such as the end of the world, the judgment day, the resurrection of the death, etc. Anyway, the accuracy of your forecast will determine whether or not you are a reliable researcher. Well, at least, if you certainly know about the future (what’s next), you will do your best in your present labors.

The Six Senses of Researcher
The Six Senses of Researcher. (Cover image design by author; background image is adapted from here)

Remarks:

In addition to these six senses, there is actually one more sense that is prevalent to a researcher. This is the sense that will help you stay organized. Since you have to deal with many different things at work, it would be great if you could develop a habit of writing down any ideas or information as soon as you get it. You’ll also probably have to meet with different people by appointment to make the most of your schedules. This is a sense of manager – you’ll definitely need it as a researcher since you will work with a lot of data and repetitions.

Alright, I hope you have now a better idea on what “makes up” a researcher. If you can relate to most of these characteristics, then you may agree that everyone, in essence, has a researcher’s sense regardless of his/her job title or profession. This implies that humans are naturally “equipped” with these six senses, only with different proportions for each individual – one may have, for instance, more apparent scientist’s sense while the other may develop stronger sense of artist, and so forth.

Please leave your comments below if you have questions, different perspective, or simply want to add something that is not yet mentioned in this article.

Thank you guys for reading! See you on the next post.

First written in June, 2018 and finished by August 2, 2018 in Vancouver.

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