In the commercial world, you have this problem that the amount of research you can do in a company is based on how well your current business is going, whereas there actually should be an inverse relationship: when things are going worse, you should do more research. – Alan Kay
I’m in the first few months of a PhD programme and trying to figure out what’s worth doing, what’s not and whether it matters. And the difficulty with these kinds of questions is that every answer you reach for is right.
For example – if you want to learn to write should you write every day? Yes. Should you only publish material when you know it’s ready? Yes. Should you show the world work in progress – a glimpse behind the workshop curtain? Yes. Should you make your research open so that others can examine your process? Yes.
You can’t produce good material in one sitting – that takes work and rework. But if you don’t produce something on a regular basis you won’t get the experience you need to be able to produce good work.
When you start looking into such questions there is no right answer. You have a mix of factors and no guarantee that you will get things right. Whatever choice you make, it’s very likely that there were better ones. But you’re stuck with the ones that you’ve chosen and the possibilities that open up because of those decisions. You learn in the world of decision making that there is no benefit in regret. You move on, leaving sunk costs behind.
In my research process I have challenges that look like these:
- What to read
- What to extract and keep
- What to take notes on
- What to think about
- How to take notes and think – the medium, the method.
- Balance traditional methods and newer, perhaps more creative ones
- Try and see things from different perspectives
- Consider how approaches work for me
- Consider how approaches work in groups
- Work out what the important questions might be
What role does this blog play in that process – and, as you’re reading this, is what you are going to find something that’s worth your time?
I’ve tried a few things so far. Writing about what’s on my mind, what I’ve learned, pulling together a book project. Sometimes there is a thread, sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes I write about specific methods, and sometimes it’s writing about process, about the experience of method.
The one constant is that I sit down at roughly the same time every day to work on something that will be published when I finish typing these words. There is a clear beginning and an end and a time limit – and that helps with producing words. Making the rules of operation less clear or subject to choice will make it harder to do. But, of course, that also makes it harder to be clear on what is being done – what’s the purpose of this blog?
I don’t think I need to answer that right now because it fits into an emerging programme of work that I am still working to define and design. Perhaps it’s a reflective journal, a place where I write about things that I’m working on. Perhaps it’s a place for work in progress, first drafts that are later reworked. Perhaps it’s Zettelkasten, a partner in research, but it’s going to be a few years before we can work together.
All I can say right now is that there is no right answer. What you have to do is trust in the process.