For many, the thought of research is ‘scary’, whether reading it or conducting it. Many degrees often involve the need to understand articles, the results they present, and the validity and reliability of these, to be able to appropriately formulate arguments within assignments. Further, degrees frequently involve conducting your own research, whether that be on a smaller level for an assignment, for an honour’s thesis, or even masters or PhD dissertations. As a PhD researcher myself, I think it is important to acknowledge and normalise these concerns and fears as they often remain no matter the stage of career or level of experience! The following is a list of some things that make the idea of research a little bit spooky.
If you are not statistically or mathematically inclined (much like myself, honestly) this might unsurprisingly be one of the most scary components to research. When it comes to deciphering research, terms like p-values, correlation coefficients, ANOVAs and the like can be overwhelming. Even when qualified to conduct research, these aspects are often still a major cause of stress, concern, and uncertainty in the field. The biggest learning point to note (and point of reassurance for me) is that it is completely acceptable, and often expected, that there will always be more to learn and develop in this space. Statisticians and other experts play a really key role in this development and ensuring that your research is sound for publication.
Particularly relevant when you are a student researcher is the constant feeling of being an imposter in this space. This is something I am very much akin to. Lack of experience, not feeling qualified to do it, or worrying it is not high enough quality to be deemed ‘good research’ are some of the intruding thoughts. Unfortunately, these thoughts can lead to reduced work output, stress, feelings of anxiety and depression, and considerations of giving up. There are always so many facets within research and they differ constantly from project to project, or even within a project from day to day, which compounds these feelings.
One of the more common spooky sides of research, particularly noted in earlier years of undergraduate study, is plagiarism. I am sure we have all had it drilled into us not to plagiarise in our assignments and how to cite information properly to ensure we are not doing this, but it most definitely still occurs! In my experience of marking assignments across various undergraduate levels, I have come across numerous examples of plagiarism that were quite blatant and thus referred to SACO. The gravity of this didn’t set in until I became an author on a published article. It is quite a confronting thought to think that the ideas I helped produce might be getting used without adequate acknowledgement. Although this isn’t really a concern so much in terms of assignments, it is certainly still a possibility in more published manners.
It is quite terrifying to realise that there are people out there who attempt to publish intentionally fraudulent research. Whether this be completely making up data, changing data, establishing hypotheses following the collection of results, or anything far and in-between. It is scary to realise that this has and does happen, whether for financial gain, career progression, or anything else you could envision. You may have heard somewhere that ‘vaccines cause autism’. Anyone who knows much about statistics/research would feel a little uncomfortable just from the causal statement here, but this belief didn’t stem from thin air. The idea that vaccines cause autism was the unfortunate product of a fraudulent paper that was published and became quite a hit. Unfortunately, the main author had financially vested interests in the outcome of the paper, thus falsifying data to suit the story that would fit this goal.
From a career perspective, one the most disconcerting aspect of research is the reality of the career. Only a couple years into my PhD and I am realising how exhausting the realities of this work can be. Work is often quite persistent, never really feeling like you can tick everything off. The hours are often incredibly long and there can be unexpected components to the work that really increases workload. Within a day or less you may go from 0 to 100 emails! The teaching and marking is another component that can really drill into time (but I must admit this is a component I thoroughly enjoy) if you pursue an academic research career. Supervision, meetings, grant writing and the like all add up to commitments and result in frequent work overflow.
Despite the components that instil a little bit of fear into researchers and the consumers of it, it is such a rewarding pathway and one that I have no regrets in pursuing. If you get the opportunity to conduct research yourself, I would highly recommend it! It is such a rewarding process with such valuable skill development despite the scary moments.
Hello! My name is Tegan and I joined the Opus team in 2021 as an outlet to escape my PhD writing. I am yet to find my niche category, but you can probably expect pieces about postgraduate life, creativity, psychology, literature and all things cute and fuzzy. Outside of Opus and my PhD, I am also a peer mentor, team leader, tutor, and sessional academic (so you might just see me in class sometime!).