The Road to Research

Several months ago, I took up a Masters in Research course at my old University where I studied teaching. I am now almost towards the end of the course, writing up my Research Paper for submission in February 2014. Last week, my lecturer (whom I met when I was doing my teaching degree and we became friends ever since) contacted me to ask if we could do an e-mail interview of my research journey/experience for the new students coming into Research the next semester. I agreed immediately and we decided to write the e-mail interview in a form of playful script, so that it could be more engaging for the students. She has allowed me to put an edited version of the interview here on my blog, for any of you out there who would like to dip into the ocean of research. By the way, the information in this interview is intended for newbies to research, taking the first research subject of the course. I admit I am no experienced researcher in the field of education but the point of the interview was for a more “experienced” student to provide tips for the “new” students.

Q: It was great seeing you come back to do your Masters – what brought you to ‘research’?

It’s actually a very funny and long story…how I came to it. A number of things really, some trivial… some profound… that sort of all came together to make me decide to take up the Masters. I had initially enrolled in the Masters program in 2010 but when I was almost finished, I heard London calling and I really wanted the experience of teaching and working there. I couldn’t wait, (I am not the world’s most patient person) so I took the early exit of the Diploma of Teaching and moved over to the UK, knowing that I had 4 years to come back to Deakin to finish the Masters. During that time, I also made a trip to Malaysia to celebrate my grandfather’s 90th birthday with all my relatives. I remember this one night, when my Uncle, who is a very proud man that never stops boasting about his achievements, “proclaimed” to me and my mum that he was the FIRST one in the family (and we have a HUGE family, mum’s got 11 brothers and sisters and several aunts and uncles so you can do the Math) who has a Doctorate. No one; and he repeated this very clearly: NO ONE is a doctor in the family! Only him! And that was when I raised my eyes to the heavens and a little ultra competitive voice in my head said, “Well not for long…” and it started from there! A seed was sown! I had to finish that final semester of Masters so I can get my hands on a Phd! On a more serious note, aside from the competitive streak, the Masters in research strand appealed to me because of this unquenchable thirst for knowledge and challenge that I have. I like solving problems and I always ask “why?” (maybe overstepping authority? Yikes!). I also have this frustration with the current system of education. I am not the most experienced teacher but I don’t like what I have seen so far in my 3 years of teaching. There are a lot of issues (political, social and emotional) going on in education that sometimes make my blood boil so I am turning to research as a step to understanding/solving these issues.

Q: You have finished the first two units in the research ‘suite’. If you had the chance to go back to the beginning of your study in what, if anything would you do differently? 

It’s difficult to say… because everything is “clearer” in retrospect… but I think I was a bit naïve. Yes… naïve. Sometimes, and this is very typical of me, I am blinded by passion and the “fix-it” attitude that I can no longer see reality. I went into research not really KNOWING what research meant. I loved the idea of “finding solutions” or “understanding situations” but I did not know or understand what it involved: methodology, paradigms, theories, literature review (cue drumroll!!!!)… It’s like wanting to cook an ommelette without knowing that I needed to beat the eggs or chop the vegetables… if that is a good metaphor. I think you know what I mean. So I had to sort of learn on the fly. I met students who were using vocabulary that was alien to me: it took me an entire week to truly work out the meaning of “paradigm.” They all seemed to know what was going on and I, well… I was just aching to go straight to the research, not knowing I had to go through so many steps along the way. So if I could do it all again, I would have just given myself some space and time to actually READ and allow information to sink in. Slow down and don’t be so impatient. I was just all about the “doing”. I didn’t give myself time to browse through the resources online, to ask, to look at the “big picture” or look at the “overview” of research… familiarize myself with the terms and the language surrounding research, those introductory type things which some people probably don’t need. It depends what type of student you are… but I was literally a research virgin… If I had done all that preliminary stuff or maybe came into the subject with more of an awareness, then it wouldn’t have been so chaotic in the beginning! But then again, that chaos made my experience richer. So yeah… I don’t know… (shrugs)

Q: I know that you did this unit from the distance of the UK, how did you manage to keep yourself motivated and connected…

A good internet connection to gain access to the university library or any other resource sites. Nothing worse than a dodgy wireless connection and a landlady who has no idea how to fix it!!!!!!!!! Sorry, that was my little rant (awkward pause). Most of the motivation was intrinsic: I wanted to do it and the topic I chose really fired me up. I guess that’s it! (she clicks her fingers) That’s the answer to the question. How do you keep motivated? Choose a research question/topic/area that interests you. Actually, “interests” is not strong enough. Choose a research question/topic/area that engages you, makes you angry, makes you curse and you have to cross your arms or throw them in the air and scream: “THAT”S NOT FAIR!!!!” Yes, THAT is the type of topic that would make your research worth it and keep you motivated. I chose a question that related to a phenomena/issue that was gnawing in my gut for months when I was teaching in the UK, and the thirst for an answer or some kind of understanding really kept me going. Coming home to doing the research also gave me a good “break” from teaching and doing lesson planning classroom stuff. I remember when I used to have those long 12-hour days in the classroom… I would look forward to coming home and “relaxing” on my computer, reading the conversations, and various articles and jotting down ideas for my paper. I had a friend who rang me on Skype and asked me “What do you do for fun?” as a jibe at my long working hours in school and I told him that I “researched” for fun. Gosh, I’m such a nerd!

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