Breaking down research stereotypes
April 2021 | 3 mins read
By Jeni Hsing
Fourth Year | Faculty of Science, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘research’? Is it a person in a white coat staring intently at a bubbling test tube? Or a khaki-clad archaeologist wiping the sweat from his brow in pursuit of a long-lost civilization?
Whatever it is, our perception of research often arises from what we have observed growing up. For instance, Jurassic Park is perhaps one of the most dramatic depictions of laboratory research. Unfortunately, real research doesn’t involve running away from bounding dinosaurs, as many of us have (disappointingly) come to learn. More often, it involves spending hours searching for just the right article for an assignment, waiting days for a lab experiment to produce results, or even fact-checking a historical drama. Here we will dispel some common misconceptions involving research, which will hopefully give you a better idea of what research is and the confidence to get your foot in the door.
Misconception 1: Research is conducted in a laboratory
Although this may be common in some fields of research, such as labs testing bacterial growth on a plate or conducting chemical titrations, research can be conducted everywhere. From holding a clipboard at your local mall to studying the breeding habits of penguins in Antarctica, research is never limited to the confines of a laboratory and can look drastically different, depending on its objective.
Misconception 2: Research is a solitary activity
For many researchers, many hours are spent alone in a library sifting through stacks of articles and anthologies. However, the idea that one should spend the entire process locked away is far from the truth. Effective research processes will often involve discussion and transmission of ideas in collaboration with fellow researchers.
When novice researchers take a solitary approach, they can often miss out on significant learning and networking opportunities. As it can be said for many aspects of life, teamwork indeed makes the dream work.
Misconception 3: Researchers agree about what constitutes effective research
Methods of research differ drastically across academic disciplines. A clear example of this would be comparing a psychologist’s investigation on the effects of childhood in later adult life and a microbiologist studying antibiotic resistance. However, even within a single discipline, there are conflicting ideas about what ‘good’ research entails. ‘Good research’ is sometimes striving for objective truth, though oftentimes it could simply be an individual’s informed perspective on certain social or cultural issues. To further complicate things, the definition of ‘good research’ may change over time as we develop new technologies and learn more about the world. Therefore, effective research comes in many shapes and sizes, and there isn’t one ‘best’ method for carrying it out.
Misconception 4: Research is not related to everyday life
Some research articles you may have read focus on narrow topics involving technical knowledge and dense paragraphs. However, not all research has to be difficult to understand by an everyday audience or be unrelated to everyday concerns. The majority of articles are directly related to us and the unique lives we lead. What can be more important to our everyday life than reading about the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, or the university’s assessment of the overall satisfaction of their students? The life that we experience now and the advancements we have made are all possible because of research. However, there is a growing concern in the increasing inaccessibility of research, particularly in science. You can read more about it in this 1992 paper or this press release.
Misconception 5: Research is only for people in science
One last common misconception of research is that it involves a scientist working with other scientists to solve a scientific question to the benefit of other scientists. Of course, this is far from the truth. Research is not limited to any one discipline; research opportunities exist for you, no matter the field you are interested in.
Events and programs hosted by URO bring opportunities for students in all faculties to get involved in research and we are always looking for representation across the academic spectrum. Here is a small list of helpful resources for non-science students that are interested in getting involved in research: