Morenike’s guide to navigating the research process

Get some top tips for success as a student researcher at the U of A.



YouAlberta is written by students for students.

In the 2nd year of a Rehabilitation Science Masters’ degree, Morenike was born in Nigeria, raised in England and moved to Canada for university. She is passionate about research communications, knowledge translation and health literacy. She enjoys having dance parties, reading, listening, and blogging about faith, music, sports, food and travel.

Ever wondered what it takes to run and implement a research study?

Are you at the end of your rope and about to give up on your research efforts? After several unsuccessful attempts, are you thinking of quitting the world of research forever?

Well, this article is for those like myself that at some point, have gotten jaded by the research process.

This post is for those that are about to take part in research for the very first time and for those that are seasoned veterans running their own project as part of their thesis preparation. We can all do with a greater understanding of what research truly is.

"When the purpose of a thing is unknown, abuse is inevitable." - Dr. Myles Munroe

Research is the process of investigating a particular topic to gather knowledge and information about an unknown area within that subject. The issue is that we usually approach research with expectations and an idea of what we hope to accomplish and 'discover.' Sometimes, it doesn't necessarily work like that.

So what do we do when our hypothesis isn't falling in alignment with the evidence we are gathering?

Understand that a major portion of research is collaboration. No person or individual can do things all alone. Even the experts. The reason they are experts is because they have developed expertise in a particular area – but what about the other areas? Focus on the things that are in your control, and for the areas you know nothing about, be willing to ask for help and seek assistance. It doesn't make you less capable or less smart. In fact, it makes you wiser than most.

Collaboration within research is extremely vital. Unless you are at the post-doctoral level, each student still needs to collaborate and be guided by their supervisor to varying degrees (tips on selecting a supervisor can be found here). So, utilize your supervisors! Find out how they like to be communicated with and the best format to approach them in, either in person or via email and try to work around that. Engage them throughout every process of your research, and do not be afraid to ask questions!

This is an area that imposter syndrome might try and creep in, do NOT let it take a hold of you. Shake it off and keep it pushing. (resources 1, 2, 3)

Research can be extremely volatile, so be willing to pivot in your approach to things. The beauty of having a well-defined research proposal is that you have taken the painstaking time (to some of us, this is a major process), but it provides huge dividends in the end. Your methodological thinking will be evident when you hit roadblocks but are able to easily navigate them because you have systems in place and can easily think of alternatives to help you achieve your overall goal. There is a fine balance between seeing the big picture and paying great attention to detail. You have to be able to navigate that balance successfully as a researcher so that you don't get too frustrated but also do not become lazy in your critical reasoning.

Sometimes it is important to understand that research is the pursuit of knowledge. If something isn't working in a particular way, be willing and open to try something new. 

A popular saying goes, "insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result." Guess who has been guilty of this… me! 

The beauty of research is the opportunity to try different methods to achieve the intended result. 

Get clarity on topics you are not sure about. If you are scared to bring something up in a lab meeting or aren't too clear on what the direction from a meeting would be, send a follow up email to clarify your understanding of what is expected from you, and that way, you have their reply as a frame of reference. Do not think because you are carrying out research that, the full responsibility is on you, and you must produce the most insightful and groundbreaking piece of work. Yes, that is a goal –  but research is an additive process. Each piece of work builds on a topic and adds to the overall understanding and scope of a subject. Undergraduate, master's and even doctoral students still require supervision. So, do not be frustrated if you feel like you are relying on your supervisors more than usual. That is normal; that's why they are there!

On the other hand, do not exhaust your supervisors! They are very busy people and have very busy lives with academic commitments, family life, and so many other things. Utilize different resources, such as other senior students in your lab. Your fellow students can be a good sounding board for advice on things like methodology and the rest.

Please, please use the library resources! There was an article written on the library system here at the U of A, and we have such amazing staff that spend time every year creating and delivering presentations to students to inform them of this resource. You can connect with the library staff online if you are working remotely and seek their assistance with searching for online resources through the internet. You can also walk into any of the various libraries across the campuses and get one on one consultations with a library staff member. Whichever option works best for you, just know that there is an additional resource that can help answer some of your urgent questions.

Overall, we can understand that the process of performing research is in itself a much-needed skill. The ability to identify a problem, think of possible solutions, propose a solution and carry out the steps to gather data is such an essential human ability. Do not beat yourself down too much if things are not panning out the way you expected. There are several ways to get the intended result. Just do not give up!

Remember to take time to seek counsel and advice, be open to try alternative methods, use the resources that are available to you and most importantly…try to enjoy the process!

Useful Resource: Navigating the research process