The Research Mindset

Good researchers have certain key characteristics and manners. Bad researchers struggle to be proactive and curious in their studies. I explore both in this post.

Good researchers...

  1. Enjoy their work, perhaps a bit obsessively. They're happy to talk about their research with anyone.
  2. Enjoy asking and answering interesting questions. They're broadly curious and read across academic disciplines.
  3. Quickly and frequently shift between consumption (reading) and production (writing) modes.
  4. Make clear, well-reasoned arguments with appropriate levels of nuance. They attract attention without exaggerating their points.
  5. Pay attention to detail.
  6. Welcome constructive criticism.

A Common Problem

Many aspiring researchers have been blessed with good teachers and mentors. Yet they grow up spoiled with sources and information being handed to them on a silver platter. Even in college, professors are constantly holding their students' hands, offering office hours and comprehensive syllabi to ensure they're reading exactly what they need to succeed in the class.

The last line here—"Seek them out, don't expect knowledge to come to you"—inspired this post.

Real research does not work this way. You won't have a syllabus that clarifies what sources to use. Your research director might help out in the beginning, but you need to quickly catch up and make yourself useful. You otherwise risk becoming a burden instead of an asset.

I've seen many interns and RAs have trouble here. They aren't used to acting proactively. They'll read and read and read until they realize that they've been reading semi-relevant but generally useless information. They shy away from chatting with colleagues or reaching out to experts.

They read and read and read until they realize that they've been reading semi-relevant but useless information. They fail to act proactively—to chat through questions with colleagues, reach out to experts, or really think about what resources they can use to conduct their research.