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Eureka! - Love and Research
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Eureka! - Love and Research


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An essay on research as the ultimate actualization of learning.

An essay on research as the ultimate actualization of learning.

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  • 1. Sean Weigold Eureka! 1 There are many changes associated with growing older. Smooth, unblemished skin becomes coarse and stained with scars. Childlike wonder at every new sensation dulls as the river of time washes it smooth. Yet, some things seem to persist untarnished by time's flow. While the aging process has shaped me in many ways, a part of me remains the same as the day I was born: my passion for learning. The prospect of personal growth compels me to rise every morning. Numerous often-jumbled thoughts accompany me to bed each night. Ideas percolate while I sleep, simmering, mixing, breaking apart, and recombining in haphazard ways. Growing my mind, body, and that intangible element sometimes referred to as a “soul,” is the driving force behind my every action. If passion begets love, then research is my muse. Is love too strong a word to describe my feelings for something as dry as the process of scientific inquiry? Some would say so. Am I just a romantic? I attest that I simply know her better than they. From the scientific method springs new knowledge, the life blood of our existence, making all other things possible. Science and art are not as dichotomous as is the common perception. Rather, each draws upon the imaginative powers of curious individuals with a desire to generate novelty. The distinction, if there is one, is that the work of the artist reaches audiences emotionally, whereas that of the researcher connects along the intellectual path. To be more specific in my exultation, I love research because it is the ultimate actualization of the learning experience. Producing quality research is only possible after becoming an expert on a topic. It is the fruit of a long, often arduous journey. The fruit is sweet, succulent, and always novel. The reward of a successful research study is a never-before-seen contribution to the world, a creation that outlives its mortal creator, and capable of withstanding
  • 2. Sean Weigold Eureka! 2 time itself. While it is eventually highly rewarding, research is a lengthy process with many trials. However, each step is uniquely enjoyable. From choosing a topic, to sharing results, the desire to know drives me to seek answers. Completing stages provides intellectual sustenance, helping me maintain strength when confronted with obstacles. 1. Deciding on a Topic The research process begins with the selection of a topic. A topic can be very broad, but it encompasses a question, and is the soil from which a thesis statement grows. As a student of many, often eclectic interests, this step can present a roadblock. I seem to always come across innovative and valuable ideas, and quickly become excited at their prospects. At this very moment, off the top of my head, I could probably name a dozen such projects that I have yet to fully capitalize on. Thus, in this stage it is important to be able to quickly sort the wheat from the chaff. One way of accomplishing this is by identifying the union of my level of interest in the topic, the seriousness of the problems that require addressing, and the resources necessary to explore it. The relationship between these conditions can be understood using the project decision diagram below.
  • 3. Sean Weigold Eureka! 3 For example, I am interested in social media. Several months ago, after much observation, I began to wonder how well trends on Twitter could predict the outcomes of socially-driven events. Based on my observations, I saw the opportunity to measure the volume of tweets by moviegoers around the releases of new films. I hypothesized that a variable composed of the number of tweets containing certain key phrases about each movie would accurately predict box office revenue for that film. My level of interest in the project was moderate in comparison to others at the time. Aside from my labor, resource requirements were small. The value presented by the project was low in the short-term, but had the opportunity to increase over time. I invested some hours of work in the study, but eventually abandoned it in favor of more important ventures. As it turns out, my hypothesis was correct. HP Labs conducted a similar study and found
  • 4. Sean Weigold Eureka! 4 Twitter to be a highly accurate predictor of box office revenue. Rather than feeling disappointed, I was excited that my intuition had been right. I know now that my idea is valuable enough to merit investigation. I believe that my slightly different methodology would have made their research even more meaningful. Should I decide to revisit this topic, I now have a useful paper from which to gain insight. Essentially, the hardest work has already been completed. Far from deterring me, their study has increased my interest, reduced the necessary resources, and increased the value of my own exploration. 2. Developing an Overview of the Topic Gathering background information on a topic is one of the most important steps in research. In this stage, a final topic is defined and the skeleton of a bibliography emerges. This is probably my favorite step of the research process. I am an avid reader of many topics including psychology, marketing, public relations, personal development, health and fitness, technology, and humor. The aforementioned are very broad, and I consider myself an expert, or at least competent, in many niches that fall within them such as leadership, web development, online advertising, and search engine optimization (SEO). I spend several hours every day reading articles written by the major influencers in these fields. After so much reading, I sometimes feel like a “knowledge sponge,” constantly absorbing information from all directions. Every so often, I become saturated and need to wring out the pulp of what I have learned. To do this, I begin writing. From within my writing emerges the seed of an idea that has grown over time. Like a magnet, it has attracted relevant particles of information until it finally reached a critical mass. The words on my laptop screen quickly began to take meaning. My mind races too fast for my fingers, as I desperately try to recall the source of the facts suddenly emerging. Despite
  • 5. Sean Weigold Eureka! 5 my fervent clicking (or perhaps because of it?), Google seems to take minutes to finish loading. My fingers race across the suddenly-too-small keyboard entering keywords before they fade from my iconic memory. Enter. Is that the article? Click, no, backspace. Result number two; aha! My eyes scan the page, and I am suddenly filled with a sense of familiarity. My mouse flies to the navigation bar hovering over the URL. Click, Control+A, control+C. I swing the cursor to the bottom of the screen. Click, swing, control+V. Success! That's one. Now, what was I doing again? While I really enjoy the “light bulb” moment of the second step, this unorganized method of outlining a research project draws only a very rough picture of what the end result will look like. However, it provides direction, shows the strengths and weaknesses of the idea, and creates the foundation of the third step: determining the project's information requirements. 3. Determining the Information Requirements This stage in developing a research study is often the lengthiest. Trying to contain the scope of the project is not easy. Topics exist on a continuum of categories, subcategories, and niches, connected together in a clumsily hierarchical web of complexity. I have found that categories are not a particularly useful method of clarifying topics. A better way to understand them is to look at each topic as an object with non-directional relationships to other objects as can be seen objects in the ebusiness diagram below.
  • 6. Sean Weigold Eureka! 6 Partitioning subjects means losing potentially important information. This is especially difficult for me because I always seem to find the peripheral subjects infinitely interesting and thus somehow relevant. In this stage, I can no longer read haphazardly, my personal preference; I must must be purposeful and directed. Choosing to limit the scope of a study can feel like taking apart a complex piece of machinery. Sure, it can be split up and the insides analyzed, but how useful is a stereo without speakers, or an airplane without wings? For that matter, will I even be able to put it back together again? 4. Organizing the Information While organizing collected information, automated systems and tools save hours of frustration. Without a rigid structure for this stage, things can quickly become chaotic. When I first went through the full research process as a Freshman in my Statistics and Research Methods
  • 7. Sean Weigold Eureka! 7 class, “fun” is not a word I would have associated with this organizing information. Sifting through printed articles, and the cyclical monotony of closing and reopening PDFs doubled the time required to generate a list of resources. Fortunately, I have since come across a tool: Zotero, that makes organizing information effortless, and even pleasurable. Being “organized” has never been my greatest skill. I enjoy designing organizational systems, but keeping things tidy has always been a challenge. Zotero fills in the gaps. For example, I recently came across an article by Google describing their audience measurement methodology. The article is an essential source for a research study on which I am currently working. With a single click, the article now resides on my computer. It is properly referenced with the author, date, and links included. With another click, it will appear perfectly formatted in my bibliography. Is it magic? Perhaps not, but it sure feels like it. 5. Analyzing and Evaluating the Information While step three may take the most time, step five could be the most difficult. However, there are wonderful moments within the stage that make it well worth the trouble. The most difficult thing to do during this stage is to be meticulous without losing sight of the big picture. While tools like Zotero still provide utility in stage five, tying together ideas means transferring them from my hard drive to my head, and actively manipulating them in consciousness. Once again, excess material must be eliminated (but what if I need it later?!), after it becomes clear that it isn't relevant (but it seems like it is!). I have found this step challenging in my current research project on online audience measurement. I have a sizable list of sources safely stored in Zotero, but some of the most important ones are only tangentially related to my research. I cannot eliminate them because they
  • 8. Sean Weigold Eureka! 8 contain vital information about the topic, but nor can I use them in their entirety. Integrating work from more than a dozen different fields is no walk in the park. Yet, occasional moments of bliss make it well worth doing. They come without warning when I suddenly see a link, a connection, or a relationship between two concepts that before seemed so independent. In those moments, my mind enters a state of thrilled curiosity. My paradigms of the structure of and barriers between concepts disappear. It must be like the first time a child sees that three straight lines set at different angles can be used to create the letter “A.” The lines are no longer just streams of ink; they are greater than the sum of their parts; they have meaning. 6. Synthesizing the Information If stage five is discovering that seemingly trivial slanted and curved lines can form letters, stage six is using them to write a sentence. It is in this stage that one actually conducts experiments, analyzes data, and reports results. Using the framework developed in stages one through five, the product of months of work finally emerges. I learned an important lesson about fully completing each stage while working on my current study on audience measurement. After coming upon a highly valuable, incredibly interesting, and easily accessible idea for a project, I tried to rush through steps two through five to immediately collect and analyze data. The result? A lot of backtracking. It turned out that while I had selected the right topic, and gathered and evaluated the right data, I had asked the wrong question! If I had proceeded on to step seven and shared my work, experts in the field would have at best ignored me, and at worst destroyed my credibility. Upon realizing my folly, I returned to stage two and now have a completely different understanding of audience measurement. There are no shortcuts in research. As my finger taps the keyboard, placing the final period at the end of a research paper, I
  • 9. Sean Weigold Eureka! 9 feel a wave of satisfaction pass through me. My body seems weightless. My eyebrows and the corners of my mouth float upward as if drawn by some invisible force. I am the only one in the world that has seen what I have just discovered; what a rush! 7. Presenting the Information Some see the synthesis of information in stage six as the end of the journey, but in some ways, it is merely the beginning. Research in a vacuum is meaningless. It has no utility. Knowledge is important because it allows us to make better decisions. Waiting to conduct a full research study before making a decision is ineffective at best; one would be better off simply making the decision with available knowledge. In essence, we conduct research so that other people do not have to; so that each time someone must make a similar decision, our study can be referenced. We share our findings through teaching; the culmination of the learning experience. Teaching others is a joy. Nothing compares to gazing back at hungry eyes, craving knowledge. I can almost see the little light bulbs switch on around me. Empathetic nerves activate, sending pleasurable sensations through my mind. As I have seen, so are they seeing. I reflect fondly on the little moments along the way when my own mind lit up with understanding. I wonder what that... A sudden bright light. Eureka!
  • 10. Sean Weigold Eureka! 10 References Mildred F. Sawyer Library. (n.d.). A research process: Steps in the research process. Retrieved February 25, 2010 from Suffolk University website: