Sunday, September 10, 2006

Why I'm afraid to do research

Specifically, what I didn't realize was how much my confidence in my ability to do research had been blown to smithereens and scattered to the four winds.

New Kid on the Hallway: Minor epiphany

I have no confidence when it comes to research. New Kid, thankfully, has regained hers, but me, not so much. And yet, I'm plugging away at my dissertation anyway, as if I had all the confidence in the world.  I mean, really, what else am I going to do?  But, I think my fear of research keeps me from even considering a faculty position. Because what if they ask me to do *real* research? Then what? They'll know that I'm just talking out my butt.

I think there are lots of reasons for my fear. First, and foremost is that I'm now in a field, a very loose field, that I wasn't formally trained in. My dissertation is in Composition and Rhetoric, but all my research training in literature. Even in literature, I found research somewhat overwhelming. What if I missed something? What if I'm just saying everything that everyone else has said for 100 years?  There's just so much to read. 

I have kept up pretty well with comp/rhet research and of course, have read lots more since starting my dissertation. But I again often find myself feeling overwhelmed. I especially feel overwhelmed when I feel like I have to recap the entire research background on topic x before I can even begin to speak for myself. I hate that.  I find myself thinking sometimes as I'm writing, is there research on this particular point? Did I look?

And worse, there's the quantitative part of my research, which I have *never* done, never had a class in.  I've read plenty of articles based on quantitative research, but never been trained in how to do it. So, I had to read a bunch of books about it instead, and thankfully, I had a colleage from the social sciences help me determine what kind of statistical analysis would be useful. Otherwise, I would have been screwed. I also didn't know how to write that stuff up, so I struggled. I read models of papers or book chapters that had similar studies. I Googled. And then I forged ahead anyway.

Basically, I'm always worried that I'm doing something wrong, like the kid who isn't sure what the rules are and goes ahead and plays around anyway, but with the nagging fear that she will be punished any minute and not be sure what for. It's not a good feeling.

And then there's the informality of my voice.  My writing is only slightly more formal in my dissertation than it is here. I don't use big fancy words. I feel pretty confident about this most of the time, but then I'll see a "dialogic" thrown in somewhere in something I'm reading and I think, man I don't use that word. Am I gonna get dinged for that?

And then, there's the practical bent of what I'm doing. I'm not a theory person. Although I'm defining a new approach in my dissertation, which is based on a theoretical foundation, my main intent is practical. I want people who read my dissertation to get some new ideas for teaching and to appreciate that they're based on sound pedagogical principles, both from the realm of writing and from the realm of education more broadly.

So I feel like I'm always doing something wrong and that my research isn't real because it's practical and not theoretical and I present it too informally. And while I'd like to call myself a maverick for breaking down some kind of research hierarchy, the truth is, I just feel like a fraud.

I ignore this fear most of the time because if I didn't, I'd never do anything, much less write a dissertation. But one day, I'm going to face this thing down. I just don't know how right now.

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