What is my personal relationship to research?
I have not published research before, but my understanding of what it entails started in the late 1980’s. I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin and worked as a summer secretary with hypertension research doctors in Houston, Texas. My stepmother was a nurse and was able to help me find work with her hypertension research team working at M.D. Anderson Hospital. The doctors were both M.D.’s and Ph.D’s, and they did research through Baylor College of Medicine. While they did see private patients, they also ran ongoing controlled experiments with public volunteers using drug company sponsors. This was very interesting to me. Of course I did not understand a lot, but I was impressed by the laborious steps taken to ensure accuracy, anonymity, and validity in each study. I had learned about the placebo effect and saw that all the studies had to control for it. It was clear that the studies would take years from start to finish, and that they were overlapping. My stepmother, Dee, told me that many of the participants struggled to afford medicines for their hypertension and by volunteering, they were hoping for free relief. They all understood that they might be receiving a placebo, but they did it anyway.
This experience impressed upon me the critical nature of formal research; it could be used to improve and possibly save lives. I also wondered about integrity and outside influences, as sometimes the doctors and nurses might be taken to a lavish lunch by Pfizer or other drug companies. I was curious and observed the researchers closely….as people. They were not just highly educated and intelligent doctors. They were enormously curious, hard-working, patient, and doggedly tenacious individuals. Clearly, formal research was a serious and honorable undertaking.
Over the years, I believe I have often compared “research” to this benchmark life experience, and it often comes up short or just different. I try to be a critical consumer of educational research and any new information that I come across. I understand from my life experiences and readings on the nature of research that it is complex. It may have ideographic or singularly useful results rather than universally, (nomothetical,) applications. I would like to be a part of impactful research in literacy that can serve the greater good.
What is my informed definition of research?
I believe all good research starts with an important question that is in vital need of answers. The text, Reading and Understanding Research emphasizes the need to investigate the provenance of the research question to be certain it is “a legitimate object of study.” It is only after this is accomplished, in my opinion, that a researcher is ready to determine the type of research that is needed. At base, all research starts with an important question, and requires a rigorous, methodical process of research design, data collection, careful interpretation, peer review, and skilled public reporting of results. Reporting of any limitations to the research–design, method, or results, should be mandatory. Duke and Martin describe a multitude of research methods, including traditional experimental and quasi-experimental research. A curator friend of mine, (she works at the Owens-Thomas House in Savannah,) does historical research and prepares exhibits for modern audiences. So, there is just an amazing array of research methods, but they all start with a vital question and require rigorous processes that ensure accuracy, validity, and integrity.
An important component of my definition of research is complete transparency. That is, every aspect of the important question, experiment design, samples, procedures, results, (both predicted and not,) is shared objectively and with integrity. This is vital. In order to be valid, the commitment to transparency must include clear results that tie directly to the initial question. This also serves the larger commitment of a researcher to contribute meaningfully to his or her field. So, if unexpected results are found, those need to be shared. Perhaps that data will evolve into further research, or compel a refined design of the initial experiment. Either way, as a professor once told me, all data is good data.