Dr Itumeleng Khumalo
Based on the article included in the last issue of PsyTalk by Dr Angelo Fynn, entitled “Tips for Novice Researchers”, I have developed seven basic principles that I believe young researchers should strive to follow, namely:
- Respect for leaders – There are number of ways through which the many variations of this principle can be fulfilled. In the first instance, find a mentor or role-model. Often in the beginning mentors come in the form of supervisors, colleagues and lecturers, but these specific relationships may be short-lived and limited to the period of study. If you are going to choose a mentor, do so based on not only the characteristics you admire or wish to emulate, but those that ensure effectiveness and sustainability. Even more importantly, you should discover who the leading researchers, theorists, thinkers, and pioneers in your area of choice are and follow their work closely.
- Respect for data – Beyond the knowledge of the literature and the ability to critically present it in your research, the more important component is the scientific rigor that you should bring to your research through the use of sound methods and data analysis techniques. This is true for both qualitative and quantitative research. Good data collected in the best possible ways, under well-controlled conditions, is paramount to the production of worthwhile knowledge. The inverse is also true where carelessness in the data collection and analysis phases can be very costly mistakes, and in fact unethical.
- Respect for ethics – The issue of ethical conduct in research permeates through every action of the researcher and can lead to the advancement or stagnation of a research career. Ethical practice includes the manner in which you work with your participants; this involves the core values of respect, scientific rigor and integrity, justice and beneficence. Consistent and accurate citations as well as the reporting of results is thus of the utmost importance to a good investigation. When this is done well, the researcher can easily be satisfied that he/she has demonstrated integrity and honesty.
- Respect for text – Writing is a practiced skill consistently developed by reading and through the practice of writing. Some people recommend structured and rigid practices such as always writing in full sentences, and allocating time to write every day, among others. I support these good writing habits and would encourage that it is better to start with these practices early in your career rather than needing to unlearn bad ones later. The value of well-written and well-edited pieces of work cannot be overemphasised. Such well-packaged work) not only demonstrate respect for your reader, but self-respect as the author.
- Respect for yourself – Sadly, the neglect of self-care is a common occurrence among even some of the most seasoned researchers. The bottom line is when you manage your well-being better, you will in fact be more productive. Optimal research demands a healthy and happy researcher. Therefore, whatever it may be that you need to do to maintain an optimal level of well-being and vitality – do it!
- Respect for order – It is critically important to be organised. This sense of order applies to everything: time, correspondence, data, writing, and all other components of the research life. The principles of project management may also be helpful here. As tasks and demands may become overwhelming, some people may find the help of organising software such as Evernote useful. With or without fancy software, it remains the researcher’s responsibility to make sure that he/she is organised.
- Respect for focus – Lastly, it is important to choose a specific and focused content area, and to stick with it, develop depth and progressively become an expert in that area. This should not be the case with methodology. Gone are the days when a researcher identified themselves on the basis of their methodological approach. The current and future world of work demands sophisticated researchers who are able to respond to complex societal problems with methodological pluralism and pragmatism. Therefore researchers should work on developing appropriate methodological tools to respond to presenting problems and research questions, rather than panel-beating observed problems to suit the methods they prefer.