Learn about lines of inquiry by studying individual researchers

One of the most challenges aspects for graduate students is learning various lines of inquiry. Inside every field of study are schools of thought, methodologies, theories, and research approaches for particular topics. How do you quickly and efficiently learn about a new topic? In today’s post, I suggest that you learn about lines of inquiry by studying individual researchers.

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When I have students that seek to learn about a new area of research, I often recommend that they look up an individual researcher that publishes extensively on the topic.  Often, I’m even able to give the name of someone to help get them started.

I recommend pulling the researcher’s CV and reading all of their publications on a topic. 

This approach offers four benefits for students:

1)  See their evolution of thought

One of the benefits of examining a single researcher’s line of work is that you can see how they progressed. Research requires slowly building up knowledge and data to answer questions. Over time, as we learn more, these questions change. By studying a researcher’s work on a topic, you can easily see these changes and this can help your own thinking on the topic.

2)  Find others in the network

The study of a researcher’s work can also identify related researchers and studies to consider. For example, who do they collaborate with frequently? Who did they study with in graduate school?  Who do they cite?  All of these questions can help you identify the network of people engaged in studying your topic.

3)  Find related topic and areas to explore

When studying the researcher’s CV, you will find topics that, at first, you wouldn’t think about as related. However, in the context of a person’s overall research agenda, you will be able to see the connections. Maybe the context, theory, or method is different, but there is an underlying theme to the research. This is particularly helpful for students thinking about dissertation topics. You may find a line of inquiry that is well researched, but these related studies may reveal new areas to explore.

4)  Save time

While there are many other ways to learn about a new topic, I believe starting with studying an individual researcher is the best because it is the most efficient. There are hundreds of books and journals in your discipline and you can spent hours searching for the best work in the field. It is important for you to find this work and I believe you will by studying a researcher’s publications and particularly citations.

However, you can’t afford to waste too much time searching for things to read. You need to get right in there and start working. For this reason, I suggest the best approach is to learn about lines of inquiry by studying individual researchers.

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