I believe the first time I ever really got interested in research was accidentally. Up until my grad school thesis, yes I do realize I was a late research revelation bloomer, I would just do projects because I guessed that is what you just did in academia- do what you are told to without thinking too heavily upon why you are doing it. It was not because I didn’t care, was uninterested, or anything near to not understanding the purpose of schooling. I just trusted my instructors without a doubt. However, as I have learned as a professor, trust is not easily earned from some students and you have to show them why they should care about the things they are learning. While in grad school, I taught a bridge program where we instructed students in the NY Regents ELA exam and prepared them for their first semester of writing as freshmen in college during their junior year of high school. Teaching to the Regents seemed to clash heavily with preparing them for their first semester of college.
I had not realized this clash when I was a student myself because I was in the process and not outside it. The two ways of teaching were not going on at the same time, so I was not able to clearly see the stark differences because of this as well. So, for the first time in my academic career, I did something out of curiosity that was not clearly defined by an instructor. I wanted to do it for my current students at the time to discover why they reacted so adversely when I taught the Regents exam, but took to first year writing so well. Test taking, test preparation, and thus test pedagogy are somewhat enamored with teaching to a rigid end goal of a test and the outcome of it. Rigidity limits options, curiosity, and want of learning. Unlike myself, who thrived on being told what to do, most students thrive when they are allowed to wander and experience things to develop who they are as students, and this also applies to them as writers. My thesis focused on this clash of ideals.
From the research, I
1)Shifted the way I was teaching my hybrid class- I taught the Regents portions as I would a first year writing class.
2) Learned about my own difficulty transitioning to college writing.
3) I came to understand that options and freedom are more attuned to human nature. If all students are human, then they would yearn for this more than rigid expectation. I was an academic robot most of my learning career, but they would not be.
All of this set me upon the path of seeing writing instructions more than about words on a page, but more aligned with self-discovery.
From my thesis writing experience, I also learned how to expand options for research. The person mentoring me through the process used the words: no, you can’t, that isn’t an option, I don’t know, but this doesn’t seem right to me, etc. This further showed me that freedom is quite essential for research. When I would spend a month alone toiling away in an echo chamber of blissfulness centered around my own ideas, I was immensely motivated and happy. When I would meet with this mentor, who I was required to have through the process, I was miserable and felt unsure of myself. It took me about a week to recenter myself after those meeting to get back to focusing upon what I felt was the research that had and must be done. After that week, I was motivated, curious, and able to flow with work.
For my students, I never tell them (YOU CAN”T), I ask them (WELL HOW CAN WE DO THAT). I leave their research project very open to what they want/need to do. They can do it upon a topic that aligns with their major if they have one, one that they are interested in personally, or something we just riff about one-on-one. If a student doesn’t know what they want to do, I usually ask a ton of open ended questions to get them to where they feel comfortable and curious about a topic. Sometimes, students just ask to be told a topic. I honestly tell them that the project is large, research is tiresome, and you’re going to be bored if you don’t see yourself in the research. Mainly, research is about finding yourself in one way or another. Sometimes, it is finding your future self within a topic you will one day dedicate your life to. Other times, it is something you dabbled in your whole life, but never focused on academically. Research is more about finding yourself rather than information I feel. If you show students they are doing this for themselves and not for some unknown purpose or reason, they become so involved that they ask, “I know you said X amount of pages, but is it okay if I can do Y.” Usually, the only time students struggle to make page counts or to find research pieces for their topic is when they are uninterested or disconnected from the topic and they just choose a topic from Google after they typed in- good research paper topics.