Holly R. Zink, Children’s Mercy Hospital
Creative Curiosity and Tinking like a Researcher
Every day, Research Administrators demonstrate creative vision, professional ability, and ethical standards to provide leadership and promote research project management. Tere is an opportunity for research administrators to think and act like any other scholar, and this includes sharing our knowledge through publication. While administrators are used to playing the role of a project manager, we must also become accustom to playing the role of a researcher by sharing best practices through the research administrator community. The Journal of Research Administration provides a scholarly venue to share your findings and expand the knowledge of our profession.
Who among us has not asked whether this or that research project is a meaningful one? Who has not wondered—on a sleepless night during a long stretch of dull or taxing work—whether in the end it all adds up to anything? Meaningful work must feel meaningful and be worthwhile; both valued and valuable. This applies to research administration and the various research projects that all our time and spend our energy. A meaningful research project must, in some sense, feel worthwhile. The team conducting the research must be excited and absorbed by it. However, for a project to be meaningful, it must also be worthwhile. As a modern philosopher famously stated, “Engagement in a life of tiddlywinks does not rise to the level of a meaningful life, no matter how gripped one might be by the game” (May, 2011). However, value is only obtained through shared understanding. Without fully understanding the nature of research, how can you ever and its true value? And by reflection, your own value within the profession of research administration? What is called for now is an approach to thinking about the meaning of research administration that can draw us together, one that exists alongside the scientific and academic tradition (May, 2011).
Transformative research is more likely to result when a research administrator thinks and acts like a research scholar in the field of research administration. However, not all research administrators are trained in research methodology, and many come from backgrounds not steeped in scientific or academic traditions. Research is simply the pursuit of understanding, explaining, or predicting unknown phenomena. In short, it is the study of applied curiosity.
All scientific methods and scientific thinking are framed through the lens of metaphor—symbols we attach to bundles of meaning that we hold and share with those around us. Scientists, just like every other line of work, invent concepts or constructs to think about and communicate abstract ideas. These concepts are used at the theoretical level to explain and put a framework around research programs and projects. By understanding the basic concepts or theories that scientists use to frame their research, administrators can begin to understand both the work that is being done currently and the broader context of a scientist’s lifespan continuum of research.
Good research is based on sound reasoning—and both the scientist and the shrewd administrator alike practice thinking habits that reflect sound reasoning—finding the true facts, testing the connections between those facts and assumptions, and making claims based on the evidence provided. Making claims is the foundation of research because it gives us an opportunity to assess the truth or falsity of the relationship between our facts and assumptions. When we put forth a claim for discussion and testing, we are hypothesizing. “A good hypothesis is one that can explain what I claim to explain; is testable; and has greater range, probability, and simplicity than its rivals” (Cooper & Schindler, p. 55). Research is the structured exploration of reasonable potentialities—it is not left to chance, but is simply the exploration of the full range of capacities for sensing, wondering, learning, and understanding the world around us.
It is often only through creativity and curiosity that meaningful research is born. They are inextricably linked. Creativity requires the freedom of curiosity to consider unthinkable alternatives, and to doubt the worth of cherished practices within the academic field. To think like a researcher means stepping outside of how practices have always been done and stretching to see what might be possible tomorrow. It is well-known that Thomas Edison tried thousands of different experiments before producing a working lightbulb. Imagine if he had a research administrator with paperwork to document every experiment and cost transaction. Imagine the grant manager discussing the viability of the research at weekly meetings. Imagine the thousands of failed tests piling up in the corner. Imagine the sense of failure and worthlessness the team must have felt. And yet, Edison saw the meaning and value—he had the creativity and curiosity to envision light in a dark world.
As Research Administrators we often provide creative solutions to complex problems within our institutions. Administrators are used to playing the role of a project manager, but we must also become accustom to playing the role of a researcher with our own taste for curiosity and creativity. Strive for levels of curiosity that rival the stamina of Thomas Edison, and see where it leads you. We believe that Research Administrators can and should share those curious experiments and creative solutions through scholarly publication, and we hope that you continue to look to the Journal of Research Administration to do so.