In today’s research-driven world, we’re very much connected to different social media platforms and professional networking sites like Impactio or LinkedIn. And it’s not as if we’re checking these platforms once a week. We’re constantly on them. Perusing to see what our colleagues are doing, people we graduated with, family members, and acquaintances.
Unlike the end of the 20th century, where the research was mostly completed in silos on the basis of affiliation with universities, laboratories, and government agencies, today research has become a sort of global phenomenon, whereby it is much easier to get involved with a research project through simply networking or remote working from across the globe. It’s also much easier to experience research envy. We see that reading up on articles that others post could expose us to new interests. Moreover, the Internet has ensured that we can find research material simply with the click of a button.
The impact of professional networking, specifically, has made research more appealing—more glorified and more impressive upon seeing it in the online space. One only needs to start researching the effects of climate change on Google Scholar, an academic search engine for peer-reviewed papers, to see how research collaborations across the planet have formed an understanding and consensus on this pressing issue.
The availability of such widespread research also prompts research envy for individuals who have innovative and ambitious personalities. Unlike normal envy of someone’s nice house or car, or award hanging in one's office, research envy is a feeling of discontentment or longing that we could be involved in research projects that others have got the chance to undertake. We see this missed opportunity and take it personally that we haven’t gotten to that point in our careers yet.
How Timing and Opportunity Play into Research Envy
Research envy is unique because there are many constraints that are placed on conducting professional research while being exposed to the research of others on professional networking sites makes us feel closer, and more involved with the world. This separation anxiety can make research practitioners often wonder why they haven’t embarked on a research project yet, or why others who seemingly have the same skills or background knowledge have made their claim to expertise on a topic we have been reading about for years.
Here are some questions that can help us address the more systemic reasons why research envy is happening:
· Are you in the right geographical area or region during the time of a crisis to report or interview people? How does the timing of research work?
· How much money do you have at your disposal to carry on an extended research process and how much are you willing to designate to the design of the project?
· Who in your network is unoccupied with tasks and is willing to be your research partner and give you full attention throughout?
· Do you speak the language and understand cultural customs in the area you’re looking to do research in?
These four criteria offer very real lessons to those experiencing research envy. Sometimes the envy happens not simply because we feel just as knowledgeable as someone else to take up an interesting research assignment, but more often because we can’t afford a flight and accommodation to go and interview someone, or because we are constrained by time and a lack of opportunity due to a language or cultural barrier. These constraints are very real and not often broadcasted on professional networks—you just see the finished product or experiment someone has conducted.
Understanding Constraints as a Learning Exercise
Understanding these larger and foundational questions should really serve as some inspiration for researchers to figure out the barriers or constraints that are preventing one from setting out in the first place. This involves reaching out to people in our extended network, being polite and humble, asking questions, and moreover taking a realist perspective on what needs to get done in order to go from research envy to research process.
In other words, we need to move from the academics view of the actual topic of concern to the vehicle we are going to take to be able to study it.
This rudimentary exercise is not about expertise in a subject, it is more about logistics and timeliness. How can you go about completing a research project in the next three months? What is your starting point and what is your ending point? How will you get the funds to embark and where are you going to cut costs to make your operation lean and efficient? Oftentimes addressing at least one of these questions will open up new doors and give a researcher a new perspective. This will serve as a new learning experience as well, and better equip researchers to deal with their real-world constraints.