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Update : 21 May 2015, 12:00 PM

For a fresh graduate, making the leap into the world of research can be a daunting task. Even though many of us have gathered invaluable research experience over the course of our academic careers, the transition from academic to applied research can be challenging. This article will shed light on some of the key lessons that I have learnt in making the same transition while working for the research team at the Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC) after completing my undergraduate degree.

Understanding the context

In research, it is very important to work with various stakeholders to understand the complexity of the issue and frame recommendations suited to the context. For example, at BYLC, I was working to draft a revised National Youth Policy (NYP) and Action Plan. In drafting these recommendations, it was not only important to look at empirical evidence, but also gain a deep understanding of the multitude of interests of various stakeholders within the youth development space. Understanding the context is of critical importance in applied research, and the researcher must develop a sense of “situational awareness” to be able to connect the findings of the empirical study to the big picture.

Thinking analytically

While doing research, the ability to think logically and independently about complex issues is of the utmost importance. For example, when conducting a comprehensive literature review, a researcher has to develop a process for quickly vetting journal articles and relevant literature to make sure that they add to the narrative of the larger write-up. Without such a process, a researcher can spend a lot of time reading articles that are irrelevant and tangential. The job of a researcher can be akin to looking for needles in a haystack. In that endeavur, it is critically important to exercise analytical thinking to sift through a plethora of information and converge quickly on the pieces of evidence that are the most compelling.

Cultivating attention to detail

A good researcher should have an immaculate sense of attention to detail. This can mean cross checking references repeatedly to make sure that they are correct, proof-reading a write-up several times to rectify errors, and sanity checking models to ensure that they are properly set up. In my own sphere of work, I have been managed by research supervisors who were very focused on attention to detail. Although at first, their attitude might have seemed a little intimidating; I quickly realized that their approach was actually helping me develop my ability to produce accurate and high quality work. Attention to detail is definitely something you can develop with practice and dedication, and it can pay big dividends over the course of your research career.

Developing teamwork, project management, and networking skills

Some of the most important lessons you can learn for your professional growth and development include: being able to handle your project responsibilities; maintaining good relationships with your colleagues; and ensuring that you keep in touch with your connections through LinkedIn/email. You also need to develop the tenacity for project management with your team members to make sure that you are making progress every day. Imagine if you are rowing a boat, you have to depend on other rowers to move forward. Similarly, a research team also has the same kind of interdependency. Every member in a research team is dependent on their colleagues to complete their deliverables on time so that the project itself meets its deadline. So, you need to do your job! Furthermore, if you have research interns and other young researchers reporting to you, you know that you just cannot let down your team. Hopefully, as a result of all your hard work, you can earn a credible reputation in the research community for your excellent work! Your reputation will follow you and help you expand your network.

Complying with ethical standards

 Regardless of which professional field you are in, you have to ensure that you are upholding a high degree of ethical standards, and that your work product is unbiased and transparent. For example, all the researchers for the NYP were aware of how to comply with data collection best practices and build control mechanisms to ensure that surveyors could not fabricate data. This enabled us to create unprejudiced, evidence based, and nationally representative findings that in turn guided the drafting of the policy document.

Tasfia Zaman is a research assistant at the Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC). She is a graduate of Smith College in Massachusetts, USA




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