How Research Terrifies Me & How to Own It!
You see, most of us who embark on a journey of becoming an engineer, not often set off with the idea of pursuing research as a carrier. The ideas of research can feel intimidating, as we often think about research and especially researchers as a collective of geniuses. Geniuses talking about things so precisely, in-depth, and especially in fascinating ways that at first can only seem like a whirlwind of nonsense.
When I first did research I was terrified. Research puts you in a place and perspective where you feel like the tiniest and most clueless person. Research is often so seemingly specific and made up of a billion acronyms and ideas. As you listen they will only make you confused and feel all so lost. Especially doing research as an undergraduate student at first will make you feel like you don't know anything, and you will never know anything. This also represents the ways society often talks about research, not even following the meaning of words, sentences, and feeling like a conclusion was never made, and what was said is either fact or nonsense.
The reality is, however, that as much as the beginning can discourage you, it can lead you onto a new way of looking at your work, and life in general. When you first start research, you will know nothing. You will feel lost as your professor/supervisor is talking about, what to them seems like the most basic idea. That is partially because you are meant to know nothing. Think about how much information humans are aware of. Imagine the billions of discoveries that have been made in the human race's run. Then, think about just how fast the world changes around us. Then multiple the change with the discoveries, leading to, you guessed it, even more, potential knowledge, discovery, and especially a mystery.
Embrace just how lost and clueless you feel. The more you can embrace it, the more you can live up to it. Not knowing has no shame and trust me, anyone doing research will understand. No one starts out knowing, and it will take time, patience, and most of all commitment, to learn. However, this idea of having no limits will keep your fascination and interest high.
The same thing, that will always make research, in its essence feel so clueless, is also the same way it will keep you engaged. Research is not like having an everyday job. Doing research means that questions, even when leading to answers will lead to a billion new questions. It will never have an end or stopping point. It leads to a whole new world, within worlds. There is always a sea of new horizons, and a sea of new whats, hows, whys, and most importantly, whats ifs.
The moment you allow yourself to embrace this aspect of research is the moment you will learn to love it. You are meant to feel clueless, in order to understand just how fascinating and new our world can always be. You can only overcome it, by embracing it.
When it comes to research, sometimes the cluelessness, this feeling of a neverending task can feel exhausting and tiring. Take a moment, to always remember why you chose the path you did. Remember the excitement and fascination you have once felt when hearing about it. Hold on to this cloud for harder times.
When you start on a new project, or even when just listening to someone else in your lab/group/ etc. talk about their research, take notes. This being especially true when you are starting out. Take notes, even of just acronyms, and as you get in front of your computer, research them. Stay up to date about the new, the exciting, the very confusing. This will allow you to understand more of the world in which you have found yourself.
Ask the 'dumb' questions.
I know. It can be terrifying to ask questions, and I know just how much easier it is, to say this than do it. It can be terrifying to ask questions that might make us already feel like they are dumb questions. However, there are no dumb questions. If anyone ever tells you that your question is dumb, or looks down on you for not having a piece of information, is not the type of company you want to have. No one starts out knowing anything. Those who forget just how clueless and lost they used to be, are not in the right mindset. However, have no fear, most will understand that you are new to something, and showing your interest, drive for understanding will be all that matters!
When it comes to the world of research, it can often feel cold, serious, and lonely, as we are raised to believe that research is this genius world of magic. Don't ever trust that idea. Research is one of the most international, welcoming, and rewarding experiences you can have while finding your way, especially in STEM. So just go and try it! I promise you, you will learn and grow a lot from it! It's also one of the best ways to get around the good old internship fright!