Researcher Ramblings: Researcher-Like-Thinking

So far I have focused on a researcher’s life. This new series of posts titled ‘researcher ramblings’, are my views and perspectives of my life as a researcher. This first post has demanded a lot of introspection!

I was on a nice vacation last week! Through all this free time and a lot of people interaction, I noticed that everyone around me approached things and interacted with the world differently. It’s intriguing.

Our life experience, people around us, our job, shape the way we interact with our world. Remember that friend you had who said a certain word in a funny way? Next thing you know, you were saying it like that as well! Similarly, if you are in a certain kind of profession, you typically had to train for it, and it slipped into your everyday life without you noticing it.

A while back, I was asked – ‘What if you decide to leave academia? What skill would your PhD have given you that you could use elsewhere?’
My answer was, ‘the ability to think in a critical way’.
At that point, I gave this answer and walked away. In this post, I’d like to explain it, particularly from the point of cognitive research.
Most cognitive researchers are trained in Psychology and Research. So am I. We understand how the brain works (as much as we can at this point of scientific advancement), and we know how to make scientific judgments. While this education is extended to everyone in this field, my post here is limited to my personal experience and a few observations around me.

The Researcher-Like-Thinking-Group
I observe that a certain group of people, including me are more cautious than others. Not in a shy, paranoid way, but in a way that they take longer to be surer of things. Lets call this group researcher-like-thinking-group, although not everyone in this group needs to be a researcher. Incidentally, most people I know from this group happen to be researchers, that I consider very good at what they do. So I started pondering if their work had an influence on their personality. Alternately, do certain personality traits get attracted to certain professions i.e., research?
In research, you don’t observe one thing and conclude. You need to have multiple observations of the same phenomenon, to a point where you can conclude something. And just because something co-exists, it doesn’t mean that one influences or causes the other. So for e.g., if this researcher-like-thinking group mentioned above saw me trip and fall, they wouldn’t assume I am clumsy (which I actually am!). Another person may assume this and would still be correct. But this group would wait to gather enough information. They would see if there was a reason to fall. They would see if it happens often enough. ‘Often’ itself would have to be determined by a frequency mark in their head. They would notice if I just fall too much or also break things, drop things, hit my arm on walls and so on. And IF, they found enough evidence (which they definitely would in my case!), without any significant contrary evidence, then they would attribute ‘clumsiness’ to me.
The Sub-Group
Talking about people, I feel this trait is even more intensified for cognitive researchers or researchers in Humanities or even animal studies for that matter. Let’s call these researchers a sub-group of the researcher-like-thinking-group. This sub-group realizes that there are always multiple factors in a situation involving living things, and that confounding factors are inevitable.

So when this sub group interacts with people they are always cautious not to judge on face value. They know from their research that even though you are studying one thing, there will always be influencing factors and confounding factors no one has noticed yet. So, if your friend is a cognitive researcher and you told him/ her that you had trouble with your partner, they would typically look at all the factors you are talking about (what you fight about and how you feel), look at the factors from your partners point of view, then factor in the fact that there would be factors no one has noticed yet, and thennn give a response. Talking to this sub-group of people is always insightful to me! Personal things get an objective look. There are no problems. Just hypothesis that need to be put to test.

First-Hand Information
Another characteristic of the broad researcher-like-thinking-group is bluntness of questions. While most people just infer and keep things to themselves, this group needs to verify for proof.

If they suspect you are in a bad mood, they will ask you if you are. If they suspect you are withdrawing from loved ones, they will ask you when was the last time you met with friends (or significant others). They don’t assume or guess much. And they definitely don’t act based on guesswork. I have actually had many instances where this group of people has provided me with just the social support I need – to talk, have ice cream, or just a hug, because they waited long enough and collected data on what I was feeling, and what I needed before acting on it. Again, I don’t think people outside this group give bad support, but I always find this group more insightful.

I’m surrounded by them…

I think I personally like to interact with people who belong to the researcher-like-thinking-group, irrespective of whether they are researchers or not. I also realize that a lot of people close to me are like this, again, not all researchers.

They collect enough information before deciding something. You can’t make a wrong first impression with them, because one impression is never enough for them anyways. Unfortunately for the film industry though, this also means that most of them wouldn’t believe in love at first sight (sorry!). I wonder if such an organization of thoughts is just a trait that is present in the general population and then refined further by research training. Hence, is more highlighted in researchers. They use this kind of thinking on an everyday basis. There is always some mark that needs to be met before a claim is made. It should satisfy an argument. It should meet a criteria. It should cross the .05 mark of significance. Even then, there is always scope for error. Even if you meet your alpha value of .05, it still means that 5 times out of 100, your judgement could be wrong.

Researcher Goals
I think an indication of a good researcher would be to extend this mental flexibility to everyday life and interactions with people.

If we collect enough data before deciding something, and if our mind is rigorous enough to know what criteria holds good for what phenomenon, we would have fewer defenses, more accurate worldviews and much better coping in our life.

If we can interact with people and things knowing that no matter how certain we are, there is always a 5 in 100 chance that this is not the case, we would be more at ease with the ambiguity of our world.

To know more about my life as a researcher, check out my previous posts 🙂

“I had Fun” – Why this line is so special to cognitive scientists.
Monday Morning Blues – A researcher’s monday morning blues come on any day! 😉
50 Shades of Research – Everything you will have to do…and more!
I have the…Moves? – Why this blog? 


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