In my month and change of being a research intern for NowSourcing, I have slowly climbed the learning curve from overwhelmed Googler to confident fact-finder. Prior to this job, the only research experience I’d had was combing databases, textbooks, and novels-hundreds upon hundreds of pages- for that single or handful of perfect quotes that would tie my thesis together. Just last fall, I found myself spending so much time researching and reading and annotating, that I had only two days left to write my final paper on outlaws, masculinity, and monstrosity in Robin Hood poetry and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance-the story, not the John Wayne movie. I could hear him saying, “Take it easy, Pilgrim,” the whole time.
My mistake then and throughout my college career was that I forgot or never heard-I’m not sure which at this point- the phrase “Eat the elephant one bite at a time.” I always approached assignments as huge burdens, one massive task that was gonna kill me by the time I finished it. Every so often, a light would go off and I had enough sense to stop, slow down, and break my class-load, essay, or project down into little, manageable bits. Sadly, the emphasis here is on “every so often.” I had lived by the lie that the only way to get things done, as a student and especially as a writer and a researcher, was to let the stress deliver me. The only way I thought a person could achieve anything was to be fretful, rushed, overwhelmed, and under a deadline. This followed me to my first week or so as a research intern.
I got my first assignment, plopped down in my desk, and buckled up. Falling into the same old cycles, I found myself googling like a madman and wondering what I’d gotten myself into. I had twenty or thirty windows open at a time, afraid to close anything and risk losing any viable facts, and putting the strain not only on myself but on my five year old Dell laptop. I did not know the tricks that now save me hours and hours of extra digging. I quickly learned that my methods were not going to work and I was not going to survive if I didn’t change my ways.
Over the past month, I’ve adapted and learned the ropes of real research skills and I’ve had an amazing and supportive team of veterans guide me along the way. As with the drums I’ve played since I was 14, all it takes is practice to hone talent and shed bad habits. I’m not a genius and I don’t claim to have mastered this, but I can say that the art and science of research is one I’m growing to understand more the more I do it.
I start a project knowing that no matter what, I will get it done. Sometimes, you’re researching a topic that you’re completely novice about and you have to decide if you’re going to let that scare you. If you lighten up, you might find yourself, I don’t know, talking about cryptocurrency to all of your friends who two weeks ago you would have considered experts and now might be asking you for market or security advice. Sometimes, you find the perfect statistic and want oh so bad for it to be legitimate and not from some sketchy blog or research group that will release their groundbreaking study for an easy payment of $9.99. Sometimes, you’ll dig a hole and get lost trying to find some report that will only serve a tangential point that will probably end up getting cut in the grand scheme of things anyway.
While I read as much as I used to when writing those last minute literature papers, I am now a far more intentional reader and writer, and I’ve learned how to hit these hurdles at full speed and keep moving. I’ve learned to trade every last bit of maybe-useful filler for the gleaned, lean details that will bring home the point of my infographic. I’ve learned to not worry too much about organization and making it look pretty until I have all the pieces of the puzzle. Then, I just make those pieces fit together and flow. I search the world over but I’m not afraid to leave something and come back later. I’ve learned the hard way to save every source as I go, the ones that seem crucial and ones I may not use, and to know the difference, or at least be ready to trim something I really want to be important. I’ve learned that if you let yourself get bogged down gathering the facts and writing them, the reader is going to be bogged down reading it. The greatest thing I’ve learned is to not be afraid to learn something new. It seems obvious, but as a researcher, this is the number one rule and something I will take with me the rest of my life, or at least until I know everything there is to know. Thankfully, I can rest assured that’ll never happen.
Sean Mortberg is a Research Specialist at NowSourcing.