I have an odd habit. Whenever I get very entrenched in a subject, I want to know how it features in the mainstream. I want to know, in other words, how it appears to people who aren’t entrenched. That’s when I search stock photo sites.
Stock photographs trade in cliches. They are a great barometer for stereotypes.
A quick stock photo search for “research” reveals something quite alarming. The stereotypical view of a researcher is that of someone who works with microscopes, computers, test tubes, and protective glasses. Blue or white gloves, apparently, are mandatory.
Research, according to Shutterstock
Do you recognise yourself, or your work, in that stereotype? I don’t, at all. If you were to photograph me during my research time, you’d get one of two images: me reading, or me writing. Not Pulitzer Prize-worthy photographic subjects, I admit. But that’s the reality of my research process.
Others might have different processes; a portrait of your research might depict you conducting an interview or focus group, populating tables and plotting graphs, creating artworks, or drawing diagrams.
When we’re bombarded with images of the stereotypical view of research – labs, coats, test tubes – it’s easy to feel that other forms of investigation and knowledge production ‘don’t count’ as real research. I remember being surprised when I first enrolled for a postgrad qualification and my work analysing novels was described as ‘research.’
But those who attended Professor Welby Ings’ keynote talk at the PG Symposium back in August will recall that the definition of research can be very wide. Professor Ings quoted the definition used for the Performance Based Research Fund (PBRF) in New Zealand:
“Research is original, independent investigation undertaken to contribute to knowledge and understanding and, in the case of some disciplines, cultural innovation or aesthetic refinement. Research typically involves inquiry of an experimental or critical nature driven by hypotheses or intellectual positions capable of rigorous assessment by experts in a given discipline.” [Tertiary Education Commission, 2016, p.14]
Tertiary Education Commission. (2016). Performance-Based Research Fund: Guidelines for tertiary education organisations participating in the 2018 Quality Evaluation. Wellington: Tertiary Education Commission.