• Denby Weller

Journal Prompt 2

Updated: Oct 22, 2020

Journal Prompt 2:

Think about research you’ve done for a major purchase, or life decision (like applying for university), or a personal problem. Describe the process you used to find the information you needed. Think about how you approached the problem, who/what did you approach, how did you formulate your question etc. Now think about academic research you may have done for a coursework or a research project. How was your process for academic research different than for personal research? How did you decide what information to trust when doing any type of research? What does ‘trust’ mean to you? How did you eventually stop doing the ‘expansive’ process (finding out more and more) and realise you had ‘enough’?

In February, my old Masters supervisor at Swinburne invited me to apply for a job at Swinburne University in Melbourne. Being on a year-to-year contract in my job at the time, with no capacity to do research, I was looking for an ongoing position with research... but moving cities is a huge step, and I wanted to ensure that I was going to a happy faculty. I spoke to every academic I knew in Melbourne, and they in-turn put me in touch with more people, who could speak about the workplace culture at Swinburne. I also asked point-blank during the interview process what the culture was like. Would Swinburne make time for my PhD? What kind of workplace did they consider themselves to be, and how happy were the staff there? I also reached out to two longtime friends who live in Melbourne, and grilled them about life in this city that I hardly knew. Was it really as cold as all that? How was the running? The cycling? Were the climbing gyms any good? Online, I read innumerous articles written about the great Sydney vs Melbourne debate, and I trawled Google Maps to learn the locations of the suburbs and attractions mentioned in them. became a nightly obsession, with me looking at hundreds of houses and apartments in dozens of suburbs. From each location, I would calculate: the distance to work, the distance to the nearest running, cycling and climbing options, how long it would take to get out of town on weekends, and the distance to our nearest friends' places. My husband doubled-down on all these efforts, adding proximity to the shops as one of our search criteria.

We compared the cost of getting a place big enough for a home gym against moving into an apartment with a downstairs gym. We looked waaay out of town (Geelong, Ballarat) for a tree change, vs. a smaller place in town. This is not dissimilar to how I approach academic research. In the above example, the research questions were really clear, and quite simple. They all stemmed from a broader question, 'Will our lives be better in Melbourne?'

In the above, there are hallmarks of trusted human and nonhuman sources, and I used credibility indicators to select both. With the human sources, it was a word-of-mouth recommendation from another human source, and a quick bit of background research about the respective interviewees' relationship to Swinburne.

For the research on living in Melbourne, I preferred a couple of highly trusted human sources and a lot of nonhuman sources that could give a more dispassionate, fact-based information set, generally to do with geography. It's worth noting that my husband and I place higher value on questions around daily exercise and hobbies than we do around cultural locations. We're always happy to Uber to a show, but we want great running literally on our doorstep. These preferences definitely shaped the sources I preferred.

In terms of the ceasing of 'expansive' research, this happened about a week before I got the job offer from Swinburne. At that time, we were certain that we wanted to make the move, and we'd located an apartment to make an offer on. We'd also done further 'research' on what our family and friends thought of the whole idea, and nuts-and-bolts issues like the cost of moving, selling our property in Sydney, etc.

I think the moment when I decided I had 'enough' information was when I started to feel very confident in my decision. That confidence came from having had a clear hierarchy of 'needs' that had to be addressed in the research. Even if the answer had been 'no, you can't get that in Melbourne' that certainty, I think, would have signalled the end of that line of inquiry. It's clear that the question needed to be well articulated before this process had any chance of being completed.

That water spout just to the right of centre on the horizon is an underwater 'sea mount' four kilometres high. My zoom wasn't long enough to really capture it, but I spent hours staring at it when we were on holidays here last December. The idea that the ocean could be four kilometres deep just a few hundred metres off shore really played with my mind. A good analogy for research!

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