I Heart Research. But Why?

A few weeks ago, I requested from our design department, as a give-away for our conference booth, pins that read, “I {heart} research.” I thought they’d be a little trendy, a little offbeat for a research organization—a little fun. What I didn’t expect was the response I got from the designers.

“You love research? Why?”

They didn’t understand why a person would love research—much less admit to it. On the spur of the moment, I’m afraid I didn’t give a terribly coherent answer. In fact, I was taken aback. Why would you not love research?

i heart research

Thinking about it over the next few days, I realized that in that moment of disconnect, there was a possibility for greater understanding. Why do we love research? What’s so great about it? What keeps some of us coming back to it again and again, whether it’s part of our job description or not? What do we see in all those “numbers and data,” as one designer put it?

I’d like to take this opportunity to answer some of those questions and hopefully explain what there is to love about research—and how you can love it, too.

Pushing the Edge

Probably the most exciting, “lovable” thing about research is the feeling that you’re working on the very edge of human knowledge. It’s true that some research questions are edgier than others, but in any good research project, you should be answering a question we don’t yet know the answer to.

Imagine this: you are sitting in a lab, or in your office, or at a computer in your den, and you realize something. You realize you have just discovered an event, a tiny event but an event nonetheless, that simply cannot be explained by any existing theory. You, alone in the entire world or perhaps together with a few colleagues, know something that no one else in the world knows.

Then comes the task of proving your idea, of putting it to test after test, and then demonstrating those proofs to others so that they are compelled to see what you’ve seen.

Perhaps as little as five percent of a working researcher’s life is made up of these moments, but they are worth the years of work it takes to achieve them. It may be that no one outside your field will ever even hear of your discovery, but you will know that you have moved human knowledge forward a vital half-inch. That is an awe-inspiring feeling.

Efficiency, Efficiency, Efficiency

Another reason to love research is that it offers one way to have confidence in your actions and to find out how to do them better.

What is the best way to identify over the phone whether a patient is having a heart attack? How can we best manage the communication center so that calltakers and dispatchers are at their best when calls for help come in? What placements of equipment and personnel around a particular geographical area reduce response times most? These are questions that we can best answer by doing the research—gathering data, analyzing it, and changing our actions accordingly.

If pushing the edge of human knowledge is the best reason for loving “basic” research (research that attempts to answer fundamental questions about what the world is really like), then achieving better, more efficient results is the best reason for loving “applied” research (research that helps us understand the world so that we can alter it).

Need To Know

All this aside, though, the reason most of us who do research get into it, and stay with it, is that we simply need to know. In many cases, this applies not only to our work but to our lives as well.

If we want to lose weight, we need to know everything that has been learned about nutrition, exercise, short term and long term weight loss outcomes, and anything else we can find out about the science behind the body’s reactions to food and movement.

If we are going to buy a house, we need to know every possible type of mortgage, every type of home construction, the ups and downs of the housing market over various time periods, the growth potential of the area, the low-down on termites and asbestos and mold.

The same is true in our research work. If we encounter a situation in which we don’t know the answer—or, even better, in which the answer isn’t known—we must find out.

And that, in a nutshell, is why we heart research. Because we need to know.

You Can, Too

If you see something of yourself in any of these descriptions, then you, too, are a researcher or a potential researcher. What is it that you need to know? How are you going to find out?

What better time than now?

This entry was posted in Changes in Emergency Care, EMS/dispatch instructions, Evidence-Based Care, Evidence-Based Practice, research, Work conditions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to I Heart Research. But Why?

  1. Chris Olola Ph.D says:

    This is a great piece about research–the well-articulated points in the article are just awesome–I enjoyed reading it!

    In my years in public health & informatics research profession, I have come to learn and appreciate that everyone, at some point in life, does research–at times involuntarily! Research isn’t necessarily a complex undertaking–and it should not be complex/complicated. The more succinct the problem identification and definition are, the focused the objective is, and the more specific & simpler the approach (aka methodology) is, the more edifying the primary endpoints will likely be–and the more effective and efficient the application of the research findings turn out would to be.

    As Albert Einstein once said “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” My boss and research colleague would add “Research is something that keeps us in office over the weekend!” So, let evidence-based research reign!

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