Last week, I attended the Georgia Communication Association conference where I served on two panels and attended several presentations. The research the presenters discussed was impressive. As I listened, I thought about the characteristics of good researchers.
Bravery is a quality needed in some research projects. One presentation was about the merger of two University System of Georgia schools. The presenter talked about the communication strategies and conflict management styles employed when the two schools merged. I don’t know of anyone–students, faculty, staff, administrators, or alumni–who want a merger; thus, she will be reporting negative information about a change the University System of Georgia mandated. Her study will probably be cited by those opposing future mergers. Not only was she brave, she also had to be trustworthy, since she gathered her information from the employees whose critical views could be poorly received by the administrators charged with implementing the merger. Lastly, she had to be persistent. She reported that many people hesitated to get involved. Some quit or retired because of the merger. She had to track down many of these people, convincing them to help her.
The second presentation I attended compared Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric to George Wallace’s. The researcher’s dedication impressed me. She was using a grounded theory approach to classify Trump’s verbal attacks on minority groups. While Wallace’s speeches were already transcribed, Trump’s were not. So, she watched YouTube and typed out, word for word, what he said on the campaign trail. She was an adjunct faculty member working on her PHD, so she did not have the money to spare to use the fancy software that helps with this kind of transcription work.
I also heard two undergraduates describe their research projects. One was looking at how the media represented soccer in the United States compared to England. Her enthusiasm was contagious. She was passionate about her work. The second student shared the same passion as she described how a TV show represented the processes of cultural assimilation and identity formation. She enjoyed sharing her thoughts about how people from different cultures try to maintain their traditional cultural identity as they adapt to the American way of life.
To end the afternoon, I heard 10 short talks on teaching ideas. These faculty members were passionate about teaching. That evening, I watched three short films by students who had won the top three student film festival prizes. Creative projects, like films, are comparable to research. The attention to detail in these shorts was impressive.
The next day, I heard from a faculty member who talked about preparing students to get jobs when they graduate. While this was not formal research, she reflected the concern for people that is characteristic of good research. Most researchers try to answer questions that will help improve our lives. Similarly, a faculty member in the next session talked about the film projects his students completed. The students in his class created public service announcements. He worked with the Augusta medical college to create PSAs about things like the dangers of vaping. His work, like a considerable amount of outstanding research, was collaborative.
The last presentation I attended was a panel discussion on the film programs in the state. With all of the changes in the state’s film industry, Georgia’s college programs have had to be innovative. Good research is innovative; researchers are creative and flexible.
If there was one characteristic all good researchers share, it’s curiosity. If you aren’t interested in solving some small mystery of life, you probably won’t be a happy as a researcher. If you prefer to be told what do to or if like your work to be uneventful, you won’t like doing research in the field of communication. You have to like exploring the world of ideas, often with little in the way of a map.
If curiosity kills the cat, researchers must have nine lives. They ask questions that fascinate them, and they dedicate their lives to the hunt for answers. The participants at the Georgia Communication Association conference had what it takes to increase our understanding of communication. If you want to learn more about their work, check out the proceedings on the Georgia Communication Association’s website in a couple of months http://gacomm.org/proceedings/.