Posted tagged ‘McNair’

Becoming a Productive Researcher: Jump-Starting Your Development

May 23, 2018

by Abe Flanigan, Ph.D., UNL McNair Assistant


As you prepare for the McNair Summer Research Experience (MSRE), it might be helpful for you to reflect on the habits and qualities of productive researchers. During my time as an undergraduate researcher, I often found myself wondering about the things that I should start doing to prepare myself for a career in educational research. In fact, my curiosity about the factors that contribute to research productivity led me and my graduate research advisor to conduct a study in which were interviewed four world-renowned researchers about what makes them so successful (Flanigan, Kiewra, & Luo, 2018). Below, I’ll share a few of their tips, as well as lend my own suggestions for transforming yourself into a confident and productive researcher.

Find your scholarly role model. Each researcher I interviewed identified an influential mentor who helped set them along the path to productivity. Rather than try to

forge their own path, productive researchers aren’t afraid to seek out mentors, learn from them, and attempt to emulate their strategies. Find a mentor who you admire and then pattern yourself after him or her. I owe a lot of credit to a professor of mine at Northwest Missouri State who took me under her wing and showed me how she develops, conducts, and reports her research. Without a mentor, I likely never would have developed the confidence to believe I could pursue graduate-level research.

Block off time each day for research activities. When you get to graduate school, research becomes part of your lifestyle. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t read an article, work on a manuscript, or talk to collaborators about our research. One of the researchers I interviewed simply said, “Protect time for research every day. Make it a priority just like going to class, eating, or sleeping.” During MSRE, you’re perfectly situated to learn how to make research part of your daily routine. Don’t let your enthusiasm for research wane once MSRE concludes. Keep going! Even when MSRE is finished, try to devote time every day—whether it’s 30 minutes, an hour, or whatever you have available—to research-related activities. You don’t need to write multiple pages of a manuscript or collect data every single day. But, you can read through a few sections of an article, write or revise small sections of a manuscript, or spend some time just thinking about the direction of your research every day. If you embrace the process, then you’ll have a more enjoyable and productive time as a researcher.

Identify and pursue your passion. Collectively, the productive researchers I interviewed noted that the best researchers are those who are passionate about their area of research and who are motivated self-starters. During MSRE (and beyond), think critically about the topics that you are most passionate about and make those topics the focal points of your research agenda. Even if you find yourself in a situation that is largely directed by your advisor’s ongoing project(s), that doesn’t mean you can’t familiarize yourself with the literature in your area of interest or seek out opportunities to volunteer as part of another team.

Develop a firm grasp of statistics. Statistics didn’t come easy to me. I had to put a lot of time and effort into learning the advanced statistics needed to conduct graduate-level research. And, I had to devote considerable time to learn how to operate SPSS, Mplus, SAS, and other statistical software packages. Unfortunately, most scientific research doesn’t consist entirely of basic t-testing or correlations. For most of you, if you’re serious about pursuing graduate-level research, then you should be prepared to take graduate-level statistics courses. As an undergraduate, learn as much as you can about the statistical software used in your field and try to absorb as much knowledge as you can about statistics. By doing so, you’ll give yourself a head-start on building your statistical proficiency.

Learn about research grant funding. The research funding landscape is vast and can be difficult to navigate when you’re first getting started. If you take a look at the websites for the National Science Foundation, Open Education Database, or National Institutes of Health, then you’ll get an idea of just how big the landscape is. For most of the projects that you’ll work on with your mentors, they probably had to secure research funding to make the project possible. Learn from them about the funding resources they typically use and the process for applying for grants. There will likely never be a time in your career when grant funding doesn’t play a critical role in the life of your research, so try to learn as much as you can!

Hopefully, these five suggestions provide you with some insight on things you can do to jump-start your development as a researcher. Remember research is an incredibly rewarding experience, but requires a lot of time and effort on your part to be successful. Participating in MSRE and the McNair Scholars Program are great ways to start learning about and practicing the five tips outlined here.





Ronald McNair Commencement Video

June 2, 2014

To kick off the McNair Summer Research Experience, Scholars watched the Ronald E. McNair commencement address given to the graduates at the University of South Carolina in August 1984.

A South Carolina native, McNair was also awarded an honorary degree at this graduation ceremony. McNair was killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster less than a year and a half later.

Dr. McNair’s message is as inspirational and relevant today as it was in 1984.

Brunelli, J. (2012). Astronaut Ron McNair delivers the commencement at the University of South Carolina [Online Video]. Strategic Marketing and Creative Services, University of South Carolina. Retrieved from