As a young person in decision research you may find it hard to figure what your “thing” is. However, you are not alone. Many successful professors did not initially decide on a research agenda, but instead, through the process of research, their agenda gradually developed.
Though our field is quite firm in arguing that preferences are constructed not revealed, I have found that time and time again professors explain that their research preferences have “revealed themselves.” Professor Adam Waytz has said that he discovered what he was most interested through the process of research rather than directly deciding what his research interests were. Others also may help to reveal your preferences to you: professor Mark Leary said that one day a colleague explained him what Leary’s research focus was. Leary realized that he had never thought about framing his interests like that before, but when it was framed as such, it was clear: that was what he was interested in.
To characterize Professors Waytz or Leary as just idly bouncing around before their moments of revelation would be wrong, as they are outstanding examples of organized research. However, comments like these offer an interesting insight into the research development process: rather than trying to decide what you should do, think about “what do I keep coming back to every time I come up with ideas?” You may also be wise to pay attention to your colleagues as we come to know how our colleagues’ minds work and what theories our colleagues tend to gravitate towards. One’s friends can be a great resource for personal insight and they probably know you better than your advisors do.
Finally, senior researchers overwhelmingly advise you to follow your passion. So when going forward, why not go up to your advisor and say “here is what I am interested in on a personal level, how can we go forward with it?”. If they disagree to this approach, just remind them that nearly every professor at doctoral conferences tells students to follow their passion and that deciding on your “thing” is not a simple logical decision that can be made in a 30 minute meeting. Tell your advisers it is going to take you time to understand yourself as a researcher… though maybe phrase that a little more gently and less hippie–like!
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