Those who know me probably know that after finishing my PhD a year ago I went into a little bit of an academic funk. There was soul-searching, head banging, and more than a little bit of self doubt. Imposter syndrome and other forms of intellectual angst aren’t all that unusual in academia but I had it bad. Most of the turmoil was around the fact that I’ve switched disciplines. I went from being an English geek (rhetoric specifically) to teaching and researching in a Business school. Don’t get me wrong. It’s amazing. It kicks ass in a major way. However, learning the norms and conventions of being a researcher in a discipline that is so different from where I came from has its hurdles. Add to that the typical post-PhD trouble of establishing your personal research agenda with no more faculty/advisor hand holding and there are some non-trivial growing pains to get through.
I spent about three months last year writing a research question a day just to get ideas out. Afterwards, I went through them to see what trends I could uncover in my interests. There were certainly some “Gee, I know what I was thinking about that week” kind of trends but the overall picture helped me focus on my desire to make real meaning out of big data collected from social sources. Social technologies have been my thing for a long time. I even designed a giant certification program for Kelley about social technologies in business. But in terms of research agenda, I still had some refining to do.
There are a couple of big issues related to being an academic who studies social technologies:
That being said, I’m not deterred. I know that even with hundreds of articles on Facebook alone, there’s still room for unique thoughts when it comes to research and social technologies. So where do I want to fit in and will that work in my new discipline?
I think I finally have the answer. It’s big data. It’s scraping millions of Tweets to answer big questions. It’s aggregating content created by prosumers from dozens of channels to see what we can find. I’m tired of hearing about monitoring services and clipping services that only serve to provide a biased pinhole view of the conversation. It’s time to stop looking just at the trees you think are relevant to you and start studying the forest and the ecosystem within it.
So, after all this time and all this hair pulling, I finally have it. I have my BIG question and a fairly good research agenda to back it up. My goal is to found out if there is a better way to harness and uncover insights from big data gathered from social sources. Rather than asking a question and then gathering data directly related to that question, I want to find a scalable and repeatable way to conduct ongoing analysis of this data to shed light on unexpected trends and correlations that then lead to research questions. I want to find the freaky, unexpected, surprising and yet powerful revelations that make us wonder why and dig deeper.
Having arrived at this focus I feel excited and geared up. The path isn’t totally clear yet but it’s so much better than it was and I’m optimistic that I’ve landed somewhere that I can do some interesting and important things. It’s so good to finally feel that way.