Blog 1: How flexible can you be for research?

If I could describe the word “research” in one word anything but static comes to mind. The thing about research is that it’s variable. You go in with one plan and end up working on a completely other plan. And that’s exactly what happened with my research. I came in with a plan to look into the Pre-Colonial Kingdom hypothesis and planned to systematically study the 50 most centralized groups at the time of colonialism in order to better understand the strategic interactions between them and the European imperial powers to unravel exactly how pre-colonial kingdoms shaped colonial policy as a part of a bigger project on spatial inequality. However, my team needed me for something else and as a team member on this project I had to be flexible to the needs of the project. Up until the summer I had tabulated the Non-Native population of each Sub-Saharan. Why? Because there’s a theory in colonial literature that says the greater the settler population (European/Non-native population) the more development funds (for public works, infrastructure) are spent by the metropolis to take care of them. So a high settler population in an area is beveled to coincide with the area that has the most development.

However, when I began to work this summer, we needed the African (Native) population and total population as well in order to know where the highest density of Non-Native/European are located. Therefore, this summer I am¬†tabulating the native/African population. ¬†Does not mean that I won’t get to the Pre-Colonial Kingdom hypothesis but being flexible is so important to research. It is about doing what the project needs in that moment and “rolling with it.” That’s what I will do this summer.


  1. dfbrown says:

    The research process certainly is dynamic! I was not able to directly test my hypotheses, either, but I did have the opportunity to combine my ideas with my professor’s in order to develop a project that both interests me and contributes to a larger research agenda. As researchers, I think we serve the community best when we are adaptable and collaborative, rather than pursuing our own interests in isolation.

  2. zachoppler says:

    I think the fact that the research process is so dynamic is one of the things that makes it so much fun. In my experience, the research process almost never goes the way you expect it to. I enjoy working around issues when they arise and it’s a great way to happen upon unexpected findings and results. This summer I planned on following the methods of a research paper that my professor had found, but our data did not lend itself to the paper’s methods so we had to figure out a different way to analyze our data. We haven’t found a great solution yet, but I look forward to coming back next semester and trying to figure out a better way to look at all of our data.

  3. admason01 says:

    I certainly learned the importance of research flexibility while working on my project, especially when concerning methodology. Content analysis can be very easily affected by a researcher’s interpretation, so I’ve used two separate methodologies to help control for that while answering my research question. I think that being open to flexibility in research also presents opportunities to learn more about our topics in ways that we may not have previously considered.

  4. Hi Layla! I’m really interested in what you’re talking about. It sounds as if the two topics are linked together really closely and that your new topic is related to the one that you initially thought you’d be researching. It’s great that you were able to be so flexible to help where your team needed you. Based on what you’ve said, it sounds like the same skills are needed to research both the highest density of non-native population and the highest density of native populations. That’s one of the great things about research– the skills we’re learning are very adaptable! I’d love to hear more about if this change has altered the skills that you’ve had to use or if it’s much the same. Good luck with the rest of your project!

  5. Caroline Payne says:

    Hi Layla,

    Your project sounds incredibly interesting, and valuable to the international community! I’m going to go read your later blog posts now, because I’m curious about your process for tabulating the African population. I can imagine it’s not always easy. I completely relate to having to change your research plans (mine started out a little ambitious for a summer research project). I hope you do someday get to compare the funding with the settler populations, because that sounds like an important thing to document.