This week was a difficult reflection in our grant writing class. I think that the world of academia can be kind of contrived sometimes, so I believe it is a valuable push to try to think of academic research in a more real way. In this case, it means comparing it to the principles of startup building, funding, and sustenance.
In the startup world, there is the notion of the MVP, or the minimum viable product. Essentially, what is the minimum amount of work that needs to be done to deliver some sort of product to the customers for feedback, profit, and iteration. I honestly am still pretty stumped as to what the minimum viable product is when it comes to research.
Is the MVP the smallest question you can ask? The smallest amount of results that you could return while still providing some kind of insight to your academic community? Is it a blog post versus a manuscript? I honestly really don’t know? For the purpose of this exercise, I think my most closely related understanding of the MVP is the smallest question I can ask while still providing new knowledge into the community.
In the case of my research, I think that question is: How do scholars decide how to use social media in support of their scholarship?
The video of Eric Reis (http://www.startuplessonslearned.com/2009/08/minimum-viable-product-guide.html) posed the question: how can I fail as early as possible? I think in academia, it’s doing research that no one cares about or is based on unfounded assumptions. Fortunately, there are journals and communities that care about the research, and due to the limited literature, I have been able to read enough of the literature to feel informed that my assumptions that the research is built on are valid. In terms of being able to fail as early as possible, I think the way to actualize that is by conducing pilot studies. This isn’t going to launch me into complete failure, and I think there is some work that still needs to be done to get to the point where I have a solid pilot study designed, but I believe that this will help me to make the mistakes I need to make early, on a small scale, and learn from them for the studies that will matter, that will actually inform the research I’m doing.
I believe that my pilot study, or my MVP, is a set of interviews that ask questions on scholarly patterns of behavior as it pertains to social media use. This is where iteration comes in. I will iterate upon this pilot study, to create a larger scale survey, and then more informed interviews stacked on top of this survey which will have informed the questions I’m asking.
In terms of how I can structure all of this around what I’m learning, the principles learned in the cathedral and the bazaar becomes very valuable. Although some of these principles are specific to open source software development, there are many that apply perfectly to academia. I will list them below and expound upon how I think they can prove valuable to me.
- Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.
This is my personal itch! I find this so fascinating. Of course there will be times that the research seems tedious, or I won’t want to do the work, but the fact that it is something that I am interested in will allow me to keep going when the hard, tedious, or frustrating aspects of doing research present themselves
- Good programmers know what to write. Great ones know what to rewrite (and reuse).
I think in academia this can look like using grant proposals, using drafts of ideas. Don’t throw away work that has been done unnecessarily. Self-cite work, or build upon the work of others, and then spend all your energy creating new material and content. For me this looks like using my coursework to forward my research, and vise versa. This will hopefully get me to where I want to be with my research and one day, just maybe even graduated.
- Release early. Release often. And listen to your customers.
In academia, I believe this looks like getting feedback from those people who you value in the field. Advisors, fellow researchers, those doing work in your area. As Eric stated in his video about startups, we are psychologically wired against feedback because it’s scary. A goal of mine as I worked through my masters and now PhD programs, is to be better at getting feedback. None of it is personal, and it’s all going to push me towards getting to where I want to be and doing quality research. This has been the most valuable lesson I am still learning.
- If you treat your beta testers as if they’re you’re most valuable resource, they will respond by becoming your most valuable resource
Treat your participants, fellow researchers, advisors, and reviewers with respect and value. I think this goes a long way in a community, especially in my case where the participants are scholars spending their own time trying to deal with all of the demands that come with being a faculty member. I believe that appreciation goes a long way in a community that often times takes advantage of free labor.
- Often, the most striking and innovative solutions come from realizing that your concept of the problem was wrong
I believe this principle states the importance of being willing to realize that not all of your assumptions are correct, you’re not always going to get the results you wanted, and your hypothesis isn’t always what you find to be true in your research. If it was, there would be no point of doing research. I think being open to mistakes and solutions, whether they be methodological, theoretical, or any other kind of mistakes, and taking that understanding and turning it around to make your research better is an important aspect of academic research.
Although I’m sure there are other ways in which I can skew the words of Eric Raymond, and the many that speak on the success of startups, I think this reflection was valuable and I think academics should more often push themselves to reflect more practical, action oriented fields in the work that they’re doing. Although it’s not something that I’m particularly excellent at doing, it’s a goal I have in continuing down an academic route.