by Rev. Isaac Boaheng
My research-publication journey officially began about five (5) years ago when I was a final year Seminarian. In these years as a researcher in Theological/religious Studies, I have been able to publish several academic research papers and books. There are many lessons I have learned all of which are worth sharing. In this article, I outline three helpful principles/guidelines that contribute to one’s success in scholarly academic research and publication.
- Humility and openness to criticism
One cannot be successful in the academic enterprise without humility and openness to criticism. As a reviewer who gives feedback to researchers about their work and a researcher who usually receives review reports on my works, I have come to appreciate the fact that no matter how “excellent” one’s work may seem (especially in his/her own eyes), there is always room for improvement. Criticisms from other people help you as a researcher to revise your work to become better than before. That is why researchers must publish in journals that conduct rigorous peer reviews. In the case of self-publishing, it is important to have someone look at what you intend to publish.
Every researcher needs humility to enable them to accept criticisms of their scholarly publications. Without humility, one may consider him/herself “big” and hence not be interested in other people’s views about their work. Feeling too “big” to be corrected hinders one’s chances of succeeding in his/her academic career. The researcher should therefore not consider assessments of their work as an attack on their scholarship. Rather, such assessments are meant to help the researcher clarify, add, take away, or do any other revision aimed at making the worker better. As one publishes more papers, there is a tendency for pride and arrogance to set in. Researchers should not be quick to settle with the success achieved. Your academic success must glorify God rather than yourself as you receive compliments on your research work because it is God who gives the grace for success.
- Hard work, planning, and time management
Nothing good comes on a silver platter. Hard work and determination will always take the researcher to the next stage in their research career. It is common for good researchers to spend not less than six (6) hours a day researching. Many postgraduate students fail to submit their research on time because they fail to put in the energy required to complete their projects.
Hard work must be coupled with setting clear research goals, being organized, and having a good research plan. This is very important for students whose research works are to be conducted within a certain time frame. It is equally important for independent researchers who are conducting researches to publish within some time frame. Setting timelines and research goals help the researcher to know whether he/she is on track or not. One needs to be disciplined to be able to follow their research schedule.
Therefore time management is required in becoming a successful researcher. I have come to realize that research work demands that one lessens their social activities. The time spent outside chatting with friends, on social media and other social activities needs to be moderated to make time for academic research. That is not to say that a successful researcher must be an anti-social. Rather, a researcher needs to know when to engage in social activities and when to sit behind their laptop, books, any other device, or document to work. A researcher is not expected to avoid friends and family interactions or be unaware of their environment but rather plan well to make enough time for research.
From my personal experience, when I was a Seminarian, staying on campus without my wife and children, I could spend more than ten (10) hours a day on research. After more than four (4) years of leaving the Seminary, I still have many manuscripts I prepared in school which are yet to be published. I worked very hard preparing manuscripts and gathering materials for future works whilst on campus. Currently, I still work very hard every day but I have to reduce the time spent on research to make time for my family (a wife and three children). I have come to realize that, time available for research also changes from one stage of life to another depending on one’s environment. Interestingly, research work done in previous years allowed me to gain efficiency in working faster. I am much more productive than I was a few years ago when I spent more hours on research daily. The saying “practice makes a man perfect” is true in academic research as well. With constant practice, researchers would become more efficient and spend less time achieving great outputs.
- Collaboration and Networking
Mentorship is also very important in academia. A suggested way to be mentored is to collaborate with experienced researchers on research projects. I have benefited from collaborative research and I believe it is a very important tool to be mentored as a young scholar. Collaboration is a mutual relationship in which both parties benefit. No party should feel that he/she is doing more of the research work than the other because, in reality, no one cheats the other. Collaboration in academia will go a long way to help researchers to learn new ideas, explore new and difficult topics, and study abroad.
The African saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” is true in the academic enterprise. It is important to open up to other researchers and be part of a network of researchers. Some professors I have not met before have written endorsements and forewords to some of my publications because of the academic relationship I have with them. Such relationships came through some academic activities and recommendations by other scholars. Having friendly relationships with other scholars can also open the door to job opportunities. Social networks could be built during conferences (both national and international), workshops, and seminars, among others. Other ways of establishing contact with other researchers are to send e-mails asking questions or to discuss research. One can also join research platforms such as Google Scholar, Semantic Scholar, ResearchGate, Academia to make their research visible and network with academic scholars globally.
In conclusion, I want to encourage researchers to work hard and leave footprints in the academic world. This, however, will not be achieved easily within a short time. There is the need to work hard, plan properly, follow a research plan, build networks, and collaborate with other scholars among others. As an early-stage researcher, I agree with a popular Ghanaian saying “ketewa biara nsua” (nothing is too small). I am hopeful the few points shared in this article will go a long way to inspire readers. I believe strongly that as we advance in our research careers, our good work will open new opportunities and networking avenues for greater works.
Rev. Isaac Boaheng is an ordained minister of the Methodist Church Ghana, a Master of divinity graduate of the Trinity Theological Seminary, Legon Accra -Ghana and a Translator with the Bible Society of Ghana.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article belong to the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the South African Theological Seminary.