Overcoming Researcher's Block with Homegrown Experiences

Can homegrown experience be blended with modern literature to generate problem-solving ideas to address current and emerging research problems? A note for thoughts.

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During the first year of my doctoral program, I worked on a research problem relating to how experimental techniques can elicit an individual’s risk preference in a laboratory setting more efficiently. One highly cited method suggests a simple solution in this respect, but, empirically, there are a few concerns. These issues were mostly related to people’s cognitive inability and method misunderstanding. As such, the introduction of a practical solution can in theory save experimenters’ valuable time and money.

Considering this, as a novice student, I was initially conflicted as to whether I should search for an alternative mechanism that can minimize the problem. However, I also realized that a refereed publication on this issue could strengthen my research portfolio. Thus, I began every morning with reviewing a pile of printed papers and practicing concept-mapping with no considerable progress. Struggling during the idea-development phase was new and challenging to me, and I felt frustrated with my inability to establish a logical framework.

A couple of weeks later, I almost lost my motivation for searching problem-minimizing concepts and was looking for another manageable issue. One evening, my wife, who was my classmate too, was arguing with me at the dinner table about contemporary economic problems, primarily how public policy interventions should be designed given the behavioral economics component. Eventually, the discussion ended up without any apparent consensus, but it triggered my thinking on the subject of how a researcher should search problem-solving ideas.

The next day, I looked for some Bengali proverbs related to my research problem and found one that was common knowledge during my time growing up back home. The essence of the proverb partially alluded to my abandoned research problem, and I was surprised to find that an overly simple local proverb offers a direction for addressing a classic risk elicitation problem. Subsequently, I called my mother requesting the “Golpo”—the story behind the proverb.* Finally, I came up with a plausible idea that blended the Bengali “Golpo” with the modern economic literature.

The literature suggests several ways for dealing with researcher’s block, such as searching for ideas within and outside of the discipline. However, little attention has been paid to using homegrown experiences in generating problem-solving research ideas, especially in the area of social sciences. In most knowledge-based developed countries international graduate students come from around the world with diverse socioeconomic, political, and cultural backgrounds to study new research techniques. Each carries with them exciting stories and indigenous knowledge, which may provide alternative perspectives. For example, Bangladeshi researcher might have different problem solving strategies as compared with American for tackling the same research problem, for example, shampoo bottle to treat infant pneumonia. Thus, a Bangladeshi-origin researcher working in the United States can certainly incorporate homegrown thoughts to understand the research question at hand from a different angle than perhaps their peers and develop a new set of problem-solving concepts.

As researchers tend to seek motivation from their daily events and observations, homegrown experiences in most cases may extend their analogical reasoning in many regards. Recently, I have been trying to construe thoughts from Chanakya’s The Arthashastra, an ancient handbook of economic policy, to broaden my research perspectives on behavioral economics and resource management issues. Needless to say, unique homegrown strategies will likely complement our present approaches in meaningful ways like food and fashion.

*Interested readers can retrieve more Bengali proverbs from here.

Mazbahul G. Ahamad

Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Nebraska–Lincoln