Academic journal article Journal of Nursing Scholarship

Building a Research Trajectory

Academic journal article Journal of Nursing Scholarship

Building a Research Trajectory

Article excerpt

There are numerous challenges to building a research trajectory. To successfully create a trajectory, you as a researcher have to be able to think big but prepared to act small. Inevitably your trajectory will start straight but, over time you will find occasions when you will have to swerve. You need to know your final destination, but at all times you must be ready to take side trips. A research trajectory should be something that you write down and keep checking back on to make sure that you are updating plans appropriately. Let me explain.

Thinking Big

One of the challenges in building a research trajectory is that you can't foretell the future. So how do you plan a research career when you can't know the external events that will shape that career? I tell people that my research is on the antecedents and consequences of stress and preterm birth. I couldn't have known when I started that prematurity would still exist all these years later. But if we had been successful in eliminating preterm birth, my research about the antecedents and consequences of stress in mothers would have allowed me to continue to study how to improve maternal and neonatal outcomes by reducing stress.

One sage piece of advice given to me as a young researcher was to define my research trajectory while looking at the big picture. That is, frame research in the context of a broader scope. For example, if you conduct behavioral research with a goal to promote healthy behaviors, you would do better to speak to behavior change using weight loss as an example than say you are a weight-loss researcher. Then if someone develops a magical pill for weight loss, you can use all you know about behavior change to promote other healthy behavior changes (e.g., drinking or substance use, exercise or adhering to medication regimens, or a whole host of behavior changes that improve health-not simply weight loss).

Acting Small

To build a research trajectory you have to think big, but to support that big picture you need to take a series of very small steps. A research trajectory is like a map. In order to get from here to there it is important that you think about all the small pieces of research that need to be put together to develop your next research goals. There are pilot studies to do, tools to validate, lab tests to perfect, subjects to find, collaborators to identify. These and many other small steps are necessary to ensure that you conduct rigorous research and that every study in your research trajectory is sound. Sometimes the preparation for the research you wish to do seems overwhelming, but taking these small careful steps while keeping the big picture in mind is absolutely necessary to being a successful researcher.

Straight Versus Swerving Trajectories

It's important to tell the story of your research trajectory so that you recognize when it starts to swerve away from being a straight line. You will have to make careful decisions about whether swerving is worth it. I am a perinatal researcher, and I once had the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues on research in labor and delivery regarding maternal positioning. …

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