My College Advice? Learn How To Do Research

The New York Times recently asked 7 academics to offer advice to students entering college. If they had asked me, my advice would have been to learn how to do research, to practice it, and get really good at it.

Of course, as an academic librarian, I may be biased. But as someone whose academic interests tilted toward some not so obviously useful humanities disciplines, the one practical life skill I’m supremely grateful to have is the ability to find and use information. Try going on a job interview without researching the employer and you will not get the job. Try buying a house or a used car without doing research and you will pay more than you should. Try raising a child without being able to research everything from health issues to schools and you’ll be even more lost than most parents. In almost everything I do, I continue to be surprised at how crucial information is to getting a good outcome. If you spend the time and have the patience to ferret out a small but crucial bit of information, you will often find that you will get the job, get a better price, and have better experiences.

Having access to a college or university library is a great privilege; its power has changed many lives. When I was 18 I thought I knew everything. Then I walked into my university library and looked up. “Oh my god, I don’t know anything!” I realized. I’ve been trying to catch up ever since.

Or, as a poster to McSweeney’s puts it: Dudes! Did You See The Library They’ve Got Here?

I tell you what, though, dudes—you only get a chance like this while you’re in college. After we graduate, we’ll have to figure out how to fit studying into our work schedules, make time to get to the city library branch and its crappy little collection. Yeah, while I’m here on campus, my life is totally going to revolve around that library.

One thought on “My College Advice? Learn How To Do Research

  1. Quite true. “Empowering” has become a hackneyed term in our culture, but I can’t think of a better way to describe acquisition of the skills to do good research. So many decisions you’ll make in life will benefit from being better-informed, while at the same time you can avoid costly mistakes. There are many things that compete for a student’s time and attention in college, but finding the time to pick up research skills should be a priority. The failure to do so can be costly in many ways. I have a librarian friend who has been self-employed as a researcher for years, and she enjoys telling me stories about how she charges companies big bucks for research that they could easily carry out themselves if they had someone on staff who was minimally competent. Most of us won’t have the big bucks to afford contract research jobs – instead, we should learn to do the work ourselves while we can still focus lots of attention on the task.

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