These days, maybe because it has been gloomy outside, I have a lingering mood to do research related activities indoor. Just kidding, I have been trying to accumulate my knowledge in the field for quite a while. My favorite way to do this is to read books by scholar. But they are in general pretty thick and I guess predictably heavy to read, so I must take my time to read them if I want to understand them and record them in my brain. And since my schedule is very variant, I never know, sometimes I might have a long free time when I can read my book, so I always try to have the book within my reach in my bag or more frequently, on my hand.
So one day, when I was on my way back from work, I met my ex-college professor. I was holding one of those books on my hand and that caught my professor’s eyes. He asked me if I am reading that book and if I like it or not. I told him, I am in the middle of reading it but so far I enjoyed it a lot and I asked him if he had read it too. His answer was what I has half expected, “No, I only read his academic papers. Do you read the paper?” Well, I said no (I did for some but only the abstract so I think that does not count right?) Upon hearing my answer, his expression changed to what I think an underestimating expression. It might be that he didn’t mean it that way, but since he was also a professor who told me that women cannot pursue economics PHD, I can’t help to be biased. Anyway in this post I would like to share the reason why I prefer to read the book instead of the academic papers.
Need not to be said, the book content was a lot easier in the sense of they are using layman’s language, very little jargon and less technical. It is also clear that it is less boring to read the book and less effort in finding the goods. Seems that reading academic papers gave out the signal of effort and academic like approach and book is for every other people. But really, reading the book can be more enriching and inspiring than academic papers. Academic papers give us information about one particular study, from how they did that, what had been done so far in the topic, why is that significant (according to the researcher). Sometimes, the researcher had done several papers on the same topic and mentioned that in their introduction or reference. But more often, they have a range of research interests which might not necessarily related one another. We might be able to find all their paper in their profile but reading one paper to another creates a gap because it is unclear how this particular researcher think, why is he/she interested in these very different research areas. The thinking process and idea generation steps, which absent from the body of academic paper, are offered in the published book. The books, despite chunked into a number of chapters, provide the story behind one’s research journey. It introduce a more personal approach in doing research. Ideas rarely fell from the tree (except for Newton’s gravity theory), they have history. Since my research interest lies in human irrationality, I prefer reading books by behavioral economist and psychologist. I learned that researching in this area may start from observing our own behavior and see if the misconduct prevalent within the society (or is it just me who’s weird).
Another perk of reading the books is to gain implicit moral support. When we read through the academic paper, only the successes were shared. Little can be known about the hard path leading to the production of that paper. The possible failures and the length of time needed before that paper got published. Possible discrimination, bias and belittlement they might have faced. The importance of persistence, never-ending curiosity and belief as well as the love in learning. These are not given in academic papers.
So there are at least three benefits in reading books-written-by-researcher; one, it is easier to understand and it summarized all the important points (if you are skeptical, feel free to find the paper) a.k.a it is convenient. Two, it offers stories, let us understand the creative thinking and this might lead to inspiration for the readers to connect the dots. Lastly, it provide moral support and remind us that even the top prominent academics are still human and strong will is an important factor to get to the top.
Next time you met a professor, tell them you read academic papers if you want to increase your ‘I-am-so-intelligent’ signal, but behind your professor back, try to consider reading the books because there might be where you gain inspiration and lead you to great research idea.
If you are interested, here are some book recommendations:
– Misbehaving – Richard Thaler (Behavioral economist, Nobel winning economist 2017)
– The Upside of Irrationality – Dan Ariely (Psychologist and behavioral economist)
– Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman (Psychologist, research interest in psychology of judgment and decision-making)