I was in the midst of walking a student through a complex research question early this week, and we were making decent progress, if slow, when we happened upon an excellent article for his topic. “Oh goody!” I said (yes… I said “goody,” I’m sorry), “Now we can take this and find more like it, and we can even find out if people have cited this one.” I headed toward the Web of Science and it’s glorious Cited Reference Search when the student looked at me and asked, “Wow. Did you have to take a class in this or something to learn all this stuff?”
Why yes. Yes I did. Several classes, in fact.
So the questions that keep running circles in my head are these: Is it wrong that I’m glad that I looked competent enough that the student figured I must have received special training? Shouldn’t I be worried that this looked so complicated that special training became evident? Or does it serve students well to learn that this is hard and requires a set of skills beyond plunking phrases into Google? Why do I simultaneously enjoy the complexity and feel bad for enjoying it? If research were easy, would that shake the foundations of academia? But if the tools for research were easier, wouldn’t that free up mental energies for actually learning from the research and doing something with it? But if it were too easy, would we ever find anything by accident that changed our topic ideas or challenged us to take on new views? So is it wrong of me to kind of enjoy not being able zero in on the 5 perfect sources within a space of seconds?