Currently I am away in the United States working at the South Caroliniana Library in Columbia, SC. I am truly immersed in the academic process, spending eight hours a day alone all but for the librarians pouring over historic documents. For some scholars this is the epitome of academic life, while for others it trggers all sorts of negative feelings of loneliness and self-doubt.
Not all academics research alone of course. Many people who work in the sciences or social sciences collaborate with teams of people, which can bring it’s own challenges. But the art of researching alone is one that the humanities scholar must master early on. It is important to be motivated and disciplined. For example, if you don’t force yourself to go to the library every day of your trip, noone else is going to be there to tell you to stop sunbathing and get on with your work!
It’s also important to be flexible and be able to think on your feet. Perhaps the materials that you thought would be most useful to your work turn out to be useless. If you open your mind you might discover all sorts of new sources of information when you get to your research destination. Time management can be difficult on these trips, you might think a certain task will take you a day only to find it takes you a week, or vice versa.
While flexibility is key, so is prior planning. If you haven’t worked out what it is you hope to gain from the trip you will probably find that you are unable to gain focus while in the library or archives. At the very least have a list of research questions that you wish to explore, preferably you should also have a solid understanding of the project that your research will contribute to. Is it an article, a conference paper, or a book?
If you think clearly about your plans, you’ll get more out of your research time. Good luck to everyone buried in their research this Easter!