I’m Michelle Callaghan, a first-year graduate student at Villanova University. This is our new column, “‘Cat in the Stacks.” I’m the ‘cat. Falvey Memorial Library is the stacks. I’ll be posting about living that scholarly life, from research to study habits to embracing your inner-geek, and how the library community might aid you in all of it.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Yoda was a student in a university and had to write a paper. Wise guy that he was, he had some axioms on the topic (as he often does), and luckily with the aid of the fine resources at Falvey Memorial Library (for real though, scout those Star Wars holdings), I’ve been able to scour the archives for his best nuggets of research wisdom.
After all, your best research tool is your brain—but without some meditation on your processes, it can be an agent of the dark side.
Yoda on Research
“Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.”
When you come up with a research direction, don’t marry it. Follow it as far as it deigns to take you, but don’t be surprised if you end up in totally different territory than you’d initially planned. Writing workshops for years and years have called this “killing your darlings.” You aren’t wasting your time compiling sources on topics that, by the nature of research, might become irrelevant later on—you are using them as footholds to climb the mountain. Train yourself to stay objective and open-minded with your research, even if it means having to ditch the very thesis you set out to prove.
“Many of the truths that we cling to depend greatly on our point of view.”
Okay, this was technically Obi-Wan, not Yoda, but it’s important. Some of the strongest arguments are ones that continually engage opposing points of view. If you’re aware of a counterargument to your point, so is your reader. Address these counterarguments and duel them. With a lightsaber.
“Pass on what you have learned.”
Papers and theses and scholarship aren’t just personal projects or measures of intellectual success. They are your voice in the scholarly conversations happening all around you. Remembering this will not only help you take control of your own work, but will also keep your writing penetrable. Yoda knew, like you and me, that reading dense articles is a total slog. So, his inverted syntax notwithstanding, he always made sure his papers clearly passed on what he learned in his research. After all, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Yoda Einstein (Fun fact: Yoda’s design is partly based on ol’ Albert.)
“Do or do not. There is no try.”
Get out there and research! It’s all well and good for big thoughts to be in your brain, but get them out there, put them into words and do work.
Article by Michelle Callaghan, graduate assistant on the Communication and Service Promotion team. She is currently pursuing her MA in English at Villanova University.