Finding the Research “Sweet Spot”: Tips for Students (Gupta)

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What is the research “sweet spot”? First let’s talk about what doesn’t work with research. Here are two mistakes.

(1) Arguing a thesis or idea that has been done already. Sometimes students have an idea that they think is new, but it is not – it is simply new to them. They are excited about what they discovered and firmly believe that if that idea caught on, it would change the world. Yes indeed, but a good dissertation or thesis must be more than a directed passion. (I want to argue that the church should be [fill in the blank]…)

(2) Going out into the idea abyss. Sometimes students have a “wild idea” and want to run with it. OK, I like that moxie and I applaud the adventurous spirit. But, in the end, an idea must be defensible. So, there must be enough material and evidence “out there” for the idea to “stick.” (So you have a new theory about who wrote John, do you?)

Now – the “sweet spot.”

The sweet spot is where the research idea is genuinely “new” and presses out beyond what has already been done. Nevertheless, what exists in scholarship and evidence must be enough to legitimately make that idea possible, better yet, plausible or likely.

With my own students, I want them to feel confident enough that they can defend their ideas, but always live with this kind of light anxiety – is this going to work? Only with that fear and tension do we gain the courage to push boundaries and cause those around us to perk up and take notice.

If I had to choose, I would take a bold thesis that struggles with the evidence over a mundane re-hash of what is already out there. But, all things considered, I encourage you to aim for confident discomfort, an excitement for the new that can be reassured by “reasonable support,” creativity that stands (even if on tip-toes) on the shoulders of the giants who have come before us – i.e., “the sweet spot.”

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