Completing a formal research paper at the college-level can be a daunting task, even for students who are actually in college. It requires a great deal of self discipline, time management, and focus. So how do Pioneer scholars, high school students from all over the world, do it?
The Pioneer Research Program, while highly rigorous, ensures that all students are held to the same standards of excellence and that the culmination of their efforts is on par with university-level research. As such, the program has a variety of supports in place to help students rise to this challenge. Live one-one-one sessions with a faculty mentor, for one. A cohort advisor, two. And a research seminar program specifically tailored to break down the research process into actionable steps. Not to mention Pioneer’s writing center and access to faculty mentors through the learning management system.
This is what we do, but let’s see what our alumni have to say about how they approached the research process and what resources, tools, and strategies they found most useful along the way.
Pioneer scholar Nourane (political science, 2019), from Tunisia, described how self-discipline was an important part of her learning with Pioneer. Moving her research forward was challenging at first because of the abundance of compelling data she found on her topic. “The first week when I was doing this, I found myself drowning in information,” she shared, “and since I was generally enjoying reading…it was hard to pull myself out of an article that I knew wasn’t going to be very helpful and actually look for the next one.”
Nourane noticed this right away and spoke to her faculty mentor, who gave her some interesting advice. “She told me I should allow myself at least a maximum of one day…[to] get overwhelmed and drowned with information that I was enjoying,” she said. Her professor explained that when Nourane came back to her research the next day, she would have the ability to refocus. Nourane found this approach helped! She said that now, when she has too many open tabs to articles that don’t relate to her research question, she has a built-in self-monitoring system that enables her to continue. “I am still drowning myself with fun information here and there,” Nourane said. “But I think I’m following a certain agenda that I built for myself. And I think the fact that I built it for myself was the learning experience.”
Manage your time
Time management does not come easily to all Pioneer scholars. This was the case for Yiyi (chemistry, 2019), a Pioneer scholar from China. “During my research, I had a period of time where I was procrastinating a lot and I said to myself, ‘No, you cannot do this anymore.’” So she looked at the information presented in the Pioneer research seminars and found that time management skills were frequently featured.
Specific time management strategies Yiyi used successfully included making a visual to organize her research tasks. This entailed listing each one on a graph with four domains, the x-axis measuring the importance of the task and the y-axis representing its urgency. “You do those things that are most important and most urgent firsthand,” Yiyi explained, “then you start to do the others.”
Other strategies Yiyi used include downloading an app that disabled her phone during the time she devoted to her Pioneer research each day and using a web-based daily planner to share her research schedule with friends. Both of these tools helped her stay accountable and overcome procrastination.
Learn from those who have gone before
Pioneer scholar David (political science, 2020), from the United States, had some advice on finding the right methodology for a research paper. He recommended thinking about the foundation of the project and the end result, in this case, a scholar’s research question and possible answers. “Once you have your theme down…think of how the question is worded and…what possible answers might lead to it,” he suggested. This process can help students begin to identify what approach might work best for their research.
“You start out with possible answers and the possible methodology to get to those answers,” David explained, emphasizing that this does not have to be a solo endeavor and, in fact, it isn’t meant to be. “The professor is always there to help you…they are there to guide us, to tell us where to go,” he said.
In addition to seeking the guidance of faculty mentors, David advises scholars to consult the experts. No need to reinvent the wheel. See what methodologies have worked for esteemed academics whose work you admire. “Look into well-known websites in your field,” he said. “Read past research papers…related to your topic. There you’ll learn how to set up your methodology.”
Set small goals
Yifei (engineering, 2019), from China, recommends that students outline what they would like to achieve at each step of the research process and set small, achievable goals. She added that this method can work well in accordance with the class schedule and suggests breaking the project down into small goals and planning to meet them at daily, weekly or monthly intervals. This can make the process more manageable and help students complete their research papers by the deadline with enough time to produce a quality product. In doing so, “You won’t sacrifice sleeping. You won’t sacrifice social life or other studies,” she said, which can often be the case when trying to complete a project of this caliber without adequate time.
Prepare for the unexpected
On that note, Pioneer scholar Jumana (chemistry, 2019), strongly advises allowing enough time in your schedule for research tasks so that the finished product reflects all of the effort that went into each step. She urges students to plan for the unexpected, so when things arise (as they invariably do), students will still have the capacity to complete their papers with the time and attention required. Rushing at the very end can compromise the work and negate the effort a student has put into a project. “If you don’t get a great paper at the end, all of the effort kind of seems futile,” Jumana said.
Overwhelmingly, the skills Pioneer scholars cited as integral to the research process are ones they learned and practiced throughout their Pioneer experience and will likely continue to use in their academic and professional lives for years to come.