Call me Researchishmael

“There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody’s expense but his own.”
― Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)

Having watched a recent film adaptation of a legendary Moby Dick  (“In the Heart of the Sea” by Ron Howard), I was absolutely awestruck with the twisted plot and a nail biting atmosphere of the film.

Saying that I was amazed and gripped till the very end of the film – is to say nothing. Except that in this story I didn’t see the adventure of a whaling ship… What I saw in the film was a perfect allusion to an everyday life of an academic.

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But what does a whaling ship have to do with academics? Who plays the role of a White Whale in this academic mise en scène? 

Apparently, the White Whale in this story is, of course, the R-E-S-E-A-R-C-H  itself. A colossal Leviathan, who, the academics, or, in this regard, the whalemen, are aspiring to catch and eviscerate.

Having equipped themselves with the necessary cordage and secure invincible vessel (which in the context of academics, is, of course, a professional literature review, nice conceptual framework and well-formulated research questions), our academics are getting ready to hunt and conquer this Monster.

It is important to bear in mind the fact, that hunting the White While is a very, very, serious undertaking. Thus, we should not underestimate the role of a crew – academics around you, whalemen like you, searching for the answer in the eyes of the Leviathan. Never forget about the power of interdependence, which was bequeathed to us by Dewey (1966) in another book, not about whales (paradoxically). If you get on well with your crew members, the chances are you can beat the White Whale together, in case your conceptual framework (or, sail) does not work well, or has some holes inside it. Having another academic’s back can bring other alternatives of conceptual framework useful to your study; in turn, your framework can help another fellow hunter, and so on. This cooperation finally can lead all the hunters to the right place.

BUT  you shouldn’t relax. Once you find the secret location  where the White Whale resides, you should make sure your harpoon is sharp enough to spear the Beast. In this vein, academics are strongly recommended to have really cogent and well-articulated arguments to get the answer to their research questions, otherwise, all the adventure is doomed from the start. Nevertheless, even if you have the best equipment and quick mind, there is still a jeopardy of not finding YOUR White Whale. Sometimes it happens that the Whale is already conquered by another hunter, just because he or she was luckier than you and could be ahead of time (implying that the research has already been conducted, and been sent to press to the very influential journal with a really high impact factor).

So, time is also an important ingredient in this academic enterprise. In the film, it took about two years for the whalemen to conduct their “hunting”. Nevertheless, don’t be fooled – sometimes, (**Spoiler Alert!**) the research may take years of unproductive, exhausting sailing, at the same time relentlessly taking your spare time, your sleep, your friends, and your good looks without any silver lining prognosis. Sometimes, the hunting may maroon you in the middle of nowhere place with an unpleasant name “No significant difference was found”, turning your whole adventure into a (tragi-?) comedy.

But what distinguishes a true and brave whaleman from an ordinary academic, is that nothing will stop a true academic from the pursue of adventure for a really Big Fish, for an ideal White Whale; instead, like in the film, the true adventure-seekers with a strong faith in their Research won’t be intimidated by bad weather conditions, or by the possibility of failure. A crybaby on a boat – is an omen. What you can do is to take the sharpest harpoon, construct the best vessel resistant to any sort of stress, and take the most faithful members into the crew (and some coffee, probably). All in all, the journey should be fun, and only the belief in oneself (and a nice APA formatting, of course) can attract the incredible White Whale .

“Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth.”
― Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851)

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