Attitudes for success in research



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"To know the road ahead, ask those coming back."

- Chinese proverb



One's attitude is an important ingredient of success in research.

What is attitude?

Persisting feeling or emotion of a person that influences choice of action and response to stimulus. Defined as a disposition or tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain thing (idea, object, person, situation). They encompass, or are closely related to, our opinions and beliefs and are based upon our experiences. Training that produces tangible (real) results starts by changing behavior...which ultimately changes attitudes.

(from “Learning, Performance and Training Definitions”)



In general, attitude is a mind-set, a state of mind. It encompasses the feelings, understandings, and beliefs that one has about something.

Different individuals obviously have different attitudes. Their attitudes about different subjects have been shaped by their knowledge and experiences and by the combination of traits (characteristics) that comprise their personalities.



Mind-set, a state of mind with

feelings + emotions
+ understandings + beliefs

knowledge + experience + traits & personalities attitude




A positive but realistic attitude will help a researcher be successful in research.

Unfortunately, some people who are new to research have an idealized, preconceived notion about research. According to such researchers everything goes as planned as in undergraduate laboratory classes:

·         set up the apparatus

·         start the process,

·         take data,

·         throw the results into the computer,

·         and voila-beautiful results.

In reality, research rarely proceeds in such an idealized way. Failures and setbacks occur and are unavoidable in research.

Dealing with such problems will influence any researcher's ultimate success in a project and attitude towards research.

How you deal with problems encountered in research is a primary indicator of your research attitude.

How do you deal with failure? How do you react when you face an apparent dead end in a project, whether it is writing a paper, building a model kit, performing research, or almost anything in life?


Research rarely proceeds in an idealized way.

Failures and setbacks are common and unavoidable


A positive but realistic attitude

Attitude was informally defined above as a mind-set. More formally, an attitude is a learned internal state of mind that influences personal decision making with respect to some activity or person.

Attitudes can be acquired (obtained) directly by doing or indirectly by learning from either human models or reading. That is, attitudes are the result of learning, with positive attitudes developed from positive experiences and negative attitudes developed from negative experiences.

New attitudes can be developed, and existing attitudes can be modified by external events.

Three elements are necessary for the learning of an attitude:

·         motivation,

·         performance,

·         and feedback.

As you approach a new activity, past experiences create an expectation, and this expectation is a motivating factor in learning. If the motivation leads to performance, the performance can reinforce the expectation, thus solidifying attitude development. For the attitude to become an element of one's decision making, then feedback, direct or vicarious (indirect), in the form of success in applying the attitude, is an important element of attitude learning.

One's attitude towards research influences how a person mentally approaches research, including all work and human interactions related to that research.

Your initial attitude will influence the extent to which you are motivated toward involvement in research. Do not allow negative feelings to keep you from getting involved in research.


Attitudes are the result of learning:
(+) experiences
(+)  attitudes
(-) experiences
(-)  attitudes

Elements of attitude learning:
motivation, performance, feedback

approach a new activity → past experience expectation  motivation performance reinformance of the expectations attitude development

So never allow negative feelings

It is this initial mind-set that will also determine how well you will deal with the problems that you encounter in your research projects:

·         A positive attitude will enable you to find solutions to problems as quickly as possible.

·         Dealing properly with failures will minimize their effect on the quality of the research results and maximize your success as a researcher.

·         A negative attitude will hamper (hinder, delay) your efforts in research, both in terms of technical proficiency and in terms of the interpersonal relationships that research requires.

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A (+) attitude =  fast solutions, high quality research

A (-) attitude = waste of time, poor technical proficiency, weak interpersonal relations



Setting goals that are high, but still within one's ability, often serves as motivation that enables an individual to achieve his or her goals. Extending this idea to the topic of research, motivation toward research can be generated by setting goals. In this sense, research is like a wheelbarrow (handcart). Nothing happens until it is pushed. The goals push the research wheelbarrow.

Several traits can serve as positive motivation toward developing the proper research attitude. Several of these traits will be discussed here.

    Set high but realistic goals

I Can Do It!

Because research often involves long periods of time without noticeable progress, an “I-can-do-it” attitude will improve your likelihood of success. This element of attitude can be viewed as the confidence factor.

Self-confidence will help you when progress slows or when you hit stumbling (barrier) blocks.

Please also note that although confidence is very important for success in research, over-confidence can be detrimental (harmful).

It is important to believe that the hard work that you put into research will ultimately yield success. However, you should temper (soften) your self-confidence with an equal amount of realism.

Begin by accepting the fact that everything will not work correctly at first. But at the same time, believe that you will still be able to overcome the problems and produce useful results.

To be successful, you must thoroughly study what you are researching. As you learn more about a subject, you will gain more self-confidence.

Never forget that being positive and feeling confident that you will succeed are two principal ingredients of a good research attitude.

    I can do it =
 self-confidence + hard work

Caution: be realistic,
Over-confidence can be harmful.


I Will Enjoy Research!

If your initial expectation is that research will be stressful and unrewarding, then you will be negatively motivated toward getting involved in research resulting with a negative attitude towards research. To prevent this, it is important to begin your initial attempt at research expecting to enjoy research. Then, a small success that follows a setback will begin to develop a positive attitude toward research.

Many researchers, even those who enjoy their work, find research stressful. This is especially true when something goes wrong: maybe an experiment that required weeks of preparation failed before measurements could be made, or the resulting data do not seem rational.

 The best way to avoid the stress caused by research is to embark (launch) on the project with the belief that satisfaction may need to wait until the research has been completed. Does that sound rational to you? Think about a professional athlete. After having won a game, the stress of the stressful training days and journeys will be forgotten. The same is true about research. While the research may produce stressful situations, a "love of the game" can help you control the stress and work toward success in research. While you will not have this love-of- the-game attitude when you first get started in research, it will come with time.

One effective way to ensure that you will enjoy research is to find an interesting topic. As long as your topic interests you and you have a good mentor (advisor, supervisor), you will enjoy the research. As you progress in your research, you may find it more interesting, and your effectiveness at doing the research will increase. Moreover, after having experienced failures, you will not as readily get frustrated or overwrought (exhausted) by them. Your research experience will allow you to confront setbacks with a more positive attitude.

    A good initial attitude:
Research is joyful and rewarding

The rule of thumb:
Failures are normal. Satisfaction may need to wait until the research has been completed.

Find an interesting topic:
"Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life" (Confucius)

Talent + Success, Talent + Hard Work = Success

Successful researchers are generally expected to possess both natural intellectual ability (intelligence) and an ability to solve problems. A "straight A" student is often perceived as possessing those qualities. Previous academic success can lead a highly successful student to truly believe in his or her talent alone. Such a student “may” expect that research will be easy and effort will not be a factor in his or her success. Such a person typically has unrealistic expectations and a false sense of confidence in his or her ability. Similarly, an average student may feel that he or she has less potential to do research than a "smart" student, thus believing that he or she has less chance of success in research.

 Success in research is not assured to anyone, not even a genius. Success is determined by a number of factors. While intellect is a factor, numerous others, including determination, persistence, and the desire and confidence to overcome failures, are also involved.

Numerous examples from the history of research show that you can succeed with whatever talent you have as long as you are willing to expend the proverbial (widely known) perspiration (sweat). Some researchers never fared well in school. Thomas Edison was thought to have little talent. However, he had faith in his ability and continued working toward worthwhile goals. Edison's famous quotation, "Success is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration" highlights the point.

Evidence shows that research is not limited to those with the high grade point averages. If you are just an average student, don’t worry, because you can still be successful in research with hard work, dedication, and faith in your ability. You can be successful!

Conversely, if you have exceptional grades, do not believe success in research is assured.

The bottom line is that intellectual ability certainly helps, but only to a certain point. Success in research is the result of many other factors, including attitude, proper time management, moral character, and the ability to interact effectively with others.

    success ≠ high IQ


success =
IQ + determination + persistence + desire and confidence to overcome failures


"Success is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine-percent perspiration" (Edison)

So, everybody can be successful with enough hard work + dedication + faith in one's ability

I Wonder How That Works!

Are you curios? (Do you eagerly seek out knowledge of topics with which you are unfamiliar?) Natural curiosity is a trait that is important in developing a positive attitude towards research.

Curiosity promotes a desire to learn, especially enlarging one's knowledge. But research takes learning beyond your personal knowledge. Research advances the state of the art, so your curiosity can inspire you to expand society's knowledge base. Thus, curiosity is a natural motivating force toward succeeding in research.

Curiosity is important in two principal ways.

·   First, your curiosity leads you to want to “investigate a problem”, that is, to research a topic.

·    Second, curiosity causes you to “remain guarded”. Curiosity prevents you from slacking off (uninterested), because it leads you to question your results.

    Curiosity - eagerly seeking out knowledge - desire to learn:
A (+) attitude
A natural motivating force

- leads you to investigate
- guards you (more investigation, high quality results)

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As indicated previously, performance is the second phase of attitude learning. In this phase, experiences reinforce initial perceptions and cause to develop positive or negative attitude in research: Successes can build your self-confidence, and as you gain experience, you will become more successful. Conversely, failure can destroy self-confidence and can even discourage you from research.


Failure - a Reality of Research

Success and failure are two sides of the same coin. Failures will not prevent you from reaching your goal.

·   Failures commonly occur in research, and it is rare to find where failure has not been a factor in a major research project. How often have we been reminded of the need to learn from our mistakes?

·    Failure, strange as it may seem, is an inevitable part of a researcher's success. It is extremely rare for anyone to get perfect results on their first try. You need to be persistent in checking even seemingly good results until you absolutely convince yourself of their accuracy.

·    If a failure is viewed as insurmountable (impossible to overcome), then the frustration will lead to disillusionment (release from misbelief) and your confidence will waver (damage). Persistence, which is the belief in holding firm to your research goals despite setbacks or failures, is a positive trait for researchers.

Finding errors in your work is not the only way that you will encounter failures. Failures occur when equipment breaks down, uncontrollable factors introduce too much random variation into the results, a computer program is difficult to debug, unexpected results such as outliers occur for which an explanation is not immediately evident, and health problems arise. Any of these can delay progress, cause disappointment, and reinforce negative elements of the research attitude.

Delays in research are common, and you should not get discouraged by them, as they can reduce your self- confidence. You should not give up merely because of temporary setbacks. Instead, learn how to deal with them. One way is to put the work aside for a short period of time: a day, two, or maybe even a week. During this time try to accomplish other tasks, either related or unrelated to the research. For example, you could begin writing a draft of sections of the research report that will be needed when the research is complete, or you could concentrate on course work. You could even clean up your backyard at home. The trick is to make a positive contribution to some aspect of your life such that eventually you will be more likely to approach the problem with a positive attitude. Going into research with this attitude will help you to handle failures effectively.

    Success and failure:
Two sides of the coin

Failures are common in research:
Don't we learn more from our mistakes?

Failures are inevitable:
Just be persistent and seek the accurate results until you are convinced

Don't allow your feelings to go down by failures:
Hold firm to your research goals

Delays are common and discouraging:
Give a break and do something else which is easily accomplishable (introduce a (+) attitude)

Failure in the Experimental Design.

One way of making progress when the research is at a standstill (complete halt) is to review your records of the research.

By retracing the steps that you have completed, your creative talent may help you identify a weak link in your experimental design or analysis.

A research notebook is an important input to the discovery of the problem. A well-kept research notebook includes all data and observations from the experiments. It also includes any thoughts you have about possible conclusions. Any environmental conditions should also be recorded. The notebook includes the past, the present, and the future: past events, present data and analyses, and thoughts about future needs and activities. A detailed and organized notebook provides an accurate history of the project and should enable you to locate mistakes and find ways to overcome setbacks that you encounter.

Once you hit a dead end, you need to take a step backward, assess the situation, and be creative in generating alternate solutions.

If you have trouble coming up with ideas, try discussing the problem with a group of your peers or with your mentor. Group brainstorming sessions are useful for generating ideas.

Also, try to learn from your setbacks and failures. Use your critical thinking skills to extract some useful information from the setback or failure.

In addition to resolving the problem, you should also enhance your problem-solving skills. Creativity enables you to turn failure into a learning experience, allowing you to gain insight that can help you get over the setback or failure in the short term, as well as providing a long-term benefit of avoiding dead ends in the future.

    Review your records

Have a well-kept research notebook

be creative in finding alternative solutions to "dead ends"

Discuss with others for "ideas"

enhance your problem solving skills

Failure of the Hypothesis.

In the face of a problem, it may be necessary to revise the objectives of the research.

Even if the initial hypothesis turns out to be false, that in itself can be a significant outcome of the research. Being inflexible may make you reluctant to change your objectives, which can retard or prevent real progress.

Creativity, combined with observation, can pay dividends (awards) at every stage of research.

    Revise the objectives of the research

Be flexible for real progress

Make use of creativity and observation

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A number of traits have been discussed so far: self- confidence, persistence, curiosity, and creativity. Many others are important to a researcher. Skills related to these traits should be enhanced, while traits that hinder your ability to be successful in research need to be changed. Where it is difficult or impossible to change, recognition of the problem may enable you to prevent the trait from limiting your success in research.

Memory. One problem that most people have is forgetfulness. Being forgetful does not mean that you cannot remember anything, just that you do not have total recall at all times. Everyone forgets things at times. Numerous memory training techniques are available commercially. However, the simplest one is also one of the most useful: if you need to remember something, write it down. Use yellow sticky notes, daily planners, or the like. Notes and lists are great devices to jar your memory.

Above all, though, the key memory aid in research is a research notebook. A research notebook should include all of your data, everything that you did, and all your thoughts, regardless of how inconsequential they may seem at the time they occurred.

Self-Confidence. Self-confidence is another trait that is desirable in a researcher. Very often, a lack of self-confidence is a problem, especially for someone new to research. Experience helps most people become more confident in their abilities to do research-related work. The more setbacks you have experienced, the more confident you will become in your ability to overcome obstacles in your research.

Curiosity. Curiosity is another important characteristic. It is linked to persistence. Curiosity gets you to question something, or wonder about it. Persistence drives you to do the actual work and investigate the problem that stimulated your curiosity. It is the curiosity-persistence drive that is important, even if you initially believe that a solution is not possible.

Honesty. Honesty is an important trait for a researcher. Honesty is the condition of being trustworthy, fair, and free of deceit (cheating) and fraudulent (guilty) behavior. If a researcher is not honest, he or she may falsify data. Never trust the work of a dishonest researcher. You can never know how much, if any, of it is usable.

While honesty is important in all three phases of attitude learning, it is of special significance in the performance phase. Numerous instances will occur in research where your honesty can be tested. An honest attitude will be reinforced when you record and analyze all data honestly and the results support your research. Your honesty will be especially tested when the data do not support your hypothesis. However, if you conduct yourself in an honest manner even in the face of failure, it will act as feedback to reinforce an honest attitude.

    Be aware of your "negatives":
change! - make them "positive"
if impossible, prevent their interference to your success


If you want to remember something:
write it down!
Never ever trust your memory even though you are proud of it.

Self-confidence develops by time: There is always a way to overcome obstacles in your research.

Curiosity - persistence drive makes solutions possible

Honesty: the condition of being trustworthy, fair and free of cheating and guilty behavior

A researcher should never falsify data. (honest data recording and analysis)

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The mentor or advisor is not a peer (friend). You should think of your mentor as your superior because of his or her role, which is to advise you in your research project. This superior/subordinate relationship exists because the advisor has more experience at research, greater technical knowledge, and usually holds an official institutional position that carries the responsibilities of a superior.

Two aspects of your research attitude are especially crucial to the special relationship between you as a beginning researcher and your mentor.

·   First, you must respect your mentor. The mentor cannot help you if you do not respect him or her. Without respect, the lines of communication between the two of you will not function properly and the synergy that should arise from your association disappears.

Part of your respect for your mentor should be not just for the person, but for his or her technical knowledge and professional experience.

In some cases, the subordinates (someone under the authority of another) may have greater intelligence than the mentor. However, this does not mean that the student knows more. The mentor often has more experience than the student. That experience gives your mentor knowledge you cannot possibly have, knowledge you must respect.

·   Second, you must also realize that his or her knowledge is not infinite. Mentors are often involved in the research because they seek knowledge, not because they know the answer. However, they have knowledge that can help you succeed. This is the knowledge that you seek. People should think of mentors as individuals who are themselves learning. If mentors knew everything to begin with, then your research would be pointless.


Thus, choose a mentor with whom you can work. It will be far easier to work with a mentor who has an attitude compatible with yours than one with whom you are not compatible.

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    Advisors are not your friends! They are your superiors.

They have:
- more experience at research,
- greater technical knowledge,
- holds an official position

Respect them!
If not:
- no healthy communication
- no synergy

Their knowledge is not infinite!
If they know the answer, why should they seek knowledge (research)?

Working with an advisor is like marriage:
Choose an advisor with whom you can work!

"To know the road ahead, ask those coming back."
- Chinese proverb