A Note from Dr. Chang

“On Equifinality or How I End Up Doing Research: A Tale of Two Goals, With One Common Outcome, Sometimes”

Based on my conventional research training, I have long approached doing research in ways that are typical of most researchers. For example, as Principle Investigator of a study that I have designed and collected data for, I might be very conservative in seeking out the help of an additional colleague or student to help me finish “my” study. And, if I think that I can do it alone, then I surely will try. After all, in the high-stakes world of publication impact factors and authorship credit, many of us have often had our own mentors emphasize the importance of “establishing” or “distinguishing” ourselves from others if we are going to successfully be recognized in our respective research communities to gain tenure and promotion. Indeed, I am sure that I have echoed this very same sentiment to my own graduate students as they have progressed through our doctoral program.

But, in addition to this approach, I also pursued “doing” research in a manner that might seem less conventional. For example, I form labs or teams of several students (e.g., 8 or more students in a lab) to bring them together in an inclusive space where I can mentor them using a research project as a meaningful focal point in which complex learning might unfold. I might initiate a research idea or it might be initiated by a student/s. But, soon enough, we all get to work. Although a few within the team are asked to serve as key leaders within the group (usually based on seniority, experience, and/or maturity), all members of the team start working across all aspects of the research process (e.g., conducting literature reviews, analyzing different research strategies, manuscript drafting/reviewing, data analyses, data interpretation, etc.). When we are “done” with the “writing exercise”, we then make a collective evaluation to determine if the paper (given it’s topic, logic, rationale, coherence, findings, implications, etc.) might be suitable for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. If so, then we work on it further before submitting the paper to an appropriate outlet and we hope for the best. If not, then we try to get “excited” (despite our decision) about the next writing exercise we can engage in so that we can further our research skills and abilities in working together as a team. 

Thus, although it might look to outsiders like I am achieving the same outcome, namely, publishing research articles, this achievement is the result of pursuing two related, but relatively different goals. One goal is to continue to establish and distinguish myself from others as an impactful international researcher on topics that are personally and professionally important to me. The other goal is to provide an inclusive educational space to allow a group of students to learn how to do research and engage in meaningful research activity together. As emphasized earlier by Dr. Deloria, former Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education at LSA, the challenge to providing modern education that matters in elite universities like Michigan is to offer students more “immersive, hands-on or action-based situation[s].” What he did not mention, to my later surprise, is how the pursuit of such educational goals between educators and students might sometimes result in outcomes that go well beyond the classroom setting and a 4-point grading system, including original scientific works! Apart from these two approaches, of course, I have also been very lucky to work with an ever-growing number of amazing colleagues from all over the world who have also helped me be successful in the research context. Overall, I have been fortunate to have found myself working with wonderful students, caring colleagues, and inspiring collaborators, all from a university that deeply values diversity, equity, and inclusivity.

For any of my research colleagues in the academic community reading this, I hope this inspires some of you to “double down” on the value of the educational process, independent of any expected research outcome, and consider opening your doors a bit more to those that may not yet have garnered or obtained some important “distinction”, but are no less motivated and capable of learning from us, and ultimately from each other. After all, many of us who “made it” did so because of those who opened their doors for us, not closed them.

Well, now that you know a little bit about equifinality and how I get research done, it’s time for me to get back to work! If you want to know more about my background, keep reading more below.

Dr. Chang

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