As one of the fortunate students who has been able to participate in the Library as Research Lab project since it began in Winter 2018, this program has deeply shaped my time at the School of Information. In returning to this program for a second year, I’ve discovered that staying with a project long-term teaches a set of valuable professional skills that can’t always be covered in a semester-long class. Being a member of the Library Assessment of Student Learning Lab throughout the course of my time at UMSI has taught me to take ownership of the research process in a way that, to me, feels meaningful and fulfilling. Participating in this program has pushed me to grapple with ambiguity, think deeply about how to ask meaningful questions, and draw real-world conclusions from our findings. I’ve had the chance to watch our research evolve from the very beginning stages until now, when we’re starting to see our work accepted at conferences and shared more broadly in the community.
One of the skills that I’ve developed in this program is pushing through ambiguity when there isn’t a predefined question to explore or a definitive set of answers that mark the end of a project. It was intimidating to begin this program facing the prospect of going through a project when we didn’t yet have set guideposts to follow. It was during an all-hands meeting with a project management specialist that I learned about the “cone of uncertainty,” or that time of uncertainty and ambiguity that occurs at the beginning of a project and eventually funnels into a more defined pathway. Working through our own lab’s “cone of uncertainty” has helped me approach subsequent projects with a more patient attitude and the confidence that if I keep taking action to move forward, the path will continuously become clearer.
In a similar vein, I’ve also learned more about how to ask meaningful questions. Working on a long-term project means that not only did I have a hand in thinking through how to articulate our research questions, but I’ve also seen how a question is carried forward through every aspect of the research process. Often in coursework we’re handed questions to answer, or we’re asked to think of questions that fall within a specific set of constraints. And given the time constraints of class projects, there’s often not time to see how the implications of asking a particular question in a particular way play out throughout the full lifespan of a project. It’s different – and more difficult – to come up with meaningful questions when you and your team are the ones who more or less establish the parameters and are responsible for real-life project outcomes.
It’s been really encouraging to begin seeing results from the work the Library Assessment of Student Learning Lab has been engaged in. I’ve gained a lot of confidence from seeing the positive results of working through uncertainty, and I’ve carried that confidence forward into new projects in my life. I’ve learned that moving forward doesn’t always necessarily need to be a linear process, and that asking questions is an important part of the journey.
Elizabeth Hanley graduated from Kalamazoo College with a B.S. in Psychology. With an interest in exploring how big data and technology can improve education, she is now pursuing an M.S.I. with a focus on Data Science at the University of Michigan School of Information.