Feb 4, 2012

 How are pieces of research like eggs?  Well, I was having a fun conversation with a grad student of mine while we were dining in the aftermath of a workshop on failed states, and I was suggesting a potential research strategy.  The point I was trying to make is that you don’t want to waste your research.  At first, I was using bullets–but given our topics, violence, and given that bullets do not degrade over time, eggs made more sense.

The basic idea is that when you do research, you don’t always use everything you learn for a particular piece.  Indeed, one of Saideman’s rules of dissertations is that just because you learned something does not mean it fits in the dissertation.  Focus is important.  But if you learn stuff along the way that does not go into article x, you should use it for another publication.  Each article or book idea is an egg.  You can do different things with any egg–poach, scramble, omelet, quiche, frittata, use for cookies, french toast, etc.  So, an idea can be prepared in a variety of ways, and you don’t want to waste an idea by just leaving it alone and undeveloped.  An egg that just sits around on a shelf is not doing you any good.  Same with a research idea.  You want to crack it open, beat it, mix it with something (butter is usually a good idea), and bake it/fry it.  And, eggs, unlike bullets, will eventually become useless (rotten, smelly, etc.).  So, you can let an idea sit around for a while, but it may eventually become unusable.

I did not intend to learn much about Canada and failed states when I started my current project.  But, as I was poking around, trying to understand NATO and Afghanistan, a variety of questions and even some answers arose, including some involving a country I previously believed to be boring (ok, Canada is not always thrilling, but it has had a relatively interesting decade or so).

So, you can do a lot of different things with any hunk of knowledge–write a book, write a policy-oriented article, write an academic piece for a journal, blog about it, use it for teaching, whatever.  Just as an egg can be used in a variety of ways.  It depends on what appeals to one’s audience.  Making breakfast for oneself is different than making a breakfast for a family and different from making lunch for some friends, and so on.

As I have mentioned before, I am a big believer in portfolio approaches--publishing in a variety of outlets to get ideas across to a variety of audiences, maximizing visibility, impact, ego and also chances for employment, tenure, raises and the rest.  So, it may take some creativity and planning to figure out how to use each idea for optimal impact but it also depends on preferences.  I prefer French Toast to pancakes and waffles, but all are perfectly good uses for eggs.  Just try not to waste any eggs… or ideas. 

And, yes, I have beaten this analogy more than the average scrambled egg.

website | + posts

Steve Saideman is Professor and the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton University’s Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. He has written The Ties That Divide: Ethnic Politics, Foreign Policy and International Conflict; For Kin or Country: Xenophobia, Nationalism and War (with R. William Ayres); and NATO in Afghanistan: Fighting Together, Fighting Alone (with David Auerswald), and elsewhere on nationalism, ethnic conflict, civil war, and civil-military relations.