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The significance of anxiety for the research process

The significance of uncertainty and anxiety in the research process is explored in a new article by researchers at Stockholm University and the Swedish Defense University. The focus is primarily on how to formulate research questions and how anxiety can contribute to a more creative research process and more interesting research problems.

"We want to normalize the worry and difficult feelings associated with the research process," says Linus Hagström, a professor of political science at the Swedish Defense University.

Formulating research questions

Several years ago, Karl Gustafsson, Professor of International Relations at Stockholm University, and Linus Hagström wrote an article on how researchers can develop meaningful research questions.

"As researchers, one needs to be able to explain the purpose of the research, and we wanted to help students, doctoral students, and researchers work on meaningful research questions," explains Karl Gustafsson.

However, it turned out not to be so straightforward. Despite the article being downloaded over 85,000 times, there was some concern that the advice they provided might not always be effective.

"Some undoubtedly benefited from our article, while others felt more restricted by our advice. And they didn't always work as we had hoped when we tested them on our own doctoral students and students," says Linus Hagström.

Uncertainty and anxiety as a part of the process

After both reading and researching a lot about the significance of anxiety in international politics, they began to consider the role emotions play when doctoral students develop their identity as researchers. This led to a new article that takes into account the uncertainty and anxiety that characterize the research process.

"In this article, we argue that one needs to embrace uncertainty and continue to ask difficult questions throughout the entire process. Over time, you will begin to see patterns and formulate your research questions, often with the help of narratives," says Karl Gustafsson.

"We believe that research problems can be constructed narratively. If we organize what we know in the form of a story where we describe previous research, how we perceive it, and what contribution we can make, we get a less acute sense of anxiety and create meaning," says Linus Hagström.

Identity, anxiety and narrative

The article builds on theoretical discussions about identity, anxiety, narrative, and their own experiences as researchers. They explore the relationship between anxiety and creativity, emphasizing that anxiety must be faced and embraced rather than avoided. They both argue that much of it is about persistence and working through difficult emotions to progress in the research process.

"Anxiety is something that is commonly experienced negatively in everyday life, and it is a natural reaction to try to avoid it. But those who have written a lot about the concept argue that if, instead of avoiding anxiety, we embrace it and consider what we can learn from it, it can actually lead to something positive," says Karl Gustafsson.

They also encourage doctoral students not to avoid situations where they receive criticism, even if such situations can be anxiety-inducing, but to see it as a learning process in which worry and anxiety are an inevitable part.

"Criticism and scrutiny are a natural part of the research process and a way to further develop as a researcher," says Linus Hagström.

The hope is that the article can be used by students, doctoral students, and researchers to provide support throughout the research process.

"I hope it can contribute to doctoral students struggling with their research questions to receive support and move forward," says Linus Hagström..

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