The University of Iowa (2019) defines reflective thought as a process that occurs when “students use their previous knowledge, and new found ideas and relate them with similar attributes to help make remembering concepts education easier” (p. 1). Alternatively, Hawaii Education (2019) links reflective thinking with critical thought by saying it is a cognitive responsibility designed to improve the outcome of a specific task. In addition, it posits that such thinking is “purposeful, reasoned and goal-directed” (Hawaii Education (2019, p. 1).
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In this document, I will provide a reflective account of my experiences being a London-based development researcher. The discussion will be contextualized vis-à-vis my personality traits to understand how my professional and personal views influence each other. The evidence gathered will be contrasted to have a broader understanding of my expectations and reality in the field of development research. Furthermore, it will be helpful in assessing the role of my belief systems and structures in my professional growth. In this diary, I will also attempt to deconstruct my beliefs and assumptions regarding my personal growth and professional experiences to understand the influences that both of them have on each other. In describing my presumptions and experiences in the field, I will also focus on my interactions with colleagues in the field of development research and the role that these communications have had in shaping my expectations and reality in the discipline. The main themes that I will explore in this study are focused on teamwork, self-empowerment, self-belief, and vision.
The definition of reflexivity that underscores the development of this reflective journal does not differ much from that of Gaziano (2014), Scott (2017), and Dunnington (2018), who define it as a constant probe into the cause and effect of human belief structures. This analysis augurs well with researchers who have advocated for the need to promote professional self-awareness as a tool for accomplishing personal goals (Scott 2017; Dunnington 2018). This view is vital in understanding the interplay between my personality type and professional expectations.
Before delving into the details of this analysis, I regret to say that I did not envision becoming a development researcher, but rather my family influenced me to be one. My parents and uncles are relatively renowned academicians, and they encouraged me to pursue the field of development research because they thought it would be a good fit for my skills and competencies. Furthermore, they believed that my high levels of concentration would make me a successful researcher because I can demonstrate excellent commitment and professionalism in my work.
My expectations entering the development research field were that I would finally have a purpose in life. In other words, I believed that the profession would be appropriate for my skill set because it would make me “fit in” my family of academicians. Although I was comfortable early in my career about my choice of profession, I started questioning myself about the main reason why I joined the discipline. Consequently, I realized that the role of my family in dictating my career path was unquestioned. This realization led me to think about why I seek my family’s approval or even people’s approval, in general. More importantly, I started questioning myself about whether this attitude has shaped my performance at work or it has had no effect at all. After careful introspection, I have discovered that my need for approval could have a negative impact on my performance because it makes me put other people’s interests before my own. Although I get to fulfill other people’s expectations this way, I have become increasingly resentful to myself because I feel weak, like I cannot stand up for myself. This feeling mostly manifests when I am maintaining good customer relations and the clients are not appreciative of the effort I put into delivering quality work. Therefore, I constantly find myself asking the question – “What is the point?”
One of the key features of my work is developing relationships with different kinds of agencies and people who have interests in multiple fields of research. The dynamism of the development research discipline varies across different demographics and institutions. For example, I have found that schools and religious institutions are strict in the manner they conduct their research and are committed to fulfilling the overall goals and vision of their projects. Therefore, there is a great emphasis on the methodologies used to come up with the research findings. Alternatively, in my experience, companies are flexible in their approach to achieving specific goals and objectives. For example, I once worked on a project as a research assistant, and my superior was given a huge budget to oversee the work because the clients were interested in the outcomes of the research more than the cost of undertaking the investigation.
The variance in objectives and methodologies for different types of clients has helped me to appreciate diversity in the field because, for a long time, I have always thought in a linear manner. Stated differently, I have always processed issues from a limited or restrictive perspective and without giving credence to alternative views. However, my career has taught me to change this perception with the heightened recognition that different customers have unique types of needs. This dissection of the consumer market is representative of the works of Hinojosa et al. (2017) and Rose (2015), who explored the role of cognitive dissonance in influencing human behavior. Many investigations done in this area of research have been domiciled in market research and consumer behavioral fields (Paton, Chia & Burt 2014).
The diversity of research has also played a pivotal role in expanding my knowledge about different social and economic topics, as I have worked on multiple projects in social and scientific research. The most interesting aspect of this finding is that I have come to appreciate the interconnectedness of different disciplines. Stated differently, it is my experience that most fields of science are interrelated. Consequently, I have come to question the need to explore different research issues without placing emphasis on the contextual meaning of their applications. In my view, this gap in research explains existing complaints about the difficulties of transferring academic knowledge to real-world situations (Mortari 2015; Sim & Lau (2017). The same problem has been highlighted in the works of Parrish (2015), Mortari (2015), Sim and Lau (2017), who have investigated the existence of a gap between research findings and practice. Consequently, I believe that current discussions on development research need to be focused on further narrowing the gap between academic knowledge and practice because, if left unaddressed for a long time, it could create a negative perception of the discipline, especially when it comes to an understanding the relevance of research findings in solving social problems.
In my practice, I have interacted with many people. Particularly, the process of working with my research assistants has helped me realize that I need more patience, despite perceiving myself as an “understanding person.” Although I value the work that my colleagues do, the minor mistakes they make tend to irritate me. This realization has made me introspective about attention to detail, which is a key part of my work ethic. Based on this understanding, I have become fearful of the fact that my detail-oriented nature would make me lose sight of my objectives at work. One of my colleagues who recently worked on a project with me in South London said, “You let too many petty things get in the way of your success!” After relating this statement to my family members, I realized that my mother was the same way. Therefore, I may have developed an obsession with detail through socialization. Several researchers have mentioned this transference method by investigating human behavior in the workplace based on their exposure to environmental stimuli (Korte & Mercurio 2017; Harlos 2016; Li et al. 2018; van Gerwen, Buskens & van der Lippe 2018).
Working in London has increased the complexity of my performance because the city has a competitive business landscape that is characterized by many people competing for the same projects. Therefore, the pressure to “stand out” is immense, and it has affected work output as well. The need to outperform rivals could be a demoralizing factor for most people in the discipline, especially if they feel that they are unable to meet the “commonly accepted” performance standards (Harlos 2016; Li et al. 2018; van Gerwen, Buskens & van der Lippe 2018). This feeling negatively influences their morale because it may make them feel inadequate or incompetent (Korte & Mercurio 2017; Harlos 2016).
In my assessment, I do not consider this type of expectation to be negative because I work well under pressure. In fact, I attribute most of my career progress to such type of high-performance expectations. I believe it eliminates procrastination and laziness because a set standard of performance should be achieved regardless of the circumstances involved. For example, I often think it is a challenge to outperform my colleagues. Particularly, I like to model my work behavior on high performers in the industry because the belief that I can do what someone else has done supports my actions at work. I find that most of my colleagues are unable to harness the “discomfort” brought by this type of pressure. Therefore, they complain as opposed to exploiting available opportunities for growth.
My inability to understand people who are unable to translate work pressures into productive outputs has made me reflect on my biases and possible lack of empathy for people who use different strategies of motivation. Several research studies that experts in the human resource discipline have conducted highlight differences in motivation among employees (Harlos 2016; Li et al. 2018; van Gerwen, Buskens & van der Lippe 2018). Therefore, it is unfair for me to think that the same things that impress me should motivate my colleagues. This realization has taught me that regardless of how I may be able to achieve certain goals in my life, I am still human and have biases regarding how to undertake organizational tasks. This view is useful to the relationships I share with my colleagues because we need to devise a way of working together to achieve our goals without having personality clashes.
Being an introvert, I have struggled to find the right balance between work and life, especially because my career often comes in the way of my personal time. Therefore, there are instances where I have gone to work feeling disgruntled and demoralized because I believed I needed more time alone to “recharge.” Indeed, interacting with other people sometimes feels like a task, and this keeps me demoralized. By understanding my introverted nature, I have started questioning whether I would have been a better person had I chosen another career path that did not require as much human interaction as being a development researcher, and I think not. Therefore, I believe that my experience as a professional in the industry has helped to break my limitations and embrace the opportunities that come with teamwork, especially in a profession that demands collaboration among different stakeholders.
Over the last few years, there has been a significant decline in the number of resources allocated to research in different companies, as most of them struggle to downsize and stay competitive in an increasingly fast-paced business environment. This trend has forced some researchers to seek alternative funding – a process that has forced us to be friendly to our partners. Although it is not ideal, collaborating with financiers has made me more accountable for my work because these stakeholders have entrusted us with their resources to develop solutions or help them acquire the right information to complete specific tasks. This trust has made me question how accountable I am to other people and (more specifically) my partners.
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Mayernik (2017), Jan Brandsma, Heidbreder, and Mastenbroek (2016) share this view by saying that accountability demands that people should stand by their actions or decisions, even when they are at fault. The practice helps to minimize the possibility of transferring blame to other people, which I believe is detrimental to the overall performance of a business or a research project. Pieces of evidence from selected research studies also show that accountability is important in building good employee relations because it encourages supervisors to behave as model employees (Komba 2017; West, Hillenbrand & Money 2015).
These experiences have taught me an invaluable lesson about people, and that is, we can achieve a lot if we support and work together. Hu and Randel (2014) also share this view by suggesting that although one person may be intelligent, they cannot outsmart a collective group. Another lesson I have learned from my experience as a development researcher is the need for balance in life. Particularly, I have gained valuable knowledge about the importance of balancing my internal beliefs with external factors because the failure to do so makes me feel outstretched. Consequently, I may experience a lack of control in certain parts of my life. This issue has been a challenge for me because I understand the need to be professional and meet deadlines, but I often do not understand the point of doing all the work if I cannot take some time off and just “be human.”
As highlighted in this paper, this problem has been exacerbated by city life because London is a busy place, and it may force people to work extra hard to live in it. For example, housing is a major problem in the city because it is expensive to reside in it. It is no wonder that most of my friends rent homes on the outskirts of the city. However, London’s cosmopolitan nature makes it worthwhile to keep working hard to enjoy some of the benefits of working and living in a big and vibrant city. For example, I have lived in a few major United States (US) cities, and London emerges as having a better work-life balance. For example, there are more holidays in the United Kingdom (UK) than in America.
The need to strike a balance between work and life underscores one of my key character traits, which is to do things purposefully, regardless of the goal. Being a development researcher has not only helped me to learn many new things about the field but also exposed me to a network of people who live and work in London. I believe that such interactions have been possible because I live in a cosmopolitan city. The need for balance, and more importantly, to love what I do, cannot be overstated here because without this synchrony, there will be no motivation to work hard and succeed. This analysis draws its insights from studies that researchers, such as Ong and Jeyaraj (2014), have written about work-life balance. Overall, the lessons I have learned throughout my career stem from my curiosity and willingness to learn. This trait has been inherent in my family because we are inquisitive people. The drive to achieve higher levels of advancement in our personal lives has further catalyzed this trend. Therefore, there is more knowledge to be acquired both from my personal and professional views of development research.
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