Lessons for amateur researchers

After having my blog featured on the official COMEXUS list of Fulbright Grantee blogs (check out my fellow grantee’s awesome blogs here) I thought I should write a post talking about my research, more specifically the struggles of research. No pictures of delicious food or beautiful sites in this post – but as I mentioned last post, I will be going on a fantastic multi-city very cultural trip this weekend through next, so watch out for that. 

At the beginning of my grant period in September I was put in contact with a man in a high ranking position in the government entity that is most involved in the theme of my research. I sent him an email explaining my project and asked him for advice. Two weeks went by and he sent me back a very polite email offering his help to meet the right people if I were ever to visit Mexico City. I responded thanking him for his help and told him I was planning a trip to Mexico City around February and that I would get in touch with him with solid dates as soon as I had them.

The months go by and January rolls around and I plan my trip to Mexico City for my Fulbright mid-term reunion in February. I decide to take advantage of the fact that I will already be in Mexico City so that I can do some research for my project. I send an email about my travel plans to the aforementioned man in the government entity. A week goes by with no response. I am not nervous yet because it took two weeks for him to respond to the first email. A few more days go by and I am now a week and a half from my trip to Mexico City, I begin to get nervous. I look for the original email to make sure I sent it to the correct address (it was the correct address) and I see that he copied someone else on the email, his assistant. I email his assistant asking if there is another way to get in touch with the Dr., no response. I look up the Dr. on the government entity’s website and sure enough he is still listed in his position. I ask the person who originally put us in touch if there is another way to reach the Dr., and he gives me his phone number. I call and leave a message. No response back. I write another email saying that I am going to call again. At this point I am four days from my departure. 

I write out a script of exactly what I want to say and dial the number, then the extension…I am forwarded to a general operator and when I ask to speak to the Dr. the woman on the other line informs me that he no longer works at that government entity. I am half relieved and half panicked. Relieved because this person was not intentionally ignoring me for nearly three weeks, and panicked because I put all of my eggs in one basket counting on this one contact to come through for me. Also, I feel silly when I realize that what I though was the tone to leave a message the first time I called was probably some other noise to signal that the extension was dead, so I left a message to the airwaves.

The next morning I search the government entity’s directory to see who else I can email to help me and I find a series of broken pages and links that take me to the wrong places. After some digging, I find a helpful directory and begin to email people with job titles that sound like they might be helpful to me. I draft an email explaining my project, my issue with the earlier contact, and ask for help. After 12 minutes I have one very polite response giving me the email of someone who could help me. After 15 minutes I have another response offering me the contact information of two other people who could be of assistance. Within half an hour I have 4 responses containing the contact information of other people who could help me. 

From this experience I have learned several lessons.

1. If you are polite and ask for help, people generally want to help you. This goes in life and in research. People don’t always want to help you, and that’s ok too.  

2. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you don’t know. This goes with lesson #1. Telephone calls with people you don’t know can be terrifying, but an email isn’t so bad. If they never respond, oh well (or maybe they don’t work there anymore and no one has bothered to update the page…). 

3. If you cast a wide enough net, you will catch something. If you send enough emails to different people you are bound to get a response from at least one person. I received four responses for seven emails that I sent. This isn’t to say that you should email anyone and everyone who has an email in a directory, but there is usually more than one person who can lead you in the right direction. 

4. You are no one’s first priority but your own. Unless you are a very important person who has worked in your field for quite some time, no one is going to be rearranging their schedule or going out of their way to help you. Ask for help when you need it, but don’t be surprised if people don’t get back to you as soon as possible. 

That being said, I am ready to pack up and head out for my next adventure. It will include some nature time and some city time and will surely include many photos. Until next time!

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