Research is Risky Business

By Mike Mackert

I fondly remember the theories seminar I took the first semester of my doctoral program at Michigan State University. As we worked to understand the history of mass communication theory and also consider where the field might be going, the faculty member would often remind us that “Research is risky business.” We would have ideas for projects that wouldn’t work out, or our data wouldn’t match our expectations, or reviewers wouldn’t agree with the contribution we were making, or… you get the idea.

After more than a decade of doing health communication research, I can say without a doubt that he was correct. I managed to design a survey incorrectly and lose half of my data, which was one of the more traumatic experiences of my graduate research career. I couldn’t even begin to count the number of studies where we didn’t find exactly what we expected. Sometimes, we even found the exact opposite of what we predicted.

I’ve certainly internalized that “Research is risky business” mantra, and I pass it along to all my advisees. Anyone who is exploring new ideas has to be willing to find out they’re wrong, and I think that’s important for graduate students – who are preparing for careers of pursuing answers to original research questions – to understand.

(One former advisee even gave me a framed version of the saying which now sits in my office. Maybe I use that phrase a lot?)

More broadly, I think of that “Research is risky business” idea a lot when I’m considering where the Center for Health Communication is going in the coming years. I expect there will be some missteps along the way – projects that don’t go as planned, grant applications which aren’t funded, etc. But I know the work of the CHC and all its affiliates is important, and the end result of our work will help advance the field of health communication and ultimately contribute to better outcomes for individuals and populations.