Dear women scholars of the future,
I was pondering what to write for you as I did not know what you wanted to hear from me.
“Why not ask them?”
—A voice then came out of my mind.
—A voice that always pushes me to find answers for a research question.
I happened to get an opportunity to talk to different young Chinese students in the tourism domain after giving a guest lecture to more than 100 students. They were eager to hear from female scholars and asked me many questions. The following questions that were frequently asked will be answered in this letter.
- When did you decide to take the academic path? How did you know that you are suitable or good at a research/academic career?
- How did you pick up a research topic?
1. About the start of the academic path
I decided to take the academic path during my third year of study for a master’s degree. (It usually takes three years to finish a master’s degree in China). Many young students have a sense of uncertainty and confusion about their future. They do not know how to set achievable goals as they have few ideas about who they want to, or will, be. I was one of them during my undergraduate time. In spite of this, I didn’t stop learning, especially English.
At the beginning of my master’s study, I still did not have a clear goal for my future. I happened to read a book called “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz. I was very excited as this book challenges many taken-for-granted understandings of how things work and brings new insights into people’s psychology by presenting evidence-based arguments. Most of its augments are based on previous experimental studies. I was attracted by such a scientific way to understand the world. I then started to do some research but failed several times and I had not decided to take research as a career. However, I did not give up and finally wrote my first English-language paper. At that time, I felt a sense of achievement and enjoyment. Then, I decided to continue my study as a PhD student. After that, I arose every day feeling replenished and with a clear mission. Thus, it is better to try to do some research with experienced researchers to see if you are suitable.
2. About choosing a research topic
Many students give up their research halfway due to inappropriate research topics. Choosing a research topic determines other steps of conducting a scientific study, suggesting the importance of choosing the right topic. I summarised an approach called Vipo (value, interests, practice, and originality) based on my own experiences for selecting a research topic.
When choosing a research topic, students should think about the value that their research will deliver. Practical and theoretical contributions are considered valuable in scientific studies. Additionally, I think the value to the researcher themselves is also of importance when considering a topic. A researcher can cultivate an interest, broaden their horizon, and make friends in doing research. Thus, regarding the value in choosing a research topic, three elements can be taken into consideration: interests (related to individual values), practice, and originality (related to theoretical values).
Interests are like sugars which add sweet taste to your research. It is not easy to match your interests in doing research. However, we are lucky to be tourism researchers because tourism is interdisciplinary, expanding across a wide range of subjects such as psychology, arts, sociology, anthropology, management, etc. In such myriad options, I believe that you can choose a topic that interests you. I will take one of my papers as an example—titled Stress and Coping Among Micro-\Entrepreneurs of Peer-to-Peer Accommodation (Xu, Huang, & Chen, 2021). I was full of interest in doing this research not only because it is helpful for hosts of peer-to-peer accommodation during the pandemic, but also I could understand stress and learn how to cope with it throughout the research process. At the time when I came up with this research topic, I was in the hardest period of my PhD journey and very stressed. Conducting research on stress was sanative and really eased my nerves. I felt grateful to have chosen this research topic.
Inspiration for topic selection can also come from practice. I always read news and netzine’s comments, during which a voice of “why?” always come out of my mind. This could be a process where a research topic knocks on the door. Additionally, your own experiences and feelings can also spark ideas. This approach helped me start the research topic of my PhD—Consumer Innovation Resistance in the Context of Airbnb. I remembered that my first experience with Airbnb was quite good. Thus, I could not wait to introduce this new App to my friends after my trip, but my friends said that they would not use Airbnb. This was out of my expectation and I started to ponder the question “Why do people not use Airbnb?” My whole PhD journey was dedicated to this seemingly simple question, ending up with a thesis which won the Keeling Award 2022 from Travel and Tourism Research Association. It is worth noting that the topic can start from practice but will go further, as theoretical consideration is the core of scientific studies.
Originality reflects the newness to current knowledge and includes different levels, with purely original research on the one side and no originality at all on the other side of the spectrum of incremental originality (Rodríguez Sánchez, Makkonen, & Williams, 2019). Purely original research is radical and not reported in any other fields, being able to contribute significantly to current knowledge and theories (Rodríguez Sánchez et al., 2019). A research topic should have a high level of originality. This requires researchers to think big and find a research topic to address a knowledge gap that is not only a gap to a narrow tourism context, but also to the entire tourism domain or even to other fields. To find such gaps, massive reading of literature in tourism and other subject areas is helpful.
The elements of interests, practice, and originality are not independent of each other. We usually need to combine them in choosing a research topic. It is just like making a cocktail (Figure 1) where you may add different elements in various ratios.
Finally, I would like to encourage young women to pursue a career that interests you. I hope that all of you can make a cup of valuable cocktail for your future research.
Sichuan University, China
Rodríguez Sánchez, I., Makkonen, T., & Williams, A. M. (2019). Peer review assessment of originality in tourism journals: critical perspective of key gatekeepers. Annals of Tourism Research, 77, 1-11.
Xu, X., Huang, D., & Chen, Q. (2021). Stress and coping among micro-entrepreneurs of peer-to-peer accommodation. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 97, 103009.