Developing a conception of research

Addressing common misconceptions of research

Everyone is susceptible to the belief in misconceptions of research, including students, supervisors, researchers and individuals outside of academia. It is critical that students and supervisors discuss these ideas early in the supervisory relationship in order to reduce misconceptions and promote alternative conceptions where necessary.


Common misconceptions about research

  • Correctly followed research procedures will always yield positive results.
  • When qualified people do research, the results are always unbiased.
  • It is acceptable to modify research data if it does not look exactly right.
  • Research becomes true after it is published.
  • If research is properly conducted, contradictory findings will never occur.
  • There is generally only one way to interpret research findings.
  • Research involves gathering data that support preconceived ideas or that will back a particular argument.

(Meyer, Shanahan, & Laugksch (2005))

Discussing misconceptions can facilitate a more holistic approach to research

Discussing misconceptions can facilitate a more holistic approach to research and improved research outcomes. 

When discussing conceptions and misconceptions of research with your supervisor or supervisee, consider the following questions.

  • How would you describe “research” to a someone with little or no experience in research?
  • How would you distinguish between academic research and other types of research?
  • What might your different views be (i.e., those of supervisor and supervisee)?
  • To what extent is your view the same as that of your colleagues or peers?
  • How might different views influence working together?

This may lead to a learning experience for everyone involved. Everyone, including students and experienced researchers, are susceptible to misconceptions. Discussing these misconceptions when you see them can be a learning experience for everyone involved.

What does it mean to make an original contribution to knowledge?

Graduate students realize that originality involves doing something that no one has done before, or discovering something that has never been known or was lost or forgotten. Some also recognize, however, that most original contributions have little immediate influence on the field of study, and that influence grows over time, and usually through sustained work after graduate and postdoctoral study.


There are many ways that a research project can be original, such as investigating a new question, developing a new theory, or synthesizing previously independent concepts. 

Per McGill's Thesis Guidelines, "a thesis for a Doctoral degree must constitute original scholarship and must be a distinct contribution to knowledge". Expectations for the level of original scholarship at the Master's level varies with the discipline. 

Questions for reflection:

  1. What do you think constitutes originality?
  2. Do you think it is possible for original research conducted during graduate studies to impact the field of study?
  3. How does originality in an academic context connect to innovation and real-world application in other contexts?
  4. Is discovering something unknown or forgotten part of what motivates you to continue your research? What other factors do you consider significant in terms of deciding how you will spend your time as a researcher or what career path you will pursue?

Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.
Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, McGill University.

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