By Mary Anne Porto, GNI Community & Events Intern
Last week, I started classes again – this time as a college senior, with plans to graduate in the not-too-distant future. As all the back-to-school feelings came flooding back (some good and some… less than good), I’ve realized college gave me one of the best gifts I could have asked for: my JSTOR subscription.
Like many others, I like to read as part of my self-care routine - GNI has its book club for a reason. But when I tell other readers that my reading as self-care might look a little different, and that I’ve opted for more “academic” reading in my ~free time,~ the concept of being a research fiend tends to confuse. We’re real, though – we exist! Here’s why it’s become so important to me - maybe it’ll inspire you to do the same this weekend?
1) Research helps me adopt more responsible self-care practices ☝️
As a young Asian American woman, I don’t have to look far to see the ways that parts of the wellness industry capitalize on the concept of what’s “exotic.” Like, what makes turmeric or matcha a trend, while English Breakfast tea is a mainstay?
Last year, I saw a magazine call moringa – a leaf that my mother would put in her soups for my whole upbringing – “the next quinoa.” Then I saw a blog subsequently “debunk” its “magic.” Without knowledge of the history behind seemingly “new” practices and products, everything can be presented as a discovery, and discoveries feel personal, even when they’re not ours to practice at all. I’ve come to realize how research is a big part of making sure that the ways I try to take care are respectful and responsible.
2) Research soothes my ~online anxiety~ 😬
I started my freshman year of journalism school in the fall of 2016, which means I was learning about the news cycle and reporting techniques when all of that seemed to be getting turned on its head. Assignments involved chasing down leads, running around town, and talking to lots of strangers. I liked this, and I liked the way that the discoveries I made felt impactful, but I also soon felt the impact of this very online and always-plugged-in industry. I was tense!
When I picked up a minor in my junior year, the bulk of my research was more in the traditional sense — in the library, in online databases, in books — head down, focused, breathing. Researching and reading theory and histories made me think outside of the news cycle, trending topics, and hyper-online discourse (which is refreshing, since the news cycle is always anxiety-inducing).
I decided to try reading this kind of writing more often, and while I at first thought it would be more tedious, it actually felt refreshing.
I soon found it was kind of an antidote to my growing news anxiety. I was originally researching as an escape, but it became something more: a way to ground a trendy story with a clickbait-y title into a greater historical context, a method to connect what otherwise felt like fragmented pieces of information.
3) Research makes travel more magical 💫
I’ve been using the term “research” here broadly, which doesn’t always have to mean working through academic articles or an encyclopedia (though, if you would like access to these pieces that are obviously hard to get a hold of if you’re not in college, I’ve heard from many academics that they’ll happily send you PDFs if you ask nicely!). Before I realized the value of research, my pre-vacation ritual was to do a quick search on the history of the city’s monuments and the kinds of foods I should make sure to try when there.
Then, for a vacation to Amsterdam, I picked up a library book on a whim. I decided to do it the “old-fashioned” way. I brought the book as my airplane read, and to my surprise, the first chapter presented Amsterdam in a way that my pre-trip Yelp and Trip Advisor reading was not. When I got to my destination, I felt like I was experiencing the city in a way that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t read that chapter, making connections between the page and the place.
I realized that my Internet travel research felt like I was watching the movie adaptation of a book. Now, I will always make sure to read a real book before vacationing anywhere.
4) Research reminds me to take more time 🧘♀️
A big underrated benefit to doing research, for me, is that reading the kinds of pieces I’d consider research — academic articles, nonfiction books, even longform articles — physically makes me read slower. You definitely don’t have to read confusing and jargon-y texts, but the more dense writing does require more time and focus to process what I’m reading. It’s feels comforting and challenging to slow down and make sure I actually understand, even if it takes a re-read.
I’ve realized that independent research empowers me to take ownership over what I’m actually interested in, instead of allowing the Internet to steer me toward the most popular books and the most circulated articles. Given an expanded world of things I could learn about, I’ve felt more attuned to myself, what I’m interested in, where I’m headed and what I hope to discover along the way.