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LibParlor Contributor MLIS student Reflection

Doing Research by the Hour

LibParlor contributor Georgia Westbrook explains some strategies for being a research assistant and doing research by the hour.

Georgia Westbrook is an MSLIS student at Syracuse University and a graduate researcher with the iSchool Public Libraries Initiative. Her interests include visual resources, metadata, digital publishing, open access, and privacy issues in libraries. Georgia has a BA in art history from Binghamton University. You can find Georgia on her website or on Linkedin.

How I Got Started

I have worked plenty of hourly jobs since my first one, making minimum wage as a babysitter for a gym in my hometown. Since then, I’ve added lifeguard, building supervisor, and shuttle driver (among many others!) to the list — and now, I can put “research assistant” there too.

I loved reading art history articles as an undergraduate — no, seriously — and a big reason I was drawn to librarianship was the opportunity to help others with their research while doing my own. When a professor in my program shared that she was looking for research assistants on her project, I jumped at the chance and met with her. I was hired at the beginning of the following semester to work on the project and now work five hours per week on that project.

Challenges & Opportunities

At my university, this is how most library science students get their start with research: assisting a faculty member and getting paid by the hour to do it. While I truly value the opportunity to get my feet wet in research early in my career, doing research “by the hour” can be challenging for a few reasons.

Ebb and flow

Some weeks I have almost no leads to look into, and other weeks I have way over my set number of hours’ worth of work I could or want to do. When I don’t have much to go on, I use some of that time to scan calls for papers to try to focus in on topics to explore. To find recent, relevant articles in open-access journals, I turn to In the Library with the Lead Pipe or Journal of New Librarianship to spark new avenues of research.

Beyond Penciling It In

The research for this project is done almost completely remotely, besides an hour-long meeting once a week, so there is not a clear structure unless I give it one. I keep a Google calendar up-to-date for my other on-campus work and classes, so I add in blocks for research time too. I protect that time from outside distractions, but let my research wander through citation chaining or beyond the outline I had created for that time.

The False Equation

“Try not to turn your research experience into a false equation between your self-worth and your research output; you don’t have to be thinking about your research all of the time to contribute worthwhile scholarship”

Researching by the hour has put me in a mindset where I really worry about the value of my time. Try not to turn your research experience into a false equation between your self-worth and your research output; you don’t have to be thinking about your research all of the time to contribute worthwhile scholarship. Some weeks will be better and easier than others, like any other job!

My Silver Lining

There are different ways to get into doing research, and while it may be difficult to balance research as a graduate student, it also allows for some flexibility in developing your interests and priorities. Using this experience as a bridge between my previous hourly jobs and my goal career incorporating research, I’ve learned a lot about my research style (collaborative! bouncy!) and speed (quick reader, slower scholarly writer) that I’m excited to bring to my first professional position and beyond.

Tips for Doing Research by the Hour

  • Treat it like any other job and schedule it into your day in concrete blocks. I put my chunks of time into a Google Calendar, and it gives this work the same heft as times I am scheduled to be on the reference desk as my other job. My particular position has the double-edged sword of being remote and hourly, so feeling like a legitimate researcher is a challenge for me and seeing it as an undeniable fact in my schedule helps.
  • Take note of any roadblocks and bring those notes to any in-person meetings you have or share them via email. Whether you are working as part of a team or on your own, documenting your process is vital as you are your own supervisor during this hourly work. Any scaffolding work, like working on your abstract to focus your research, can be part of your time too.
  • Once you have a few weeks of these notes, take time to reflect on what you like and don’t like about doing research this way, how quickly you find you can work through certain tasks, and what aspects of your work take the most time.
  • Think about laying out your goals for your research each week and using these as benchmarks. For example, if your goal is to tackle five resources for your literature review, plan an hour for each. With an hourly research job, it’s easy to let your work spill out of bounds, but if it’s not a life-or-death task or if you won’t be paid for your work, it can wait until next week. Martha Stuit and Joanna Thielen share excellent thoughts on time in Part I and Part II of their LibParlor series.
  • Follow research-related detours but limit other distractions. Try to work in a quiet space in a library or wherever you feel comfortable but are not distracted. Consider rabbit holes related to your research in your hourly count, but keep track and be honest about unrelated distractions that take you away, like phone calls with friends (unless they are explicitly allowed by your work arrangement).
  • Don’t schedule a long stretch of work at once. Take breaks! This will help you deal with any non-research distractions that come up without them becoming nagging thoughts and like any other job, your brain needs a time-out.


Thank you to Jill Hurst-Wahl for giving me the opportunity to begin my LIS research journey on her team at Syracuse, and to Charissa Powell for her feedback and support during the writing of this piece.

Featured image by Black ice from Pexels

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

The expressions of writer do not reflect anyone’s views but their own

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