What’s the question?

I’ve finally finished all my Japanese exams. I’ll have to pause Japan studies, since I’ve struggled these past weeks to focus on both things on account of pure lack of brain memory. In the words of the great Ron Swanson, “Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing.” So with a clear new mind, after a weekend of hiking, I decided to catch Supervisor C—– next time I saw him (in person, cause it’s nicer that way) and just do what I hate doing: showing concepts that are unfinished and presenting ideas that seem unclear.

As always, it turned out to be unbelievably helpful and gave me a motivational boost. Why do I always fight it so?

So I grabbed poor Supervisor C——- on his way to the printer and put forward my plans for a challenge (that’s what the lecture I’ll be involved with as an assistant calls the weekly submissions students are required to hand-in and peer-review), and he gave me the go, which, on account of Professor P——- having already expressed interest, I didn’t need – but did need.

He thought the challenge was a good idea even apart from my data-gathering and just being an interesting piece o’ homework, since it provides first semester students with an immediate awareness of mental health issues – all the more relevant for what we can assume is a very different first-year student experience in a pandemic. He was less sure of my idea to frame the speculative design project as located, digitally mediated hybrid space, but possibly, that was just owing to the vagueness of my formulation – I’ll have to make sure to give students the appropriate reference papers and projects.

More importantly though, he made me realize I had no question, which was fun. Because I really felt like I did. Why did I not realize I’d never formulated my goal? I used to teach this to people, and draw the Minoan labyrinth on the blackboard and tell the story of the original red thread! But no: all this time, I hadn’t been really working towards anything properly framed, but just sort of dancing around within guiding parameters. Which is generally not uncommon and undoubtedly has its place in the process, but definitely was not what I thought I was doing. So there you have it again, me: always communicate everything. There are things you just don’t see yourself.

Anyway. For want of a better introduction, here’s my three main questions – for now.

  • What would a social network for promotion of mental well-being require?
  • How can we design located social media services for peer groups of university students (e.g. attending the same courses) to support each other?
  • Which difficulties exist in the current local structures for well-being?

Of course, that drew my attention to another huge gap I have to fill soon-ish: what’s my working definition of Mental Health for my research? Where do I situate myself, which perspectives and theories do I use, and why?

What do I need in order to answer these questions?

The first one begs for a literary review of social networks and an analysis of the mechanisms and features (and resulting behaviours) that are detrimental to well-being, so maybe I should start out with that in the background, to accompany my building the challenge, which will cover review for the second and third question. While I still feel like they are far too… big-picture, I feel better for having formulated them anyway. I mean what do I even want, it’s only my second month.

Supervisor C—– also reminded me to keep my strengths and knowledge in mind as I delved into literature, since he knows I’m prone to wanting to know things beyond my field and trying to stick my nose into disciplines that I’m not really supposed to be in. “Don’t forget you’re a design researcher, and that’s your strength, your difference in generating knowledge and approaching these things. What are your advantages? What insights can you gain, what data can you gather that others can’t?” Leave the behavioural analyses to the behavioural analysts.

Normally, I would’ve been all “gee, Supervisor C, that ain’t no news!”
But after forgetting to formulate a question… well, I felt the need to write it down.

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