Lucky You: A Primer for Next Week’s Workshop “Unexpected Discovery: Serendipity in the Research Process”

Universities abound with stories of serendipity: finding the text that transforms your research while waiting in line to check out books, not cleaning the beaker fast enough and growing a new scientific solution, discovering a surprise letter in a folder in the reading room, leaving your recorder on only to notice later that you hold a previously unheard sound. Researchers collect and prize and share these stories, to guard against the toil scholarly work entails and to remind themselves of the possibilities of breakthrough. Serendipity, it seems, is just what a budding researcher needs to harness.

Training for serendipity might seem like a ridiculous proposition. Isn’t the point of unexpected good luck that it is unexpected? Isn’t the whole proposition of serendipity that we happily stumble upon a new avenue, a new solution, a new vision that was previously not there?

Researchers who study the phenomenon in scientific discovery, innovative scholarship, and creative production resoundingly say, “no.” (See, for example, “Making My Own Luck: Serendipity Strategies and How to Support Them in Digital Information Environments,” by Stephann Makri, Ann Blandford, and Mel Woods, or “I’m feeling lucky: Can algorithms better engineer serendipity in research — or in journalism?” by Liam Andrew.) It turns out that being prepared to make use of the unexpected can be encouraged by our environments and facilitated by our mindsets.

Next week, we are offering a workshop that explores some ways the serendipity can be encouraged within various research resources (Artemis, HathiTrust, StackLife, and the stacks). We’ll talk about serendipitous research encounters and spend the majority of the session exploring various tools that allow for unanticipated insights and outcomes in research.

Unexpected Discovery: Serendipity in the Research Process
Monday, January 26, 2015, 10:30am – 12:00pm
Collab. Classroom, Rm 113, Van Pelt-Dietrich Library
More information and registration (not required): http://libcal.library.upenn.edu/event/866502

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