Researchers Versus Implementers: Why not both?

Hi everyone, I am Fabian from the think- and do-team. I realized that I actually never explained my roles in these two teams, so I will do that today! However, I want to start a bit more broad and conceptual as opposed to explaining exactly what I do. I want to focus on one of the biggest lessons and wake-up calls I received upon entering su-re.co. So let's go down to memory lane. I applied to su-re.co as a Research Assistant intern in 2019. Fun fact, I actually came across su-re.co in my third-semester project during University in 2017, where I was looking into organizations that were involved in creating biogas digesters in Bali. Anyway, I applied because, as you may have guessed, I wanted to improve my research skills. Little did I know, I was improving more than just that one skill. More importantly, my eyes were opened to the reality of the research industry, which in itself also contributed to understanding how to be a well-rounded researcher. In this case, I discovered that the research path can be very linear, but it could also not be. And what do I mean by that? Let me actually explain some of the things I do.


Excerpt of what I wrote in 2017

I entered su-re.co and immediately contributed to writing proposals. A regular day would be sipping su-re.coffee in the office (good ol' days), writing something, and then re-writing it a billion times. Think-team captain and CEO Tak would scrutinize my work (and others) down to every word to make sure it is correct. Never have I felt so much struggle in writing - a task that I have done so many times in University. How could it be that difficult? I realized that it may be because of the added pressure. Because what I am writing has an impact, to the company, and potentially to the country. I am no longer writing for a high "grade" in my transcript, I am writing an actual piece of paper that would actually bring us somewhere if it is of good quality. There was no room for a student mentality, I simply did not understand what I needed to write.


I cannot wrap up all the lessons I've learned in how to write a good proposal, but I'll explain some of them. After writing several proposals for the think-team, I realized that I haven't actually written any research proposals. What I've written so far are so-called "implementation" proposals. From a glance, they are quite similar, as you have to add a background and include methods. But implementation proposals require detailed activities, outputs, a budget plan, and the fancy ones would ask for a Gantt chart (I actually enjoy making them). They do not need pretty sentences with big words (which we thought was how it should be, to sound smart). They need something direct, understandable, and readable in one go. Readers of these proposals are usually non-experts, they aren't your thesis supervisors who might re-read your sentences. Okay, so I learned how to write a specific writing style, where am I going with this?


At some point, Tak told me "Not all researchers can write this". That hit me. I realized that experience is your biggest teacher in this game, not your university lecturers. Not only did I realize that I was learning a lot of techniques foreign to 'regular' researchers, but I also discovered that there is a sad truth to reality - a gap between researchers and implementers.


Okay, maybe 'sad' is relative here, because it is not really an issue. We need both, people who focus on advancing knowledge, and people applying the advancements. I just find it funny that a climate researcher may be an actual expert without touching soil. Maybe that was my exaggerated way of saying that researchers may stay in the lab and never be on the field. I learned that academic contribution by writing research papers does not mean the impacts will escape the bubble. In this case, the research lifepath can very well be linear. Go up the ladder, do a PhD, be a post-doc (or skip it if you're that good), and be a researcher. But there is another option.


What is problematic is not the mere existence of the two different groups (which may be purely conceptual in my head), but when there is no one to bridge the gap. This is why I learned that I want to be in the third group - to be both. Someone who walks the talk and someone that bridges the two worlds.


So this is where su-re.co comes in. I didn't learn how to write proposal/policy brief-writing or how to engage with policymakers at University. I learned them here, in a company that does more than just 'researching'. Back to what I actually do, some days I will be writing (think), some days I will actually be on the field (do). Making biogas digesters, having conversations with farmers about their struggles. If anything, I learned more from a farmer than any lecture on "environmental sustainability".



Installing Biogas Digester

Essentially su-re.co's origin story of "don't just study, but do something" means that we aim to be the best in both worlds. And then comes our be-tank, a result of our think and do, translating thoughts to action until we are eventually able to shape ourselves, unbounded by labels of any industry. In this case, we are neither implementers nor researchers, we are who we aim to be - to be a giftmaker to the earth.


Hope I finally gave some hints to what I do. More importantly, I hope I didn't offend anyone because we need all sorts of people. In this case, I hope you can find your lane or better understand it if you are already in it. See you next week!

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