Researcher development (Part 1)

My son has just passed his Viva with minor revisions and I am now the happy and proud mother of Dr Eduardo Lima. However, the amount of preparation and the stress generated by going through the process cannot be underestimated as one tries to predict what questions the panel may ask and the best way to make yourself understood in order to have a meaningful conversation out of the process. I remember my own Viva and how much worried I was about the questions on theory and methodology.

Here we can clearly see the difference between the emphasis different disciplines put on these two aspects of doing research. Generally speaking, in the Arts and Humanities there is a greater concern with the theoretical underpinning and the original thinking put into a piece of research whereas in Social Sciences considerable emphasis goes into the methodology adopted by the novice researchers. Being myself somehow between these two fields and research traditions makes me reflect on how we can better prepare our doctoral students to engage in multidisciplinary research after they have finished their PhDs.

Doing research for a PhD degree is an experience that usually compel students to choose a particular methodology and a defined set the research tools among all those available to people working in the tradition adopted by the novice investigator. Such choice is by and large informed by the researcher’s epistemological and theoretical understandings of how knowledge can be achieved and created (Cohen et al. 2007), as well as by the research approaches in their discipline, the sort of study being conducted, and the research questions posed.

Whatever the choices made, they are, by force, restrictive as doctoral students tend to have all their time consumed by the process of trying to adjust and refine the methods and tools they have elected. For inexperienced researchers such focused work can help to foster familiarity with a specific set of methods and instruments and ease the haunting prospect of having to deal with a wider range of research traditions and approaches (Denzin & Lincoln 2017).

However, we should also remember that one of the objectives of a PhD degree is to train people to become future researchers and help them develop the skills necessary to engage in future academic activities. Universities and funding bodies are increasingly keen on multidisciplinary and cross-institutional research and these require from academics a larger set of skills and knowledge that are likely to spread beyond the ones adopted for their PhD research projects. Although the need for the development of general research skills as part of a doctoral programme is not devoid of controversy (Thomson & Walker 2010, pp.17–19), I would argue that helping  students acquire some knowledge of a broader range of approaches during the course of a PhD degree should be an intrinsic part of the process of becoming a researcher.

I will further discuss researcher development in following posts.

References

  • Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2007). Research Methods in Education. 6th Edition. London: Routledge.
  • Denzin, N.K. & Lincoln, Y.S., 2017. The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research. 5th Edition. London: SAGE.
  • Thomson, P. & Walker, M., 2010. The Routledge Doctoral Student’s Companion. London: Taylor & Francis.
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