The Road Less Taken: The Trials and Travails of a Doctoral Journey
Seminar Leader: Manish Singhal, XLRI Jamshedpur
Singhal’s doctoral research was on spirituality at work (SAW)--a relatively novel and somewhat atypical topic. This triggered a discussion on why some researchers take up atypical topics for research. What might be the influencing factors in deciding upon a research topic?
The researcher’s personal orientation, disciplinary training, and work experience influence the choice of research topic. The inclination towards a particular topic and method is probably influenced by the researcher’s own swabhaava--the overall make-up of an individual, distinguishing it from other individuals. The very inclination towards academics could be an aspect of swabhaava.
The topic should be such that it can hold the researcher's interest for 3-4 years and elicit continuous zeal. However, not everything in research should be determined by personal preferences alone. The research design, for example, should be well suited to the research topic--not determined by the researcher’s bias. Any bias of the researcher towards a particular research design and methodology can create a road block. At times, a compromise may have to be made between the researcher's preferences and the practicality of the situation under study, in order to complete the doctoral research in time. The methodological dualisms in research, such as objectivism-subjectivism, reductionism-holism, realism-constructivism, and so forth, should be carefully studied and dealt with.
The choice of guide is equally important to the choice of research topic and methodology. The guide should also have similar interests as the doctoral student so that a coherent relationship is established between the two.
A struggle for data collection can at times lead to despairing moments. While collecting data one should keep in mind the unit of analysis. Although data collection commonly follows the choice of research topic, the order may sometimes be reversed--the data collection process can also lead to change in the research topic and the choice of methodology. Serendipity plays a big role and can actually lead the research forward.
Mostly researchers follow the usual academic style of thesis writing. However, depending upon the researcher's subject and skills, different writing styles can be adopted. Singhal (the seminar leader) chose the writing style of scholarly personal narrative (SPN). According to Nash (2004), scholarly personal narratives are pieces of scholarship that use the author’s personal beliefs and experiences as a springboard for scholarly inquiry. In an SPN, the author explores deeply some aspect of her/his personal life and uses this exploration, in conjunction with the insights available from others’ scholarship, to examine larger theoretical and practical questions in an academic field.
It helps to portraying only one coherent story in the thesis. The thesis should not appear to be an incoherent compilation but rather a story with a continuous flow.
Academic research is also a test of the integrity and internal strength of the researcher. Authenticity is important in the research process. Integration of one’s thoughts, expressions, and behaviour facilitates intellectual work. The lack of such integration creates cognitive dissonance.
Through the trials and travails faced by doctoral scholars, some new lessons are learnt. Doctoral research is a like a learning laboratory, where academic and personal lessons go hand in hand producing continuous learning. Some lessons from Singhal’s doctoral research journey:
(a) Document every article read
(b) Prepare field notes everyday
(c) Reflect on what you have done
(d) Qualitative research is not as easy as it may seem initially
(e) Do not assume access to data
(f) Be very particular about the unit of analysis
(g) Establish a support network
(h) Help but do not keep score and ask for help unabashedly
Nash, R. (2004). Liberating scholarly writing: The power of personal narrative. New York: Teachers College Press.
Singhal, M., & Chatterjee, L. (2006). A person-organization fit-based approach for spirituality at work: Development of a conceptual framework. Journal of Human Values, 12(2), 161-178.