On 25th March 2006, I had the opportunity to chair the session on Finance in the National Research Conference organised by St. Francis Institute of Management & Research (SFIMAR, Borivili, Mumbai during 24-26 March 2006. I made the following observations on Research projects, research papers and support for post-Ph.D. research in academic institutions.
A comprehensive research project starts with a practical problem that is being faced by a large number of entitites. The aim is to find a general solution that is applicable across all the entities. After selecting the problem on which he wants to use his research expertise, the researcher spends time and effort on observing the entity and collecting relevant data. The researcher has to creatively arrive at a solution that uses his existing knowledge of various sciences that have applicability to the problem at hand to identify the independent variables and dependent variables and explain their relation in a way that provides a solution to the problem. The solution so arrived at has to be checked first for logical correctness. This effort may have taken even 100 years and more for certain problems. Research is a risky activity. Answers to the problems may not be found for hundreds and thousands of years even though the wisest of people of the day spend their time and effort on them.
After finding a logically correct solution to a problem, the researcher has to test the solution in a sample, the size of which is determined as per the principles of Statistics. If he gets a satisfactory resolution of the practical problem in the sample, the researcher has found a useful solution to the problem and he can declare it to the society at large for use. If the solution does not deliver the result, the researcher is back in his research effort. First he has to find out the lacunae in his logical solution and then try once again to find a new solution. The cycle continues till some researcher finds a practically successful solution to the problem being faced by the society.
Every Ph.D research project and every research paper presented or published by a researcher will not be a comprehensive research project. Researchers need to do many projects involving some component of the comprehensive research project to make research results useful to the society.
For instance, just because one researcher declares that he discovered a solution will not lead to its immediate implementation commercially. Other researchers have to do similar investigation and confirm that the solution is delivering the result. As more and more researchers confirm the result, the commercial entities will start implementing the solution. Hence we see a need for research projects that focus on testing the solution only. Many of the Ph.D thesis are of this nature. The solution proposed needs to be tested in different geographical locations, different cultures, differnt demographic segments etc. Thus there is a need and scope for a large number of research projects whenever a new solution is found for a practical problem.
There are certain researchers who specialise in refining the logical solution put forward by other researchers. These researchers, called theoretical researchers, do not select practical problems and do the observation and data collection themselves. But once some researcher does the primary observation and comes out with a theoretical conjecture, they spend their knowledge on refining the theory and provide a more logically correct and more refined solution.
Researchers sometimes identify the problems and bring it to the notice of fellow researchers for doing furthe research.
One author commented that just because a research paper was published in a journal may not mean that the society will get benefit immediately. The publication may mean that the author of the paper and one or two referees may have read the paper. There is no guarantee that a published article gets converted into a benefit for the society. Hence papers that do literature reviews and discuss various papers that pertain to a topic become useful to disseminate research carried out so far to a larger audience.
The initial successful commercial implementations of a solution proposed by a researcher is worthy of being described by researchers and published in journals and conference proceedings.
Thus we see a variety of papers being presented in the research conferences. People should discriminate between comprehensive research papers and partial research papers. An aspiring Ph.D candidate should not feel that doing a literature review will get him the degree. The review is only a beginning for starting his creative work on the gap in the literature on the topic. The reviews can be research papers but they cannot be dissertations. They are essential part of a thesis, but the real contribution comes from a new theoretical conjencture and a new test of an old theoretical conjecture.
Regarding promoting post-Ph.D Research
Most of the times, Ph.D degree holders acquire 50-80% of the expertise in the research process. Rest of the required inputs come from the guide, other faculty members, and other researchers. Hence unless, some more elaborate research projects are carried out, Ph.D degree holders may not acquire the full expertise. Academic institutes have to motivate, facilitate. monitor and provide incentives to the fresh Ph.D holders to take up further research. In my post-Ph.D experience in four institutions, I find such opportunities are scarce. Routine academic work itself takes up the full time of a new recruit. I appealed to all the persons present in the conference to think of providing such opportunities to fresh Ph.D's.