Friday, 21 August 2009

Finishing PhD research effectively and efficiently - Contrasting thoughts!

One of my friend once said 'starting PhD is like entering in a pipeline where there is darkness all around but one day you will suddenly see the end of this pipeline with light' and that will be the proud moment to preserve for life. Well, how to achieve this proud moment by effectively and efficiently completing PhD research is the topic of discussion here.

As you will be aware that most funding agencies such as trusts, research grants etc., in the UK have provision for 3 year funding or 3.5 years in some cases. Going over this period may prove very costly as one has to cover fees, maintenance and living expensive etc. from his pocket which is not an ideal situation. In such case, it is quite important to complete PhD within a reasonable time (say 3.5 or 4 years).

One may not like to take just a PhD degree but would also like to carry over his several technical skills and research together with realising his presence to other researchers in that research area. In fact, it is also the opportunity to sharpen the existing skills and gaining several others that can be helpful for all round development. How can one make out the most of it? Generally, people decide their objectives depending on the career path (mainly industry, academics, management or banking) they want to choose after a PhD. However, irrespective of any chosen career path, PhD is for research so this task should be fulfilled sincerely without deviating too much from its path. After all, someone is going to spent ~£80K on your PhD with lot of efforts in background.

One important aspect that totally depends on individual is whether one just want a PhD or a PhD with maximum dissemination of research through conference presentations, writing articles for various scientific/research/social societies and publishing it in top international peer reviewed journals, etc. Here starts conflicting thoughts as many of us may not agree with the dissemination idea. Therefore, these two words 'efficiently' and 'effectively' are used in the title. Following cases can be formed to discuss this further:

PhD within reasonable time with minimal dissemination
It is a straight business approach. One is paid as part of a project/programme and he delivered the results. In fact, it is quite a comfortable situation for both parties! It is efficient as well since it was finished within reasonable time span. But, is this an effective PhD as well? Did one squeezed enough from the opportunities he got during this period? One can argue that it is an effective research since it fulfilled the required objectives (fair enough to say!). I used the word 'minimal' because the above case benefited a particular party. Others could have been benefited if it would have been disseminated to a wider community.

For the answer of later question, I think one can squeeze far more than this for his future betterment and for the betterment of society and science. One effective way is publishing his/her work in peer reviewed journals. However, one can argue that my project had confidential stuff and I am not allowed to do so. Fair enough to say, if he has put sincere efforts towards it but could not publish because of such practical constraints!

2. PhD within reasonable time with optimum dissemination
I see it as a best option as it satisfy both terms 'effective' and 'efficient'! PhD research is a small contribution towards a big heap of research. If it is disseminated properly, you have contributed towards that heap and others can benefit from it. However, it is quite challenging, but there is no gain without pain.

Some of us may argue that why should I bother to publish it as I do not want to go to academia. Well, is it really necessary that one should only publish if it fulfills his/her future interests? My argument against it is that no matter what we do after a PhD, during PhD we are researchers and it is our moral duty to sincerely fulfill the objectives of the job in hand.

Moreover, how many people do we think will come to know about our work by reading our thesis's - I think very few. But many will know, if it is published in journals as probability of it reaching to a wider community and to stay alive for a longer duration are quite high. In fact, I have asked my friends that how many times they have read their thesis's after PhD or have they suggested others to refer it - the answer is not very encouraging. But, the case of publishing may be quite different. So why should we not choose the option which helps us and others too.

My personal experience is in support of this option. Firstly, one can get invaluable technical feedback by reviewers on submitted manuscripts to further improve the quality of work. In fact, it is the first time when a third neutral person is assessing your work. Once an article gets accepted, confidence level rises enormously. Motivation and drive force to publish more increases tremendously. Secondly, once you have couple of good publications, you and your supervisor know precisely how much work have been done and how much more is needed for PhD submission. After this, writing thesis is not a huge task. It is just an integration of published paper. This strategic approach can be helpful in some cases if not in all.

3. Over run PhD with/without dissemination
This is not an ideal situation for a PhD candidate as he not only have to face pressure to finish it quickly but have to fight with his financial challenges. However, if it is the case, one should not conclude that candidate is incompetent or he is not working hard or he is not taking his work seriously as several other factors can drive the situation. These could be type of work involved in project, availability of resources, supervisors interest, support and guidance and of course candidate's driving force and time management to achieve it. This situation becomes even more uncomfortable if it is over run without dissemination as it can increase the level of complexities during defense. In this situation, I feel that working strategically and calmly together with the proper time management can be helpful. At the end of the day everyone gets PhD, so it is just a matter of time. Also, one can argue than some people are better in one thing while others can be better in doing other things. So, keep up the sportsmen spirit, it is not the end of the life!

4. Summary
There may be several points which have not been considered above. There may also be several other points above with whom many of us may not agree. But one most important thing with which we all may agree is to put our sincere efforts. It can give more satisfaction than doing several things or try to fit ourselves in one of the above criterion.

Happy reading!
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