All entries for August 2008

August 26, 2008

Action Summary of 'How to get a PhD'

I re-read the bestseller book of Phillips and Pugh (2005) again. After being a PhD student, I gained new insights. Herewith the action summary of some of the chapters which could be useful for others.

Action summary:

On becoming a research student

  • Be aware that in doctoral education you are under your own management and have the responsibility for determining what is required as well as for carrying it out.
  • You will experience periods of self-doubt which you must come through with the clear aim of becoming a competent professional researcher.

The nature of the PhD qualification

  • Set out to discover the standard and achievement for a fully professional researcher in your discipline that justify the award of the PhD degree.
  • Read others’ PhD theses in your field and evaluate them for the degree of originality in the research which has satisfied the examiners.
  • Be aware that the initial enthusiasm for the research will inevitably decline eventually. Provide the determination and application (rather than brilliance) that are required to complete the work and obtain the degree.
  • Use the full range of services that your university makes available to ensure that you have proper support in your studies.
  • The tension between the boundaries of the research project and the time available to complete it should be continually reviewed and adjusted by the student and the supervisors.

How not to get a PhD

  • Be aware of the seven ways of not getting a PhD
  • Not wanting a PhD
  • Overestimating what is required
  • Underestimating what is required
  • Having a supervisor who does not know what is required
  • Losing contact with your supervisor
  • Not having a ‘thesis’ (as in position or argument) to maintain
  • Taking a new job before completin
  • Work to understand the implications of these traps fully in your own situation and determine not to succumb to them
  • Re-establish your determination regularly when blandishments to stray from your programme of work occur.

How to do research

  • Consider very carefully the advantages of doing ‘testing-out’ research for your PhD.
  • From observation and discussion with your supervisor and other academics, construct a list of the craft practices that characterise a good professional researcher in your discipline.
  • Aim to ensure that no procedure, technique, skill, etc., that is relevant to your project will be exercised by you there for the first time.
  • Find out from researchers in your subject how the scientific approach actually works in practice.

The form of a PhD thesis

  • Ensure that the four elements of the PhD form (background theory, focal theory, data theory, contribution) are adequately covered in your thesis.
  • Do not make your thesis (that is, the report) any longer than it needs to be to sustain your thesis (your argument).
  • Remember that you need only take a very small step indeed within regard to the ‘original’ part of your work.
  • Discuss with your supervisor the many different ways in which a thesis may be presumed to be ‘original’ and come to some agreement about the way that you will be interpreting this requirement.
  • Write your thesis in readable English, using technical terms as appropriate but avoiding jargon.
  • From the beginning, use the footnoting and referencing conventions of your discipline.
  • Take very opportunity to write reports, draft papers, criticism f others’ work, etc. during the course of your research. Do not think that all the writing can be done at the end. If you do avoid writing you will not develop the skills to write efficiently, or even adequately, for your thesis.
  • Write up your final thesis in the order which is easiest for you. It does not have to be written in the order in which it will be read. The method section is often a good place to start.

Common structure

-         Introduction (including aims)

-         Literature survey (background theory as a review of the relevant literature)

-         Method (data theory including a description of what has been done)

-         Results ( focal theory including what was found)

-         Discussion (development of focal theory and suggestions for future work)

-         Conclusions (summary and contribution)

August 19, 2008

Looking for perfect research?

A colleague of mine said, 'there is no perfect research'. I certainly agree with this statement. In fact, I regard each research study as a journey, a journey of learning and there is no perfect learning as well. Even though the outcome of learning could be assessed and the learner might score 100% in this assessment, that doesn't mean the learner had learnt perfectly. The results of learning are not limited to the outcomes set by the instructors or teachers. For example, I always came out with ideas that were provoked by the sayings of my research supervisors, which sometimes surprised them. I regard that as the 'follow through' effect of learning, which is not the explicit learning outcome but it is definately the result of learning. Because of the existence of such effect in learning, there will not be the so-called perfect learning. Same goes with the so-called perfect research. Sometimes, even an unsuccessful research--those which failed to reach desired research outcomes, could generate 'follow through' results which might be useful to the researcher or the research itself.

In a word, stop looking or planning for perfect research. Just do it!

August 08, 2008

Reflexive inquiry


I started to use the term 'reflexive' consciously after attending a lecture of Mick on Action Research in Apr 08. Recently, I found a diagrom, used by Patton (2000) which lists questions to be used in the reflexive thinking process. It is very useful, both for research and for self-improvement. I would like to share it with those who view my blog.

August 07, 2008

Things to learn after PhD study

In the process of acquiring knowledge and skills to conduct my PhD research, I am exposed to a lot of interesting concepts, ideas and subjects. This is a good thing--keeps my curiosity towards the nature of this world continue, most probably till the last day of my life.  However, it is also not a good thing at this moment, when I suppose to concentrate on PhD study. Time disallows me to do many things during my stay in UK. To avoid my attention being diverted, I decide to make a list: things to learn or explore after PhD study.


不能根据从事科学活动的人相信什么来判断他是不是一个科学家,而要根据他如何和为什么相信。科学家的信念是尝试性的、非教条的,他们以证据为基础,而不以权威或直觉为基础。 Bertrand Russell

August 02, 2008

Choice of Research Methodology

I am very excited: after months of study, I am now capable of explaining why I choose multiple case studies design as my methodology, and why not choosing ethnography, grounded theory, experiment, quasi-experiment, correlational study or survey. I was confused by several books (especially Creswell, 2008; and Cohen, 2000) which I read since the beginning of my study.

I like Creswell’s simple and direct explanation on how to conduct educational research in general. I also benefited from the advice given on dealing with ethical issues. Unfortunately, these benefits I gained lured me to the problems I faced for the past 5 months. I was not able to justify why and why not in choosing research methodology for answering my research questions. Creswell (2008) created an imaginative character—Maria and set various kinds of scenarios for Maria to solve educational problems she faces in her working as a school teacher or in her study as a postgraduate student. Creswell (2008) also impulsively classified research designs into two broach categories: qualitative and quantitative approaches. Such classification has indeed limited him in providing unbiased examples for the research designs he explained. I was trying to assimilate my research to the scenarios described by him, one after another. This explains why I shifted from quasi-experiment design, to action research, and then to ethnography plus correlational study, finally (hopefully) to case study.

I like Cohen’s writing because it scared me off when I bought it five years ago, at the end of my undergrad study. It was not because I like to be scared, it was because I felt being challenged. There were so many terms and concepts about educational research which I never heard of. When I really started to use the book (although the 6th edition is now available), it directed me to study philosophy, instead of education. I was fascinated by terms like metaphysics, ontology, epistemology, positivism, antipositivism, objectivism, subjectivism, nominalism, realism, idiographic, nomothetic, voluntarism and determinism. Luckily, my seniors—Ling and Jie identified the danger of being too obsessive in philosophy and saved me (many thanks!) from digging deeper hole which may eventually burry myself in the never-ending debates of philosophy world. Anyhow, I am still feeling grateful for being introduced by Cohen to those challenging concepts, which helped me to develop my views towards the nature of the world, including my country, my family, my love and myself.

So, bother to know what’s the differences between the above mentioned research designs? Read Robert K. Yin’s Case Studies Design, 3rd edition, published in 2003. Warning: it is meant for social researchers.

August 2008

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