• June 2nd, 2020

A PhD degree must be original work

Professor Jairos Kangira

Today I want to tackle the concept of originality when it comes to doctoral research degrees.  Aspiring doctoral students usual get bogged down when their supervisors or peers mention that for one to graduate with a doctorate or a PhD they ought to have contributed a novel idea and that their studies must be original. This is true for it would be a worthless undertaking if a doctoral research degree was just a regurgitation or repetition or reproduction of some other scholars’ ideas and information. It would also be a waste of resources and time for universities to emphasise on doctoral research degrees. Remember that doctoral research students and their professors are crucial in the production of knowledge. 

 It is also often daunting for students to think of what contribution they can make in their fields of specialisation in the initial stages of their doctoral research, especially at the conceptualisation stage. This is normal in the sense that at the beginning of their doctoral research, students usual have broad topics which need to be shaped and narrowed down with the help of their professors. 

In some cases, doctoral degree students have fuzzy ideas of what they want to research on.  This is not to say that there are no doctoral students who come straight away with focused research topics that produce new ideas and original work. They are there, but they are few as my experience has shown. Also, the complexity and simplicity in focusing doctoral research vary from discipline to discipline with the centrality being original work, off course.

 Suffice to note that a focused research proposal results in a scholarly doctoral research degree. Therefore, doctoral research students must always strive to produce focused research proposals if they are to successfully complete their studies.

But how can doctoral research students achieve originality in their scholarly work? Is it possible to produce doctoral dissertation or thesis that is completely new, something that has not been studied or mentioned before? The latter question seems problematic, but it can be answered by ‘yes’ and ‘no’. The characteristics of original work as it is used in doctoral research studies or degrees explain instances of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ alluded above. If a doctoral research degree develops a new model to be used in solving problems, this is original work. It could be a new model of teaching mathematics or a new model in robotics or automation or a model for dealing with recyclable material in a local authority.

Likewise, it can be a new model developed to teach English as a second language. Doctoral research students in different academic disciplines are capable of coming up with models to use in the interpretation of phenomena in their areas of specialisation. 

 Some doctoral students actually develop new products from their researches. These could be new brands of washing power, machinery or architecture. Similarly, it is new work if doctoral research students come up with ideas of refining and improving existing products. For example, doctoral researches may lead to the improvement of such things as the structure of buildings, city planning and models of cars. 

Theories are the foundation of knowledge creation. Academic work is based on existing and new theories. Some doctoral research studies lead to the formulation of new theories through which we interpret phenomena around us. For instance, doctoral research students might want to find theories which can be used to explain why certain types of aeroplanes often crash. Other doctoral researchers might take current theories and apply them in new situations, thereby breaking the barriers between what was known and the new contexts. Still others will test and interrogate existing ideas and come up with new ideas which complement the old ones. Equally, doctoral research can result in new methods of carrying out research in various disciplines or methods of interpreting phenomena in the environment around us. 

Having outlined some of the crucial features or characteristics of original doctoral degree researches, it is important to emphasise that the journey to achieve this is often not as easy as some people may think. This is why many people fall on the wayside, and never complete their doctoral degrees. 

 As mentioned above, it is crucial for doctoral degree students to come up with research proposals the chart the way forward. Some students end at proposal writing and they disappear into thin air. It is important for students to work closely with their professors form the proposal stage, through the writing of the dissertation or thesis and up to the oral examination.

 Another thing that doctoral students should do is to firmly take charge of their studies and not to over burden their professors who are usually busy people. That is why professors are called supervisors of the research and not writers of the dissertation or thesis. These academics are there to guide research students; they do not tell students what to write. When doctoral students expect their supervisors to spoon-feed them, such students take many years to complete their studies,that is if they complete the studies at all.

 Smart doctoral research students who finish their studies in record time are always in control of their studies and provide their professors with chapters on agreed dates. These students also present their work at conferences, seminars and workshops to get feedback from scholars in their fields of specialisation. In some universities, they are required to co-publish some papers from their chapters with their supervisors before they complete their studies.
To all intents and purposes, a doctoral research study is a really fulfilling journey. Get started! 

Professor Jairos Kangira is the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Namibia. He writes on his own accord. Email address: kjairos@gmail.com

New Era Reporter
2019-03-15 09:54:26 | 1 years ago

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