Accurately defining the research problem, tracing the history of prior work, reviewing previous findings, gathering data, indexing, evaluating, analysing, and interpreting the data gathered, applying statistical methods, working in the field, and meeting experts for guidance are some of the basic elements in research processes.
We had drawn a picture of the research scenario and its broad features in these columns earlier. When we get down to brass tacks, we would learn that research is a fascinating area of work that takes many students to a prosperous career. A research scholar with the right temperament and commitment to his work, can scale great heights and gain even social acceptance and recognition. There are plenty of opportunities for research in our country as well as abroad. There is a general lack of awareness of the abundance of opportunities in this field that offers unique job satisfaction.
Let us however candidly admit that research is not a cup of tea anyone would relish. You should be endowed with certain qualities if you should enjoy research, irrespective of your discipline of work. Certain qualities can be developed, but some others are inherent. If you are not the right type of person for research, you may happily seek other pastures that are close to your heart, where you can perform well. No one can be an adept in all activities, whether mental or physical. Let us summarise the attributes of a good research student and those to be attained by the time you have established evidence of your useful research work.
Attributes of a research student
Analytical mind, communication skills, concentration, dedication, determination, flexibility, freedom from the obsessions of clock and calendar, global outlook, honesty, innovative approach, insight, intellectual curiosity, intelligence, keen observation, lab temperament, optimism, organisational ability, originality, passion for knowledge, patience, persistence, precision and accuracy, presentation skills, questioning attitude, resilience to withstand temporary setbacks, scientific discipline, self-confidence, social skills, spirit of enquiry, teamwork, and writing skills.
Attributes to be attained by a researcher
Ability to be a supervisor / guide of research work
Ability to communicate ideas effectively to experts in the discipline or to those outside, using the right idiom in each context
Adoption of the appropriate methodologies of research for each area
Adoption of the philosophy of the discipline
Appreciation of ethics and social responsibility of a researcher
Assessment and evaluation of research work in one's own discipline
Capacity to synthesise data from diverse sources
Commitment to one's discipline
Confidence to present one's ideas to wider audiences
Confidence to take up independent research
Creative thinking, original approach, and rich resourcefulness
Developing concepts and formulating relevant questions
Discipline-specific knowledge and skills
Eagerness to face challenges
Effective participation and providing feedback in seminars
Evaluation of thesis presentations
Facing interviews by the media
Familiarity with the growth of one's discipline including cutting-edge knowledge and skills
Fine drafting of theses
Fine seminar skills and presentation techniques
Humility to appreciate the work of other experts
Knowledge of the right sources of information
Networking with experts in one's discipline at the global level
Objective reviewing and assessment of journal papers
Passion for finding solutions to problems
Placing one's research findings in a broader context and evolving right styles of their application
Pleasure in taking responsibilities
Preparation of journal articles independently or collectively as a group of researchers
Preparation of research reports for ‘non-technical' higher-ups to meet administrative or financial requirements
Skill in developing and maintaining quality web sites
Skill in orally defending a thesis
Skill in poster presentations
Understanding and appreciation of international benchmarks
Willingness for teamwork
Willingness to listen and to provide earnest feedback
Before we plunge into the world of research, we should learn the vital aspects of research methodology. Accurately defining the research problem, tracing the history of prior work, reviewing previous findings, gathering data, indexing, evaluating, analysing, and interpreting the data gathered, applying statistical methods, working in the field, and meeting experts for guidance are some of the basic elements in research processes.
Extensive literature survey covering print and digital media would be necessary. Quality books would offer comprehensive coverage of the subject. But the information provided even in the latest books may sometimes be slightly dated. No researcher can afford to work on obsolete data. Articles in quality journals providing in-depth knowledge on selected aspects, as well as data from patent databases are of prime importance.
It is interesting that our literature review may often reshape our research problem or alter its focus, and modify the research methodology we have in mind for solving our problem. In literature study, a useful strategy is to go from the woods to the trees. First have a general study of the broad area and gradually narrow down the study to our zone of focus. The range of the literature we select for review should be limited to suit the available time. It is not practical to exhaust the entire literature even on a specific topic. The frontiers of knowledge are widening endlessly.
Developing a working hypothesis is an important step in defining with precision the goal and the track. A sample design can be built on the working hypothesis. The mechanics of sampling is so vast that it can hardly be covered in a newspaper article. It has to be studied in detail before a sample is identified for selection. The research design has to be decided before we proceed further. The design should be reliable and sufficiently flexible so as to accommodate contingencies. Perhaps, there would be unexpected developments that might call for re-design. But a systematically constructed initial plan should be there to guide us through the right path. Course correction is possible only if we are in a defined course.
Adoption of the appropriate tools, methods, and techniques for work are also significant exercises to be carried out with care. It is advisable that we adopt the best possible styles right from the beginning, as otherwise we may have to retrace the steps and go all over again through some other track, resulting in delays. Detailed documentation of the derived data and periodic review / analysis are key factors in successful research in the shortest possible duration. When we work for a Ph.D., we may have to get the approval of the supervisor or a related committee of experts at each stage of our progress.
Gathering useful data may have to be done through diverse methods. Our own direct observation though most reliable has its own limitation. We will necessarily have to depend on other sources. Interviews, graded questionnaires, case study, contact through phone or e-mail are some of the possibilities.