Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Gate crashing .... Part 4

Hitting the wall and ceiling, and everything else along the way....

Many new students are encountering a strong rude-awakening and experiencing high anxiety after enrolling into the first semester of the Faculty's postgraduate programme. They are confronted with a sudden big twist in the teaching and learning make up, different from what they are used to during their undergraduate years. Most of them now realised that it won't be a repeat of those smooth sailing days of designing and creative endeavour but a serious task of researching into an unknown, uncharted territory and into exploring into new realm of knowledge.

Breaking away from the holds of your past experience will not always that easy. All throughout our schooling days, from kindergarten till our undergraduate days, we are always expected to use the education gained to deliver answers that conform to what is "right". The education system insisted that everything that we do must always yield a right answer. Wrong answers are being scorned-off by the system.

Let it be very clear that with research, we do not know what the final outcome will be, and we are about to find out the truth. What is important is that our research methodology must be appropriate, clean from BIAS and MANIPULATIONS. Research on the other hand is systematic enquiry, searching for the truth. Even if at the end, the finding indicates wrong, that's still the truth of your research findings and is still worth reporting in your thesis. All novice researchers are always scared of concluding their research with a negative finding. Reinforced by the mindset already embedded all along in all students’ mind since their early school and college education days, they concluded that if the finding is negative, they have failed in their course. DOOMED!

BAM!! Then you hit next the real brick wall..., the tough decision of how to look for research issue that is worthwhile for a Master's degree research work. Most novice researcher will immediately look back into himself for inspiration. A big mistake! This move will actually choke you because you will be too engrossed and possessed by your personal preferences of the topic, to the point that you cannot break away from the SELF.

GET OUT OF THE BOX! Look around; there are many issues and problems out there that await your contribution in solving the problem. Shift your mind and effort away from the rigid bond of the SELF into looking at the THEM. In THEM there are many issues and problem that needs resolving, and with extensive research potential awaiting.

Turn the focus of study away from the SELF because (especially if you are a first time researcher) your readers/ examiners may always tend to question or doubt about your authority in deciding on the significance of the proposed issue as being a true problem. Support all your proposals with hard facts.

But despite of all this, if you still have strong conviction about the research title, please quote and cite as many other writers as you can that can backup your case. With many articles in support of your case, if the readers/ examiner still have doubt about you, they will also doubt the authority of the other writers that you have quoted. If the topic you have chosen is so new, and you have exhausted all avenues to locate references or books to cite from, then start personally interviewing and quoting from several other recognized authorities you know that can provide support in defense of your research title. At master's level, there is more excuse of shying away from visiting the library or from reading, and reading, and reading. That is the very essence of your mastery of knowledge.

Very often most of the very early submissions of research problems are either too shallow in scope or too monumental in content to be researched within the short study duration. First time novice researcher tends to be extremely idealistic in their research intention, forgetting that they have only a short time to do all these works.

It is important to focus on a small but significant aspect of the issue, which is considered adequately important enough to justify the need for a research study to be undertaken by you. A tough expectation from a first time novice researcher to do, but do not worry, that's why the Faculty research committee is there for, to advice you on what is manageable and researchable.

Secondly, your research proposal must be directly relevant to your field of specialisation and qualification. If you are a designer by training, do not attempt to do a research on performing arts of "MakYong" because you will not have the breadth of knowledge needed to debate critically as an expert about something that you are not trained in. You might be qualified only to talk about it visual aspects, but not from the cultural or on the performance angle. Also remember that the Faculty is awarding a MA in Art & Design degree, not a Masters in Performing Art degree, or a Masters of Science, etc.

If you cannot explain in less than 5 minutes about your research design and research hypothesis to a knowledgeable friend or peer, it is clear that the whole design and hypothesis needs more works! Researching is not about showing off how smart, brilliant or of how high IQ you have. It is purely about a focused enquiry effort and true hard work. As a matter of fact, being secretive and keeping your research proposal to oneself may actually be to your disadvantage. Often we are all too clouded with our sentimentality, idealism and single-track mindedness about the research title that all we see is the forest, not actually the bushes that makes up the forest. Often at the early stages, we are confused and often tricked into barking at the wrong tree. It may take others to tell us otherwise.

Throw or buff around the title and methodology with your peers, friends or even lecturers. The more you discuss it out, the more your friends will be able to help point your potential mistakes and pitfalls, and the more polished will the title be as you continuously hone on the true issue. Wipe away that bad attitude about ashamed of being seen foolish with a weak proposal, because it is better to accept your foolishness earlier now than midway later down your research path. No one gets their proposal right the first time around, not even you. You are not the only one who's going through the LOST period, which is every researcher's experience. The LOST period will wipe away all your preconceived idealism, and eventually enable you to pursue a totally original line of study, and your literature review period will bring you back to the real world.

Deciding on the exact wording for your research title will greatly influence or dictate the method of data collection and analysis that will be most appropriate for your study. There is a guideline to doing this. I will discuss in depth in the next issue of my article. Just continue reading this blog.

Good luck!


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