Research

Feedback from SciCOM 100 Conference: “Talk about your research, or there won’t be a next generation of researchers”

The Steinhoff Saga Management review - University of Stellenbosch Business School

January – June 2019

Feedback from SciCOM 100 Conference:

“Talk about your research, or there won’t be a next generation of researchers”

  • June 2019
  • Tags Food for Thought, Research

By Amanda Matthee

15 minutes to read

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One of the themes explored at the 2018 SciCOM 100 Conference in Stellenbosch was the importance of making science accessible to a wider audience – with science communication specialists seen as bridge builders between scientists and the public. As one speaker boldly stated: “If we do not make science accessible to a wider audience, we won’t have a next generation of scientists.” Below are some of the take-outs from SciCOM 100 calling for closer collaboration between scientists and society – which equally applies to researchers in a business school context.

 

Sharing research in a changing world

“The nature of engagement between science and society must change.” This message was conveyed by various SciCOM 100 speakers. Communicating your work as a scientist (or researcher) is about more than “getting your name out there”. This sharing of information with society is also about creating awareness of an issue, informing policy decisions, and changing beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. This speaks to the societal impact of research. Various speakers used the term engaged science.

 

One of the problems with research worldwide is that “the stories do not get told”. In addition, research outcomes need to be translated into recommendations for governments, institutes and individual researchers. Consolidation and recommendations are regarded as the DNA of responsible research and innovation (RRI). Access to research outcomes is therefore crucial, also to determine the societal impact of research.

 

In addition, the landscape in which researchers operate is changing as a result of the post-truth world, open-access science platforms, the need to involve society (engaged science), the changing news ecosystem, social media, and the shrinking attention span of potential audiences. Also, there is the need to mainstream indigenous knowledge systems, to adopt entrepreneurial attitudes towards finding research budgets, to realise that simply publishing in a peer-reviewed journal is no longer enough, and to incorporate new ways of tracking the spread and use of science information apart from citations.

 

At SciCOM 100, Beverley Damonse from the National Research Foundation talked about the five “enormous transformations” that changed the world of science communication: the new knowledge revolution, big data and the internet explosion, social connectivity, evolutionary programming, and artificial intelligence.

 

George Claassen from the Centre for Science & Technology Mass Communication (CENSCOM), Department of Journalism, Stellenbosch University, talked about the role of scientists in utilising social media to counter alternative facts in science. Undoubtedly, it is beneficial for scientists and institutions to have an online social media presence. Here, Twitter can foster better public engagement with science, “partly by relaying science to a more diverse audience.” Referring to Emily Bell’s article titled “Facebook is eating the world” (Columbia Journalism Review, 2016), Claassen said:

  • Firstly, traditional news publishers have lost control over distribution of news. Now the news is filtered through algorithms and platforms which are opaque and unpredictable.
  • Secondly, this is increasing the power of social media companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and even second-order companies such as Twitter and Snapchat as these companies have become extremely powerful in terms of controlling who publishes what to whom, and how that publication is monetised.

 

Another speaker, Prof Dietram Scheufele from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, talked about communicating science in polarised environments. According to him, science communication is “the process by which the culture and knowledge of science are absorbed into the culture of the wider community” – and vice versa. Scheufele also said that “Perhaps a second development-focused set of skills is required to communicate with audiences that have an oppositional perspective”. Here, he referred to, among others, scientists speaking in their mother tongue, or scientists who want to understand local issues and be accepted as part of a local community.

 

Getting science into society

Various speakers at SciCOM 100 used the term engaged science. Beverley Damonse from the National Research Foundation talked about the development of a knowledge society to build “an informed, critical and socially aware citizenry”. Research institutions should have a science engagement strategy (SES) to:

  • Popularise science, engineering, technology and innovation as attractive, relevant and accessible in order to enhance scientific literacy and awaken interest in relevant careers
  • Develop a critical public that actively participates in the national discourse of science and technology to the benefit of society
  • Profile South African science and science achievements domestically and internationally, demonstrating their contribution to national development and global science, thereby enhancing its public standing

 

According to Damonse, the objectives of community engagement research are to:

  • Sharpen and mainstream the higher education sector’s response to community engagement as a third pillar of academic activity
  • Facilitate the development of robust theoretical and conceptual positions on community engagement in the South African context
  • Create new forms of knowledge in the area
  • Develop human capacity in the field of community engagement.

 

Public engagement is therefore crucial for the future of research as this helps to:

  • Build trust in government and public institutions, which means increasing openness and transparency in decision-making processes
  • Strengthen democracy, providing new ways in which citizens can engage in and influence political and policy decisions
  • Build skills and enthusiasm for active citizenship, including the willingness and confidence to take part in dialogue
  • Build social cohesion and social capital.

 

Damonse said that a science-engaged knowledge society will help to build critical publics, reach non-traditional stakeholders, and build science communication infrastructure (which includes the use of indigenous knowledge systems).

 

Elizabeth Rasekoala, President of African Gong, advocated for a “societal literacy” approach to scientific public engagement in Africa, in a two-way dynamic that highlights the role of scientists. She said, “Ultimately, the ideal democracy is one in which the voters are armed with the most objective information”. African Gong is the Pan-African network for the Popularization of Technology and Science Communication.

 

Martin Carrier from the University of Bielefeld in Germany talked about “socially beneficial and socially welcomed research”, referring to responsible research and innovation (RRI). Research is to be done in interaction with society and for the benefit of society.

 

SciCOM 100 speaker Shirona Patel from the University of Witwatersrand said scientists are under pressure from funders, the state and other societal actors to make knowledge accessible and visible in the public sphere. Scientists are called upon to “demonstrate the impact of their work”. Importantly, scientists can no longer solely work with the traditional media to share new knowledge.

 

Janice Limson from Rhodes University talked about the co-creation of technology and innovation with communities, mentioning models and benefits in higher education. Some of her practical ideas included giving students (and academics) training in making videos, and hosting “Speed-meet a scientist” sessions where postgraduate students meet with school learners for 10 minutes and where the students talk about their Master’s or PhD research with the learners.

 

Coping with the changing media landscape

SciCOM 100 speaker Shirona Patel from the University of Witwatersrand talked about how media technologies have changed science communication in a university context. To start with, the South African print media is under severe economic strain due to the advent of digital technologies and platforms, changing patterns of media consumption, new business models, the “decimation” of newsrooms, and the decline in the number of specialist journalists. She said South African science journalism is under threat as a result of the following:

  • The post-truth environment
  • The quantity and quality of science reporting, which is found to be inconsistent, unstructured and relegated at the expense of more newsworthy genres like politics and economics
  • The declining number of specialist science journalists in the traditional media
  • Journalists writing across titles and platforms to feed the 24-hour online news cycle.

 

According to Patel, the decline in science journalism and science content is forcing scientists to “grow their own communities, using social media”, and to make use of science communicators.

 

Zamuxolo Matiwana from the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement talked about how scientists can use social media to democratise science in South Africa. He mentioned that the internet and social media, and Twitter in particular, are making it easier for scientists to communicate science directly to their audiences. Researchers no longer only have to rely on journalists to interpret scientific information for non-scientists in society. In addition, social media is changing the way people are consuming science information and creates an opportunity for engagement between non-scientists and scientists. The participation of non-scientists in a dialogue with scientists is one of the important tenets of democratising science.

 

Enter the science communicators

One of the SciCOM 100 speakers mentioned that researchers’ participation in public engagement in South Africa is very low. Based on various studies, this engagement was thought to be 82% in the UK, 49% in France and only 1% in South Africa. This lack of engagement with society can partly be ascribed to time pressure, stress, too little capacity, and a lack of funding, communication skills and recognition on the researcher’s side.

 

Scientists should therefore communicate their work to “serve society, show their love of science and education, create an informed public, influence policy, serve as role models, and make science visible”.

 

Science communicators help to make research accessible by extracting the key findings and writing narrative articles based on the original research, posting on social media, making videos, and more. This has even led to the institution of research chairs in science communication.

 

In this regard, Dr Marina Joubert from Stellenbosch University referred to institutional science communication specialists as bridge builders.

 

Mathilde van der Merwe from the University of Cape Town talked about why it is important for early career researchers to engage with the public, saying that “less than 1% of scientists engage with the public because of a lack of training, experience or rewards. There is not much training for young scientists.” Funders now often require public engagement – not as a “fluffy afterthought” but as an integral part of research. According to her, science communication helps to build public trust.

 

The need to measure and evaluate science communication

Various speakers referred to the need for researchers to evaluate their communication to the public in order to:

  • Build a better understanding of their visiting publics (e.g. their needs, interests, motivations, language)
  • Inform their plans, and predict which engagement or learning methods and content will be most effective
  • Know whether they have achieved their objectives (and why, or why not)
  • Redesign their approach to be even more effective in future.

 

An interesting case study was that of the SKA’s struggle with anti-science advocacy groups, as shared by Dr Anton Binneman from the Square Kilometre Array (MeerKAT) radio telescope project. Starting almost two years in advance, the SKA communicated the benefits and societal impact of SKA to stakeholder groups on various platforms. But then they encountered social media campaigns driven by groups opposed to the SKA project. To gain a better understanding of the anti-SKA campaigns, they analysed all Facebook posts and interactions for 12 months. Using critical discourse analysis, this allowed the SKA’s communication team to identify the overarching themes and narratives of the anti-SKA groupings and to angle their communication efforts accordingly.

 

Dr Rodrigo Costas from the Centre for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University talked about social media metrics and altmetrics (the simple definition of which is “any metric around research products, except citations”) and the identification of “communities of attention” as “downloads are not a measure of engagement”. Altmetrics looks at, among others, blogs, Facebook posts, Google+ posts and tweets.

 

Adopting a science engagement strategy

Various SciCOM 100 speakers talked about the importance for institutions to adopt a science engagement strategy (SES) and to establish best practices for communication as the leading driver of science engagement. In this context, science communication was defined as “Public communication of science-related topics to non-experts by imparting or exchanging information by speaking, writing or using any other medium”.

In many cases, this may have to include a Social Media 101 course for academics!

 

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academic journal

Doing research to make a change in the world

The Steinhoff Saga Management review - University of Stellenbosch Business School

January – June 2019

Doing research to make a change in the world

academic journal

  • June 2019
  • Tags Food for Thought, Research

By Dr Lara Skelly

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academic journal

Why publication in an academic journal matters

The Steinhoff Saga Management review - University of Stellenbosch Business School

July – December 2018

Why publication in an academic journal matters

academic journal

  • OCT 2018
  • Tags Food for Thought, Research

10 minutes to read

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Making your research visible

Getting a research project published in an accredited journal holds benefits for both the researcher and the institution hosting the journal. It is through publication that the research, including its scientific and practical contributions, is disseminated to others in a particular field. This makes scientific researchers and practitioners with similar interests aware of new knowledge in their field and it helps to advance knowledge and its application.

It is more difficult to get published in higher quality journals, but it shows expertise in a field and an ability to conduct scientifically grounded research. It also reflects on the academic stature of the institution hosting the publication.

Why is publishing in a journal superior to publishing in other types of publications?

In an accredited journal, every article is verified as scientifically reliable and valid through a peer review process. The process that the researchers have followed, their claims and conceptualisation must be underpinned by scientific principles.

The peer review process serves as a quality control mechanism.

The peer review process serves as a quality control mechanism. Peer review means that a board of reviewers, who are experts in the field, review the articles submitted by researchers for relevance, quality and adherence to scientific standards and the editorial standards of the journal before the articles can be accepted for publication. Peer review is done blind (i.e. without the reviewer knowing who the author is) to help eliminate bias. The peer review process is usually organised by the editor of the journal.

The Journal Impact Factor – a way to rank journals

A number of journal ranking systems are used to determine the standing of a journal – or the relative importance of a journal in its field. One of the most well-known is the Journal Impact Factor (JIF) designed by Eugene Garfield, founder of the Institute for Scientific Information, which is now owned by Thomson Reuters. The Journal Impact Factor is a measure of the frequency with which the average article in a journal has been cited over a certain period of time. Other rankings are also used, such as SNIP (Scopus’s Source Normalized Index per Paper), Google Scholar Index and CABs (Chartered Association of Business Schools).

A journal’s ranking can therefore serve as a metric to reflect journal quality as well as the value of a researcher – who is typically a faculty member, PhD student or research fellow at an academic institution such as USB.

The number of articles that a researcher has published in a reputable journal in a particular year is taken into account by academic institutions when they need to make decisions about recruitment, performance assessments, promotions, research fellowships and awards. At USB, the quality of articles published in journals do play a role in the appointment and promotion of academics.

A journal’s ranking can therefore serve as a metric to reflect journal quality as well as the value of a researcher …

Today, alternative metrics (altmetrics) are also used to measure scholarly impact. Altmetrics can include the number of downloads or statistics sourced from social media.

In essence, getting an article published in a journal with a higher JIF is good for a researcher’s reputation.

The difference between accredited and non-accredited journals

In South Africa, an accredited journal refers to a journal subsidised by the Department of Higher Education and Training. Subsidised journals have to comply with stringent quality criteria, including peer reviews.

Although accredited journals include thousands of international journals, it is only in South Africa that a distinction is made between accredited and non-accredited journals. This is because of the country’s subsidy scheme where academic and research institutions only get subsidised by government (the Department of Higher Education and Training) once the research has been published in a reputable journal. In most other countries, funding is granted on the accepted submission of a funding application.

At USB, the quality of articles published in journals do play a role in the appointment and promotion of academics

The ideal is therefore to publish in an accredited journal as it will lead to recognition of your research and to obtaining additional research funding. A list of subsidised journals can be found on the website of Stellenbosch University’s Division for Research Development.

The journey from research to journal publication

The first step is writing up the research. It is good practice to send the article to a colleague to check for sense-making and thereafter for language editing before submitting it to the journal editor. Each journal has its own specific set of guidelines, which must be strictly adhered to.

If the article gets accepted for review, the journal editor will send it to a number of peer reviewers for a blind review. The peers will each advise the editor to either recommend to approve the article (this normally does not happen on the first review), send it back for revision, or reject it. If revisions are recommended, the process continues until a final decision can be made on whether or not to publish the article.

In essence, getting an article published in a journal with a higher JIF is good for a researcher’s reputation

The role of USB’s journals in advancing research 

USB hosts two accredited journals: The South African Journal of Business Management (SAJBM) and Studies in Economics and Econometrics (SEE) (together with the Bureau for Economic Research):

  • The South African Journal of Business Management: The SAJBM focuses on studies in the general and broad field of business and management. It publishes articles that have real significance for management practice and theory. This includes coaching, leadership, marketing, finance, entrepreneurship, innovation and even social impact. It is an accredited journal, and a one star- journal as rated by CABs. Click here for SAJBM.
  • Studies in Economics and Econometrics: The SEE is also an accredited journal and has a strong focus on economic and econometric research in the widest sense of these terms. Click here for SEE.

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what is ethical clearance

The importance of ethical clearance in research

The Steinhoff Saga Management review - University of Stellenbosch Business School

July – December 2018

The importance of ethical clearance in research

what is ethical clearance

Sunelle Hanekom

  • OCT 2018
  • Tags Food for Thought, Research

9 minutes to read

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Why the need for ethical clearance in research?

The main reasons why most pieces of research require ethical clearance is to:

  • Ensure the research is conducted in a responsible and ethically accountable way,
  • Minimise the risk of harm to humans (and animals), and
  • Ultimately ensure that the research leads to beneficial outcomes.

Research clearance typically involves an ethical clearance committee looking at the research aims and methodologies of researchers to make sure that the research will be conducted in a way that protects the dignity, rights and safety of the research participants, and that the research design is ethically sound and is likely to render the anticipated results.

Ethical approval of a research project also helps to increase the legitimacy of research findings. This is important for those making decisions based on the research results.

Ethical approval of a research project also helps to increase the legitimacy of research findings. This is important for those making decisions based on the research results.

The Singapore Statement on Research Integrity

Stellenbosch University, which includes the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), endorses the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity to ensure that our research is conducted in an ethical way.

This statement was developed at the Second World Conference on Research Integrity in July 2010. It serves as a global guide to the responsible conduct of research. However, it is not a regulatory document. It was developed to provide ethical guidance for research organisations, governments and scientists when developing policies, regulations and codes of conduct. The guidelines were published to provide the leadership needed to promote integrity in research, with a common approach to the fundamental elements of responsible research practice.

Stellenbosch University, which includes USB, endorses the Singapore Statement on Research Integrity to ensure that our research is conducted in an ethical way.

The four principles of the statement are:

  • Honesty in all aspects of research
  • Accountability in the conduct of research
  • Professional courtesy and fairness in working with others
  • Good stewardship of research on behalf of others.

As part of the implementation of the fundamental principles of research integrity, many universities have ethical committees, also known as institutional review boards. Stellenbosch University is no exception. Here, the process is delegated to departmental ethical screening committees (DESCs).

Over the past few years, the team of reviewers have increased from 1 to 10, allowing us to give feedback of a review within an average of 1.5 days.

USB’s Departmental Ethical Screening Committee

DESC at USB embodies research integrity. The committee is chaired by USB’s Head of Research, and it consists of ten faculty members as reviewers, and a coordinator.

USB DESC supports all the Master’s and PhD students, as well as our own faculty members with ethical clearance applications for their research.

Over the past few years, the team of reviewers have increased from one to ten, allowing us to give feedback of a review within an average of 1.5 days. Our team of reviewers understand the importance of a quick turn-around time as our Master’s students have a relative short period in which to do their fieldwork, data analysis and reporting before submitting the final research assignments.

The ethical clearance process at USB has evolved from a manual process to an electronic system that is easy to understand and navigate. As part of our support to students we have created a link on the student portal Learning Hub. This gives students access to the various templates used in research, guidelines and also the direct link to the application form. We have also uploaded a checklist for students to understand what the DESC is looking for in their application.

Applying for ethics is just another step in the research process – not a barrier. At USB’s DESC we believe in providing true support to our students and academics.

Students may only proceed with their fieldwork once ethical clearance has been granted.

Quick facts

  • USB offers 13 programmes of which 7 have a research component. Students on these 7 programmes are required to apply for ethical clearance.
  • In 2017, USB’s DESC finalised a record number of 468 applications for ethical clearance.
  • Students may only proceed with their fieldwork once ethical clearance has been granted.
  • USB’s DESC aims to give feedback to students within 10 working days. At present, the average is 1.5 days.

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How to spot a predatory publication

The Steinhoff Saga Management review - University of Stellenbosch Business School

January – June 2018

How to spot a predatory publication

  • Dr Lara Skelly
  • MAY 2018
  • Tags Food for Thought, Research

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Reflections on doing a PhD

Reflections on doing a PhD

The Steinhoff Saga Management review - University of Stellenbosch Business School

January – June 2018

Reflections on doing a PhD

Reflections on doing a PhD

  • Dr Jako Volschenk
  • MAY 2018
  • Tags Food for Thought, Research

11 minutes to read

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Article written by Dr Jako Volschenk

So there I was sitting in the third row of the Endler Hall, about to receive my PhD degree from Stellenbosch University. There was a large group of PhD graduates, a record number for the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences. Naturally, I was prompted to think about the characteristics that separate this group from those that attempt but do not succeed with their PhDs.

Determination

It is not difficult to guess that determination is a requirement. For most people, a PhD is the biggest single piece of work they have attempted or may ever attempt. Many fail because they lose motivation, lose focus or life provides them with some other reason to stop. Resilience is a requirement, not a luxury. There are often only a handful of people that understand the lonely road you are walking, and you hence have to steel yourself to keep going.

Some people believe you have to be super smart to do a PhD. And, in fact, the admissions committee will consider your intellectual ability when admitting you on the PhD programme. Yet, I can concur with a mentor from many years back who told me it would have less to do with my intellect than my ability to keep my bottom glued to my chair.

It takes humility to continue when you realise that the massive contribution to humanity that you envisioned has turned out to be barely visible to the untrained eye.


A good topic

A second requirement that the admissions panel looks for is a workable topic. Most topics change as work progresses. My PhD journey took me a full seven years, with the topic changing completely in the second year, and my final result only vaguely resembling the revised topic. My research was qualitative, and it is not strange for such topics to change over time. If your topic is quantitative, it is often less likely to change.

An aspect of your topic that should be considered is the nature of the contribution you will make. Your research can potentially make a contribution to:

  • Theory (you show that existing theory is limited);
  • Context (you show how the existing theory applies in a unique context); or
  • Method (you use a new method to answer an old research question).

Making a contribution in only one of the areas listed above is potentially not enough for a PhD, while trying to make a contribution in all three may be overreaching.

That being said, Prof Arthur Money argues that there are only two requirements for a PhD. The first is to ask a good and interesting question. The second is to answer the question with oomph, i.e. with good numbers, good arguments and good stories.

Data

A third requirement for successfully completing a PhD is access to data, information, or people that can answer your research question. In my experience, most students, regardless of the degree programme, do not consider access to data sufficiently. And this small aspect can often cause you the greatest delay. Even before 2010, I was dabbling in a particular PhD topic but had to let go of the idea because the data were locked away in a government department.

Motivation for doing a PhD

Lastly, when starting a PhD, you have to think very carefully why you are endeavouring to go on this journey. Some do a PhD to boost their egos. Personally, I think that this is a very bad reason. Your ego will receive a number of massive knocks along the way. As a number of my fellow PhD travellers will tell you, academics at the PhD colloquia can be ruthless and if you wish always to be right, it will be a bumpy road.

Some do a PhD to boost their egos. Personally, I think that this is a very bad reason.


Another reason for doing a PhD is that you have something to say to the world. This motivation is not far from the first. It also does not take much digging to establish that very little in the world is new. As a seasoned academic once told me: if you cannot find previous literature dealing with your topic, it says more about you than about the literature. As such, this group also eventually has to adjust its expectations down to making a minute contribution to that which has already been said. Do not get me wrong, a minute contribution is all you need to make. But it takes humility to continue when you realise that the massive contribution to humanity that you envisioned has turned out to be barely visible to the untrained eye.

Points to consider before embarking on a PhD

Before you embark on a PhD, I would suggest a number of actions. It is important that you do not start a PhD if you cannot finish it. It becomes an epic declaration of defeat when all your friends ask you how you are progressing and you have to admit failure.

The first thing you should consider is whether a PhD is the right thing at the right time. Doing a PhD too early in your career, especially if you are not in academia, can be limiting to your career development. In fact, the return on investment of a PhD is often very low if you are not a seasoned consultant or if you are not planning on an academic career.

Doing a PhD was worthwhile for me. As an academic, it grants me a licence to speak with authority about my field of research.


Secondly, do you have the time to do this? If you have small children, you will be absent from their lives and you will miss many family trips to the beach. How does your spouse feel about your PhD plans? Does your bread-and-butter job allow you time to do other work? Do you have a little bit of time to write every day?

Some universities offer doctoral research and training programmes for prospective PhD students. It may be good to attend one of these if you wish to make sure of your potential decision to do a PhD. The advantage of this route is that you can ascertain early-on whether a PhD would serve your needs at a personal and professional level.

Was it worthwhile for me?

Doing a PhD was worthwhile for me. As an academic, it grants me a licence to speak with authority about my field of research. It also provides me with opportunities to teach at other institutions across the globe. As with most worthwhile things in life, this was not an easy accomplishment, but it certainly gave me a stronger and more confident voice.

 

Dr Jako Volschenk is a Senior Lecturer in Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. He holds a PhD in the area of Coopetition. His interest lies with how entities that compete collaborate to address environmental problems, with a special interest in the value that is created for different stakeholders in such initiatives. He has published in the areas of coopetition, energy, sustainability, as well as microfinance.

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why do research

Why do research?

The Steinhoff Saga Management review - University of Stellenbosch Business School

January – June 2018

Why do Research?

why do research

  • Prof Charlene Gerber
  • MAY 2018
  • Tags Food for Thought, Research

10 minutes to read

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Article written by Prof. Charlene Gerber

Universities are supposedly in the field of producing knowledge. One way in which to do this is by conducting research. Research, simply stated, is the quest to solve problems. In solving problems, one would hope that some form of knowledge is created – be it contextual (e.g. an industry problem), conceptual (i.e. adding to scientific literature) or methodological (i.e. finding a creative or new way to investigate something).

In South Africa, all postgraduate degree programmes should have a research component. Often students and even faculty members debate the relevance and applicability of including a research component in professional degrees such as the MBA. The requirement by the Department of Higher Education to include a research component in all postgraduate degree programmes often leads to the question: ‘Why do research?’ A short answer is: ‘It makes you smart, that’s why.’ But often this answer does not satisfy a disgruntled student and a longer answer is mostly needed.

At the University of Stellenbosch Business School, many reasons are given for doing research. The preferred ones are discussed below.

Doing research exercises the mind

Conducting scientific research requires one to follow a logical (though not necessarily linear) process. This process is systematic and planned; it is not a random, haphazard observation of what one thinks should be done. According to theory on how to conduct research, the first step within this process is to define the research problem. In defining a research problem one would have to gather information on past research. A common misconception among scholars is that ‘past research’ refers to information on the specific practical situation with which an individual is confronted. In scientific research one would gather information on prior research relating to the concept behind the problem, and not the application or relevant context of the problem. For example, if one wanted to investigate how one can make a specific cancer treatment more affordable to patients, one would gather information on costing models, and specifically prior research pertaining to costing models in healthcare. In other words, one will acquire knowledge first. A first step in gathering information on past research would then imply searching ‘costing models’ on Google Scholar – not Google.

Doing research minimises bias

Often in business science most of the research questions (also referred to as research problems) are practical. When using the term ‘practical’, one would argue that research questions have specific relevance to a company or that the questions directly relate to a specific business situation or environment (also referred to as applied research). As a result managers dealing with a particular problem have usually been dealing with the situation for some time in some form. These managers have also been operating within environments for some time, and as a result may be too involved to have a broader perspective. This means they can be perceived as not being neutral or impartial. As scientific research requires a systematic process, managers are required to be objective.

Doing research objectively means that one should only report on the world as it is, not on how one thinks the world is, based on own beliefs, wishes or desires. By conducting research objectively (in other words, in as unbiased a way as possible), the findings and results obtained can often eliminate misconceptions, resulting in shifting beliefs, wishes and desires.

Doing research enables critical thinking

All research is provisional and is open to question and debate. The notion that research is open to question and debate is particularly true for scientific research. Questioning the norm is encouraged. Finding arguments and support for notions that challenge the norm are applauded. The only way to find support for challenging notions in scientific research is to participate in academic discourse.

Reading scientific literature (i.e. in academic peer-reviewed journals) introduces scholars to the world of scientific discussions and debate. Here the challenge is not merely to agree with a notion just because it has been published, but to be able to find reasons why something might not be true, or to find reasons why one should disagree with a stated norm. Many educational systems fail students by not teaching them how to think. Scientific research requires students to think critically about what is commonly believed within a field or discipline and then to argue their particular point of view, based on scientific evidence.

Doing research assists with seizing opportunities

Business research mostly relies on direct observation of a business environment or situation and not only pure reason. In other words, business research that is conducted in a scientific way allows for the identification of things that have possibly not been observed before or opportunities that have not been noticed before. Acquiring the skill of following a systematic and objective process enables individuals to form judgements on what can or could possibly be observed, thereby allowing for the chance to seize opportunities within business settings and environments.

Doing research necessitates reading, writing and the sharing of information

Communicating research results, conclusions and recommendations is a sought-after skill. Reading and interpreting analysed data or sheets of transcribed data are challenging. The research process requires that researchers process results obtained into a digestible format and then also to communicate them in a simple way so that any person can understand them.

Linking the results back to the initial research question is required. This means haphazard approaches to problem definition, research design and data analysis are not tolerated in the scientific process. Specifically in applied research, sharing of information obtained through conducting research systematically is crucial, be it in verbal or written form.

Doing research makes you (sound) smart

In learning how to conduct scientific research, one also needs to acquire the language associated with the field. Essentially, learning the language of research is like learning a new language. For example, commonly used words in scientific research include reliability, validity, credibility and generalisability. Using these words in research discussions or when posing questions on problem definition, prior research, research design, sampling and research implications can spark huge debates. Not addressing these and other crucial aspects can lead to even greater debates.

In conclusion

Research serves as an aid in problem-solving. Scientific research does so in a robust way, where all decisions should be justified based on evidence. Mere experience and “gut feel” are not sufficient when conducting scientific research. As a result, scientific research takes a considerable amount of dedication. However, acquiring the skill to conduct scientific research is one of the few chances we have to become critical thinkers – and society needs more critical thinkers.

 

Prof. Charlene Gerber lectures Research Methodology at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. She is also Head of MBA Research Assignments at USB and she acts as research consultant.

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