January 2018 – June 2018

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

5 minutes to read

SHARE

Related articles

May 26

6 minutes to read

The gender pay gap: a guide fo...
Mar 02

8 minutes to read

Women on South African boards ...

Join the USB community

Receive updates on the latest news, events, business knowledge and blogs at USB.

SUBSCRIBE NOW


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

SHARE

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.

Related articles

May 26

6 minutes to read

The gender pay gap: a guide fo...
Mar 02

8 minutes to read

Women on South African boards ...

Join the USB community

Receive updates on the latest news, events, business knowledge and blogs at USB.

SUBSCRIBE NOW


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

SHARE

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.

Related articles

May 26

6 minutes to read

The gender pay gap: a guide fo...
Mar 02

8 minutes to read

Women on South African boards ...

Join the USB community

Receive updates on the latest news, events, business knowledge and blogs at USB.

SUBSCRIBE NOW