Who is likely to be a successful candidate for a degree by research in business studies?

Asia-Pacific Journal of Business Administration

ISSN: 1757-4323

Article publication date: 27 September 2011


Dufour, Y. (2011), "Who is likely to be a successful candidate for a degree by research in business studies?", Asia-Pacific Journal of Business Administration, Vol. 3 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/apjba.2011.41503baa.001



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Who is likely to be a successful candidate for a degree by research in business studies?

Article Type: Editorial From: Asia-Pacific Journal of Business Administration, Volume 3, Issue 2

ASIA Pacific Journal of Business Administration seeks to include research and review articles from early career researchers as well as recently completed doctoral candidates publishing with their supervisor. This issue coalesces themes on the indicators of who is likely to be a successful candidate for a degree by research. Even the most experienced academic supervisors cannot always predict which candidates will succeed. In this editorial, we share with you some ideas about the skills and personal attributes likely to assist candidates in successful completion.

One of the difficulties of doing a degree by research is to traverse the numerous personal ups and downs of mixed degrees of certainty about thesis direction. It can feel like managing moving goalposts. Advice abounds. All dissertations share the aim to make a distinctive and original contribution to knowledge and/or practice. However, the challenge to develop new knowledge and new practice is more like a marathon than a sprint. Success does not usually belong to the brightest masterminds, but those with unwavering patience and perseverance. The question to be asked is whether the candidate possesses both patience and perseverance? There is often little instant gratification or reward for completing the incremental steps except, ultimately, the final one of submission and pass. In fact, contrary to what is featured in many prescriptive research methodology textbooks, the road to success is often not from a sequence of steps, but the mix of various research activities that run concurrently. Often the choice of a dissertation topic itself, is not the result of any inspiration but from an incremental process combining the search for scientific rigour, with opportunism and pragmatism. So, a question for candidates is how well they can balance chaos, complexity and confusion?

What is an original contribution and what exactly makes it good enough to make the grade in a doctoral dissertation? A dissertation normally takes three to four years of hard work with another one year for revision. The sentiment a candidate feels for his or her dissertation is not a sound measure of its quality nor a basis for confidence in the findings. It is not how hard the candidate may work, but the quality of the contribution that ultimately matters. The question of what makes a valuable contribution is neither easy to explain nor to evaluate. Suffice to say that examiners are neither looking for absolute perfection nor for a definitive answer to key research questions. A thesis marks the beginning of a research career not the end of it. One can speculate about how many well-known painters have produced a masterpiece but nevertheless still studied at some national academy of art? A doctoral candidate has a much better chance of securing the degree if a good job is demonstrated in researching an interesting, yet focused and perhaps less fashionable research topic, than a mediocre effort attempting to research comprehensively a popular topic of the day. A research degree normally takes twice as much time as initially thought, and fashionable topics of the day can pass very quickly. A candidate should be wary of completing a thesis that is obsolete at the time of completion. So, a candidate is wise to consider how to balance the trade-off between the magnitude of his research contribution and the pragmatic demands of limited time and resources. A skill of pragmatism is required by a doctoral candidate. A prime responsibility is to learn how to conduct research, to report and discuss the findings in a scientific and rigorous way. The research topic must be relevant and legitimate, not necessarily fashionable. While many candidates publish the odd journal article arising from their research, only a handful of scholars publish their entire thesis and even fewer achieve any fame from the process. A candidate should demonstrate enough self-confidence to state and defend their thesis, as well as recognise the inherent limitations each thesis possesses.

The examiners generally expect candidates to possess coherence about what they are talking about, that candidates demonstrate a knowledge on how to do research responsibly and properly, and that they can argue their thesis effectively and persuasively. In many ways, there are few definitive answers to research dilemmas. For example, Albert Einstein’s equation E=MC2 was once considered indisputable. However, it is now seriously questioned by quantum physicists. Similarly, Dimitri Mendeleiev’s contention that his periodic table provided a full list of the elements forming the universe is now under similar pressure from different scientists. Both are examples of significant contributions that are specific to time, knowledge and historical context. So, in many ways, the good news is that the doctoral task is not to “finish some race” before anyone else does. In fact, each candidate is running against no one else but themself. The task is to finish the task of the thesis within the time frame prescribed by a university. One good rule of thumb is that a good thesis is a finished thesis; even better if passed. What this suggests is that time management is crucial to success.

There is general consensus among graduates of a doctoral program that the whole process is a long, reclusive, and at times daunting journey of discovery. This is not only about the research subject itself, but also, and perhaps more importantly, about the effects the exercise has over the personality of the researcher. It begs the question of how best to handle the inevitable delays and consequential frustrations? In many ways, candidacy demands a psychological robustness. Before embarking on a degree by research the candidate ought consider the magnitude of the task ahead, especially in regards to the time the process consumes of a social and personal life. There is indeed a substantial investment of money, time and resources to be made. But most significant of all is the enormous emotional and intellectual energy that needs to be exerted in order to complete to doctorate.

There are differences that result from the rich, complex, and dynamic contexts in which research is conducted, as well as the various research methodologies undertaken. However, despite the differences, research remains an organised and focussed exercise, comprising 95 percent perspiration and 5 percent inspiration. As Henry Mintzberg pointed out, research requires a creative leap, however, small that breaks away from the expected to describe something new. Hence, research candidates are required to collect data as effective detectives and be able to link ideas creatively. The award of the degree is a metaphorical “membership card” to claim and continue such skills in their careers. It certifies that the candidate belongs to a corps who has gone through the same process of writing a dissertation in accordance with the well-established customs of conducting such research and reporting the findings. The latitude to innovate and deviate from the structure of a dissertation and a methodology is very limited. Good research is not only about analysing what is known but also about discovering something new. The 5 percent inspiration that Mintzberg spoke of means that no matter what the candidate does, he will not produce new theory or practice without at least some creative leap that generates fresh insight. In this sense, research is less cerebral and more a craft. The creative leap can come from chance and intuition, but more often it is a product of the intimacy with the data and concepts.

The ultimate responsibility for success in submission and an award belongs to the candidate. That does not mean that other people, such as the supervisor, will not have a significant impact on the process and content of the dissertation. It simply means that at the end of the day the candidate alone will be called to account for the process and content of the dissertation. Throughout this editorial we have asked a number of questions and posed advice. At the end of the day, what remains important is for candidates for a degree by research in business studies to ensure they enjoy reading, learning, and discovery.

Yvon Dufour, Peter Steane