In a world filled with spontaneous decisions and expeditious means to acquire knowledge, there still exists a scarce section of beings known as the research diaspora, who still believes in adopting the due course of knowledge acquisition, advancement, segregation and dissemination. Be it the grounded theory or the hypothetico-deductive method of scientific research, the voyage to a successful completion of a Ph.D. is hardly ever simple. Young researchers will agree with the fact that there is no straight path towards this ambition, rather a curvy trail stocked with the paper’s rejection speed breakers, project’s milestone bumps, the twist and turns from supervisor’s Wishlist, and much more.
For a researcher starting in the field of Human computer interaction and more specifically computer-supported cooperative work is always crammed with perplexity and disorientation, reason being the heterogeneity in the field and the variety of methods available to pursue one’s research. In unwieldy environs like these, doctoral colloquium, offered at prestigious venues, provide the much-needed research incubators for the young researchers to reflect, orient and analyse the disposition of their Ph.D., away from the chores of academic monotony. I had a similar chance to attend the European version of CSCW conference (ECSCW 2019, Salzburg, Austria), and to my delight, I ended up learning a great deal during the mentoring session of the doctoral colloquium. Some of the lessons learnt are as follows:
- Be well aware of the values of the research field. The question to be asked is What am I doing? Is this properly academic? Or Are we reinventing the wheel with this research?
One viable approach is to do the reverse engineering of the research question. See what insights have been developed in some domain which you might want to implicate in your domain. Novel is good but incremental is already enough. Taking an ongoing research some steps forward seems to be enough contribution for Ph.D.
- What kind of contributions are significant in the field?
- New theory grounded with methodology
- Applying a theory from other fields to CSCW or HCI
- Identifying the concepts or phenomenon
- Exploring a study area which is poorly known
- Falsification of a theory (or to show that applying a certain theory is difficult)
- Incremental improvement in known processes
- System design building
- Connecting dots leading to a phenomenon
- Method testing and development
- Design guidelines
The research in CSCW is interestingly not just sociology work but also the mantra to design (a view into design) and also, sometimes detailing how the design guidelines are not affected or should not be affected. What type of activities are crucially important in research methodology? Are the assumptions made hold true? Crucially important experiments can establish either the usefulness of that technology or falsification in terms of re-design and refresh methods.
- The constant struggle between generalization vs scope. The most important milestones in a research is to narrow down the scope. The research must be bound to a generalization level, but how deep to dive in a domain? It must also be bound to the terms of the philosophy of science which focuses on the cruciality of experiments in order to test and verify a theory. A well examined and justified theory can be regarded as a law.
Terms of generalization are also reflected by the methodological choice you make for your research. Young researchers generalize very early. To be able to generalize from an experiment, it is necessary to compare or conduct more comparison in literature or by further experiments. If there are more differences than commonalities dig more.
- Literature review is essential while writing papers and also during research. It takes more time than one thinks. One way is to make bullet points of claims or statements. Literature review should lead to research question or a research gap that you want to address through your methodological research or if must, at least frame/reframe research question or research gap.
The fundamental question is “What is enough”. Lots of reading can cause humongous amounts of literature which can be irrelevant. It restricts novelty. Practise builds the vision of what paper to skim and what to dwell in depths. Every research is in compliance with some important domain specific keywords and some notable authors. It is important to be in sync with these keywords and authors for relevance and continuity of research. If research exist: Than the literature is quick to be found. If a field is new than trivial literature exists. But how to prove that there is no research. Firstly, be a little confident. Secondly, describe the nearest neighbours in research, if the main subject matter is new, asserting the fact that there is not enough research in this area but closed overlaps etc have been found. The most important thing is that the story line must fit to literature and literature covers the storyline, highlights the research gap and don’t go further from the cynosure of the closed outline. Literature review is more about critical argument rather than state of the art.
- Starting point of writing and submitting to a venue. Clearly define your motive in your head by choosing the right venue and crafting for the venue. Do your homework about the venue and the associated community. Learn about your reviewers and their work. Try to find a resonance spectrum in your research to the general philosophy of the community. Learn how does the reviewing process work. Practical consideration about number of pages, balance between conciseness vs elaboration. Community centered approach yields better results. For work in progress go for exploratory paper or workshops. For more rounded research and mature results go for full paper.
- Networks are substantial in research. Choose the right kind of partners. People who are nice and easy to work with and are reliable. Identify peers whom you can trust i.e. for the feedback of work in progress.
- Maintain active reviewing role. Writing a review is a good way to learn as you have to give arguments.
Apart from the rich expert opinions one can get at doctoral colloquium, they are also the rightful platform to scrutinize one’s research voyage. It is a good tactic to present the raw ideas and unmatured research in front of experts and peers and, have an open mind to their suggestions and criticism. I would recommend applying at any stage of Ph.D., not just to get evaluated and validated, but also to expand the horizon and have a chance to think out of the box. I would encourage young researchers to accessorize themselves with the glams and glitz of expertise the doctoral colloquium has to offer.