Holistic approach to social science research

Holistic approach to social science research

Research is largely conceived as a process that needs to be actively planned, managed and organised. This is especially true when it comes to research leading to degrees like an MPhil or PhD. Despite the rising concerns about the quality of research in the country, university education has seldom paid attention to it. The financial support for research in social sciences is lesser when compared with that of research in pure science. 

The reason is that, it is presumed that research in pure science produces valuable material outcomes whereas research in social sciences does not. Only a limited number of government organisations fund research in social sciences. 

Research in social sciences is conducted mostly within the university system and research institutes. Non-governmental Organisationss and private institutions, mostly sponsor-driven, contribute to only a small proportion of research done in the country. An overwhelming proportion of research within the university system is done to get research degrees. Notwithstanding the role of research committees, the quality of such research areas is a matter of great concern. 
Researcher’s role

Research must be based on an open system of thought. But, the general trend in the country is that a researcher rarely discusses his or her thesis with peers and others during the course of its development. 

In many foreign universities, thesis development is done solely based on the discussion between the researcher and his research supervisor. Developing a peer support group, for mutual support and constructive criticism, is of paramount importance to enhance quality in research.

Contrary to popular opinion, research in social sciences is not an ivory tower activity. It need not be done in isolation from reality. Moreover, perspectives in social sciences change very often. 

A good researcher has to keep an eye on the contemporary happenings. He must not hesitate to accommodate new ideas and perspectives in the thesis.A researcher lacking theoretical and disciplinary knowledge can give only a commonsensical explanation of the theme or topic chosen for research. It is necessary on the part of the researcher to enrich his knowledge base through sustained efforts.

Research supervisor’s role

In the present context, only a handful of meritorious students enrol for research programmes. Most of them are those who look for a career in teaching, since a research degree is mandatory as per the UGC regulations. This requirement, rather than proclivity for research, has made many to pursue research. 

In India, a research degree is considered the beginning of one’s research career. Research leading to MPhil or PhD degrees is usually the first experience of a student in research. Unfortunately, many students do not know how to frame a research hypothesis for their research work. 

And when they do frame it, that would not be comprehensive enough. It is the role of the research supervisor to help them frame a meaningful research question by making them find gaps in the existing knowledge.

Missing critical analysis of data is a major concern. Mere description of facts will not fulfill the requirements of a research work. Students lacking research experience and subject knowledge tend to describe facts without analyzing them. 

It is necessary to train them to analyse the collected information with the help of a theoretical framework. In this regard, provide them with examples of such research works. Most of the universities recruit MPhil and PhD students based on the scrutiny of research proposals submitted. The theoretical and disciplinary knowledge of researchers have seldom been evaluated. Research supervisors need to evaluate the candidate’s subject knowledge at the initial stage of research and help them enrich it by sustained reading.

A novice in research may not be able to plan and manage the research process independently. It is noted that students generally propose a topic for research without considering its feasibility. Sometimes they are overambitious in selecting a research problem. But the fact is that the research programmes are usually time bound. The research supervisor has to make the researcher aware of the resources required to complete the proposed research.
University’s role

Creation of new knowledge is a mandate of university. If it facilitates the MPhil and PhD researches with fund, infrastructure and flexible procedures, they in turn, will contribute to the process of knowledge creation. 

Today, stipend given to a doctoral researcher is not sufficient to meet basic needs. This has made many meritorious students prefer lucrative jobs over a research career. 

Providing a proper work environment to the researcher is the sole responsibility of the university. In reality, most of the universities give their research scholars a small space in a shared room with others. Some universities do not provide even that. 

Research scholars are expected to work at home or library. Only a limited number of universities provide its research scholars access to online resources. 

Lacking orientation on tools for the analysis of data and ignorance about the available secondary data sources are the common concerns faced by the research scholars. It is necessary to train them in modern tools for data analysis and secondary data sources. This training could be part of their coursework. 

Setting up research institutes outside the university system has led to an unfortunate divide between teaching and research. 

There is a considerable exodus of faculty members with teaching and research experience from universities to research institutes primarily aiming at less teaching hours. Universities have to consider research guidance as part of teaching hours to avoid losing talent.
 Quality of social science research in India is facing a tough time. The above mentioned reasons represent the most obvious factors contributing to mediocrity in research. All stakeholders of research need to work together to get rid of this crisis. It is about time we paid attention to this issue.  

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