For me, the student is the customer. However, for this to work one must clearly define the product and service that is being offered. In this case, what is being offered is the opportunity for the student to earn an accredited degree. Just like a health club that provides equipment and coaching, in order for you to accomplish your goals you must get on the “treadmill” and do the work. For more of my thoughts on the concept of student focus read my article on Students as Customers…Good Idea? Ignoring the dated reference to gender, I subscribe to the now famous notion from Galileo Galilei, “You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself.”
I have a curious mind and I want the adult learners that I work with to have one also! I love to explore, discover, and create new frameworks. If we think we already know the answer, there is no need to conduct research. I am reminded here of one of my favorite Einstein quotes – “If we knew what is was we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research, would it.” I learn from every experience and I am constantly evolving. As Bob Dylan noted, “You always have to realize that you’re constantly in a state of becoming.” Maybe someday I won’t learn as much from each research project – but I hope that day never comes.
Ambidextrous – Form Follows Function
In social science research, form follows function and the “nature” of the phenomenon being studied. The most appropriate overall research approach (quantitative, qualitative, mixed methods) depends on the purpose of the particular research project AND the nature of the constructs and relationships being studied (epistemological and ontological assumptions). In human created organizations we often find phenomena that include predictable and measurable variables interacting with often unpredictable and not so measurable constructs (e.g., humans). This tends to drive a wide variety of research approaches and methods. While a social scientist doesn’t have to be able to personally conduct all types of research, it is important to be able to read and “consume” all types of research.
The goal of the dissertation process is to create an independent scholar capable of going on more research “adventures” to create new insights and help solve a wide variety of problems. In other words, it is a human development and weaning process. In the beginning the PhD student is highly dependent on the mentor and committee to help them learn how to design, conduct, and report research. When the journey is complete they have returned to their life prepared to take on new challenges. While it is important to learn to be collaborative, one must also become independent. As Ralph Waldo Emerson proposed in his The American Scholar address, “We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds.”
Not only are the adult learners that I work with scholar – practitioners but I am one also. My goal is to build “bridges” between theory and practice. I have a bias for research that addresses real-world problems! It seems, at least in organizations, we have plenty of real world issues to address. Once again ignoring the dated reference to gender, I am reminded of another Emerson quote from The American Scholar, “The scholar is that man who must take up into himself all the ability of the time, all the contribution of the past, all the hopes of the future.”
Meaning and Purpose – Improve the Human Condition
I also like research findings that in some way help people, society, etc. I don’t separate organizations (businesses) from society. Instead I prefer to take a systems view of the various groups and individuals and how they interact to help or hinder each other. I am not interested in choosing among the inferior “menu” of available options and “isms.” Our approaches to social systems (e.g., capitalism, socialism…) and the organizations we create to operate within those systems, are human-created and thus are imperfect. The good news is they were designed and created by humans and thus can be redesigned and recreated. I am interested in systems that create ever increasing value for multiple stakeholders. Only then can we say they are effective!
Finally, if you are not having fun you are doing it wrong! Research is recreation. Enjoy the journey!!!
“In self trust all the virtues are comprehended. Free should the scholar be – free and brave.” Ralph Waldo Emerson, The American Scholar