Postgraduate Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide for PhD and Master's Students and their Supervisors
Caister Academic Press
Graduate Support, Department of Research and Innovation, University of Pretoria, South Africa
vi + 114
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This handbook is intended for postgraduate students and their supervisors. The author has travelled the postgraduate journey (PhD, MPH and PDHE) and experienced all the challenges and difficulties that most postgraduate students are likely to encounter. He has conducted research (which resulted in a patented invention), supervised postgraduate students, taught postgraduate courses and examined PhD theses and master's degree dissertations.
This single volume outlines the concepts and strategies that will greatly facilitate the successful completion of postgraduate studies and offers help and advice on research methods, data analysis techniques, writing skills and student-supervisor relationships. The author demystifies complex research concepts and methodologies by explaining them in simple terms and making them understandable to students and novice researchers. The manual is an invaluable guide to postgraduate studies and provides an in-depth explanation of the methodologies, philosophical basis and concepts that underpin postgraduate research.
This manual is essential reading for all PhD students, master's degree students and others pursuing a postgraduate qualification. It is also recommended for supervisors and is an indispensable guide for anyone contemplating postgraduate studies.
Table of contents
1. Factors to Consider When Deciding to Obtain a Postgraduate Qualification
As national economies across the world are increasingly becoming knowledge-driven, it is imperative that people should equip themselves with educational qualifications that are important in their fields of specialisation. Whereas a few decades ago it was probably adequate to have an undergraduate degree, nowadays competition for jobs is getting so tight that postgraduate qualifications are becoming a necessity. Consequently, most countries are making concerted efforts to encourage their citizens to continue with their education beyond undergraduate level. This article unpacks some pertinent factors surrounding postgraduate qualifications and highlights the importance of developing a clear roadmap before embarking on postgraduate studies.
2. Philosophical Background of Knowledge and Some Adult Learning Theories: Simplification of the Terminology
Learning at university level involves learners, educators and support staff who should collectively create an institutional environment that is conducive to student-centred learning. Since the core activities of universities are centred on knowledge, it is critical for all stakeholders to have broad comprehension of the main philosophical underpinnings of knowledge. The philosophical basis of knowledge should be understood in terms of the various worldviews that exist and how the different worldviews have a bearing on the approaches through which teaching, learning and construction of knowledge can take place effectively. In general, teaching approaches, research capacity, characteristics of learners and the environment in which teaching, research and learning take place affect the quality of education at universities. Academic researchers should have clear understanding of the philosophical background they want to base their studies on because it has a bearing on the methodological approaches to be taken and the interpretation of results thereof. However, complex terminology used can compromise comprehension of critical philosophical concepts. This article therefore explains in very simple terms the meaning of some pertinent philosophical jargon such as ontology, epistemology, axiology, research paradigms and some adult learning theories.
3. Postgraduate Programmes: Variety, Depth, Credits and Enrolment
It is critical for prospective postgraduate students to have a broad understanding of the variety, scope and depth of postgraduate programmes so as to firstly make informed choices before enrolment and secondly be able to develop a well-thought out study plan for the whole postgraduate programme. In simple terms, a postgraduate qualification is a qualification that is obtained by a candidate who has already graduated with a first degree. The first degree is generally referred to as an undergraduate degree and is the degree that one can enroll for after successfully completing secondary school education. This articles gives a detailed explanation of various postgraduate programmes offered by institutions of higher learning across the world, entry requirements, notional hours of study, credits and grading systems.
4. What is Research? Research Questions, Research Designs and Types of Variables
A clear understanding of what research is and the different research designs that can be used is critical for research to be conducted correctly. Since there are various research designs, a researcher has to use the most appropriate one for the research question to be answered. A wrong choice of research design leads to wrong data being collected and analysed, which means that the research question cannot be answered correctly. This chapter gives an overview of research designs and types of variables that can be measured. Diagrams and examples are used to make it easy for various concepts to be understood.
5. Reliability and Validity of Quantitative Research Instruments
Quantitative research involves collection and analysis of empirical data in order to answer specific research questions. The quality of research findings depends to a large extent on the appropriateness and quality of research instruments or tools used to collect data, the way the data are analysed and the interpretation thereof. If the data collection instruments are flawed in one way or another, then the data collected and the findings of the research are also flawed. Appropriateness and quality of research instruments pertain to the reliability and validity of the instruments. This article explains the meaning and different types of reliability and validity of quantitative research instruments. Diagrams that help to make the explanations easy to understand are used.
6. Writing a Research Proposal: From Title Through Research Question and Conceptual Framework to Methodology
Writing a research proposal is an important step in postgraduate programmes that require research projects to be conducted. Put simply, a research proposal is a detailed plan of the research project that one wants to conduct. Thus the proposal addresses the 'what' and 'how' questions about the intended research project. In addition, research proposals enable academic institutions to assess if their postgraduate candidates have adequate comprehension of the research process to be able to conduct research properly. Although the exact format of research proposals may vary from one subject area to another and from one academic institution to another, there are some fundamental components which are to a large extent universal. This article walks the reader though the process of writing a research proposal, starting from title through research question and conceptual framework to research methodology.
7. Postgraduate Thesis, Dissertation, or Research Report: Different Formats and Flow From Title to Conclusion
Postgraduate qualifications that have a research component are awarded after examination of a write-up that contributes partially or wholly to the respective qualifications. The final write-ups are referred to as theses, dissertations or research reports depending on the level of the postgraduate qualification. The terminology also depends on the geographical regions; for instance, European countries tend to use terminology that is different from the USA, while in Africa there seems to be different terminologies based on the colonial history of individual countries. However, there are also variations within certain countries, depending on guidelines or policies of specific academic institutions. In this article, issues that have a bearing on flow of arguments from title to conclusion of postgraduate theses, dissertations and research reports are unpacked. The main point being made is that there should be coherent flow of arguments from title of a research write-up to conclusion regardless of the format used.
8. Research Integrity: The Obvious and the Less Obvious Dimensions
Research integrity is about the authenticity and trustworthiness of research. Research integrity has dimensions that may be relatively obvious and others that may not be so obvious. The obvious dimensions pertain to (1) fabrication of data, (2) falsification of data, (3) research methodology, (4) plagiarism and (5) ethical issues. The not so obvious dimensions are to do with the reporting of findings as well as the environment in which the research is conducted and they include (1) authorship issues, (2) grant-related misconducts, (3) issues pertaining to collaboration, (4) intellectual property rights, (5) institutional and national environment in which research is conducted, (6) post-study issues and (7) other general cross-cutting issues. The different dimensions of research integrity pertain to various phases of the research process, starting from proposal writing through data collection, data analysis and interpretation of results to reporting of findings. Some aspects of research integrity go beyond the research process to the post-study period. Failure to uphold high standards of research integrity can damage the image of various stakeholders that include individual researchers, families of the researchers concerned, research institutions, relevant government ministries and nations. Poor research integrity could also endanger the safety of the public since policies and or products may be based on flawed research findings. In addition, poor research integrity has financial implications which may be difficult to quantify fully. In this article, the different dimensions of research integrity are unpacked.
9. Professional Doctorate Degrees: How Do They Differ From Conventional PhD Degrees?
Whereas the conventional PhD degree is generally meant for candidates aspiring to become academics and researchers in academic or research environments, the professional doctorate degree which has emerged recently is meant for practicing professionals who may already be in senior positions and have gained extensive experience in their fields of specialisation. Consequently, research topics for professional doctorate degrees emanate from practical professional practice and may be aimed at addressing specific practical challenges encountered in real-life settings. The same minimum requirement stipulated for a PhD, which is to make an original contribution to the body of knowledge, is applicable to professional doctorate degrees. The main difference is that the new knowledge generated should have direct relevance and applicability to the candidates' specific professional field. This article unpacks professional doctorate degrees and articulates some of the potential challenges.
10. Guys! Let Me Tell You About My PhD Supervisor: Postgraduate Supervision Practicalities and Approaches
Postgraduate supervision is critical in the development of resourceful and innovative professionals for the future. The development of student-supervisor environments that are conducive to effective learning requires an inclusive and participatory process that takes into account a wide range of characteristics of students being supervised on one hand and supervisors on the other. Due to power differentials in the student-supervisor relationships, students may not reveal some of their perceptions, challenges, expectations, shortcomings or other characteristics to their supervisors or university structures. In this paper, a hypothetical case study which captures a wide repertoire of pertinent issues surrounding doctoral student-supervisor relationships from different perspectives is presented. The case study shows that interpersonal relationships are dynamic and are affected by multiple factors, some of which are beyond the control of the students and or supervisors concerned. The author concludes therefore, that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to postgraduate supervision is not always effective and is inadvisable.
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