Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Research proposal submission

Yesterday evening I submitted my DBA research proposal; according to my mentor, the proposal will be given to two members of the research committee who will read it thoroughly and present it at the next research committee meeting which will take place in two weeks' time (apparently they meet once every seven weeks).

Depending on how one looks at this, this is either the first, second or fourth milestone in my doctoral candidacy (fourth if one counts each exam as a milestone, second if one counts all the exams as one milestone and first if one ignores the exams altogether). In a sense, I have been working on this proposal for over two years although the bulk of the work has been done since December 2013. The initial draft which I sent to my mentor in March is about 50% of the size of the proposal which I submitted yesterday.

The major problem when writing the proposal - and obviously the thesis - is that one is writing a document having no prior experience of writing such a document and with no real idea of the required level/depth. The mentor/supervisor knows the framework but not the contents whereas I know the contents but not the framework.

There are parts of the proposal which have hardly changed over the months: the introduction was the first section to be completed, followed by the literature review/background section. This latter part was about 80% fixed a few months ago, with minor changes constantly being made. The sections which have undergone the greatest amount of change are the hypotheses and the research method (including sampling and statistical analysis). In a sense, this is to be expected: I wrote the introduction and background on the basis of the literature searches which I have been conducting for the past few years; this is the material which I know well and is specific to my research. The hypotheses and statistics part are less specific (in other words, the structure, if not the content, is similar to that contained in other proposals) and less familiar to me, but more familiar to my mentor. Thus he had a larger say in editing this latter half of the proposal than he did with regard to the first half. It is very important to get the hypotheses correct (which is why we have spent so much time on them) as these are not allowed to change during the entire research period.

I wanted to ensure that the proposal is not rejected on a technicality: the (deliberately faulty) research proposals displayed in the IBR1 course all had a timetable, but I had not included one in my draft and  my mentor had not commented on this. I mentioned this in one of our most recent conversations; he said that he would check, and returned to me the same evening stating that a timetable was required. So I included a basic timetable.

Hopefully the research committee will accept the research proposal, allowing me to continue to the next stage. If they don't accept the proposal, they will give feedback on the areas which need to be improved and I will have five weeks in which to improve the proposal to the required level (the committee meets once every seven weeks but one has to submit the proposal two weeks before the committee meeting). One is allowed to submit the proposal a maximum of three times - as they say in baseball, three strikes and you're out. I'm hoping for no strikes.

The mentor is very pleased with the proposal; he frequently comments that it is very interesting and original. The latter word is a two-edged sword: original in this context means that there is no prior research in this area. This means that one hand, I am performing what might be seen in the future as pioneering research, whereas on the other hand, I have only a small literature base. I think that the research is also original because I have the advantage of working both in a corporate ERP environment and also in a small company which administers psychological tests. Had someone else performed research in this area, they might not have had the psychological knowledge which I have.

Once the proposal has been accepted, the next stage is the complete literature review which will appear in the doctoral thesis. I am unsure what I am supposed to do as I have already scoured the literature, looking for anything relevant. This is the problem which I referred to in the previous paragraph; I have literature in four supporting areas but none in the specific area which I am researching. Obviously, I will be dependent on my supervisor (the job description changes, but it is likely to be the same person) for initial guidance here.

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