Rising Ph D count and What it can mean to the HEIs

 


 The number of Ph D holders is rising fast in India. According to one estimate latest annual count stands above 24,000 in India. Globally the country is placed in the top 5 bracket in Ph D production. In a State like Kerala which takes education seriously, this is more pronounced. The drive to earn a doctoral degree among young academicians got intensified as the University Grants Commission (UGC), the apex Higher Education advisory body in the country, proposed making Ph D a mandatory requirement for entry into teaching in colleges and Universities as Assistant Professors. Those faculty members already in service too have recognized the urgency of the matter and have started acquiring the doctoral qualification. The weightage given to the degree in terms of pay, perks and accreditation too obviously is a driver of the trend. 

 A doctoral degree is held to be the highest academic qualification generally. It also is a claim of having deeply explored an area of study and contributed to the production of knowledge of that area. The manner and matter of doctoral researches have undergone changes of many kinds. Pace has picked up, for instance, reflecting the sense of urgency of the matter (not the matter being explored but the matter of owning it quick). The leisurely pace of the research of yore has disappeared. Since there is more institutional vigilance and supervisory alertness, the Ph D scholar needs more discipline and finish the work on time. Also, there is more currency when it comes to the choice of topics researched. This sure has its advantage as the fields of exploration spreads wide and turns more inclusive. The center /margin binaries are collapsed and the fields open up making it more level and live. Though at times, this admirable passion for the current may cause the researcher to explore an unfolding situation, a growing trend, a shifting narrative half way through, compromising on the opportunity for exploring the area as and when we have firmer grip on it, when the issue explored has acquired a relatively definite proportion and contours. In terms of quality, it is a mixed bag since there are quality efforts while we have those theses which state the obvious too. 

When the number of Ph Ds rise in an institution of Higher Education, what does it mean to the HEI? This is a question both the doctoral degree holder and the institutional leadership need to discuss. Because, when the population of research degree holders increase in an institution, such an accumulation of highly capable faculty members should bring in corresponding shift in the HEIs in terms of quality and scholarship. At the individual level, the Ph D holder has to be more alert to the answers to the question in what way can she/he contribute to the institutions’ vision and quality mandate. It is obvious that the world expects more research-centered contributions from a research degree holder even though it need not be only thus always.

What primarily a Ph D does is increase the academic responsibility of the faculty member. A doctoral degree is taken as the illustration of the passion an academic possesses towards his/her subject. It is this passion, one believes, that has made the researcher devote a significant part of his time and career (3 to 5 years often, though it may take longer too) and so much of waking thoughts to a cause dear to one’s heart. Hence this academic who has 'doctorally' proved his keenness to contribute more to the academia will now offer more reasons to be around. The PhD holder has multiple responsibilities additionally brought in by his new credentials. She/he can:

 - Establish a journal forum/ research club:

This need not always be in the form of an elite body, with eyes set on incubating ideas for a quality research journal (though it might as well be that way too!). The researcher can start small with a weekly meeting research forum. It can summarize its activities with reports oi n a blog. Then it can be a research magazine which is built on research vision but is ready to compromise on the structure side. Without rigorously insisting on formal documentation principles to start off, it can be a platform for students and faculty to bring in fresh perspectives: a free-read, free-think platform like a free writing.

 - Run sessions on research writing:

Many students and faculty members in HEIs are in need of Academic/ Research writing support. A good share of the students around us are not exposed to quality writing practices and one often comes across plenty of them, faculty included, struggling to compose structurally compact, wholesome paragraphs, for instance. A programme, a process, which aims at incremental improvement of the academic writing skills can be initiated. Such an activity can also be linked what is mentioned above. A research Club often carries a research article review component which is very helpful for the students, research scholars and faculty members to read articles to know how they are written, structured, arguments are presented, defended and perspectives criticized. It also familiarizes them the proper use of language too.  

 - Mentor another young faculty member/research scholar:

Notwithstanding the currency of the term 'mentor', this is another area in which lip service is common. What many of the faculty members require is not just a workshop or seminar, but some hands-around-shoulder support that follows the said seminar. If a Ph D holder can mentor a very young faculty member or a postgraduate student, and walk him to his research project or Ph D proposal, that is serving oneself and serving the institution. Be conscious that such mentoring activities are quiet processes, not publicized but very effective.   Often what they need is someone who will listen and give direction. 

 -  Introduce emerging research trends / writing related to the researchers’ area of expertise:

A key takeaway from a PhD has to be the mastery of a domain. The ease with which you can intellectually move around the subject-terrain, the confidence you have in essentials and the awareness of what’s on the cards: this matters a lot. This awareness can be shared in many ways with the students and colleagues.  Tweets, messages, posters, discussion sessions, brief presentations etc. can help in this direction. This is meant not just to keep the researchers flag flying high, but equally to inspire, lend confidence to the emerging research aspirants. 

 -  Provide assistance in research proposal writing:

Assistance like helping to draft a PhD proposal is very much needed. Those postgrads and young faculty members whom the new Ph D holder has inspired to take up research will have to be taken to the next level. They will require certain levels of skill for this. As mentioned earlier here, this can be developed among them through structured training. It is possible that some of the new Ph Ds are incapable of giving such inputs. It becomes necessary, if needed, for the PhDs to upskill themselves to be ready for such challenges. This will also help establish an environment which encourages young faculty members to take up quality research

 -  Take up Minor / Major research projects:

 The Minor Research Projects are stepping stones to taking up more serious, major project proposals later. This is a serious decision a young faculty member has to take. Often these young scholars may have research questions that must be whetted by an expert or a serious hand. A Ph D holder can play this role. Listen to their ideas, help tweak them, suggest fine tunes and modifications and encourage retakes. Involve with them in the process of transforming their first rush of ideas or hunches with quality incubation so that a workable proposal emerges. 

 -  Transfer basics of research methodology, sufficiently customized to their level, to the students.

 Since student projects are a mandatory part of their graduation process, all of them require to be schooled in the fundamentals of research methodology. It can be often seen that, for instance, when the students submit a seminar paper or a serious classroom or carry home assignment, they are not asked to follow the writing styles which is required for the project. The result is that the students do not internalize those requirements and will struggle to impose such a documentation style only on for the project. A Ph D holder can sure set the tone by insisting on adherence to the writing norms in small writing assignments too.

 -  Raise the quality of your regular teaching sessions

It often is wondered how a Ph D degree can impact the regular teaching sessions, say, in a UG classroom. A faculty member who has done a doctoral degree is a person transformed, as suggested earlier, so that the student audience can witness a different orientation in the session of such a faculty member. The stuff taught changes as the one teaching it has changed. The new teacher-scholar is couched in new research experience. The whole lot of materials used, resourced carried, slides made, video shot, activities designed, assessment methods devised: all these reflect this. In all, it is the integrity and intensity that sets the post-research faculty apart. The readings made, readings recommended, examples cited, books mentioned, journal articles cited during lectures: the persona moves around spells intent. 

 At the institutional level too, the arrival of a Ph D holder must bring in changes. This change can happen both at the dept level and the college level. At the Dept level the research experience of the faculty can be reflected in many forms. The person can take lead (tread slow and cautiously!) in making the Dept take the research related activities seriously. This needs to be done cautiously since, as the leadership primer tells us, you don’t need to boss around to be a boss. Likewise, you don't have to be the new research broom which attempts to sweep too clean. Without assuming (but deep inside fully claiming) the leadership, the Ph D holder can prompt and push through his ideas and plans for the Dept, making sure that the podium is left free for the apparent and actual 'biggies' to occupy. The events/ activities should help support the other students and faculty members to develop a mind of their own regarding ownership of thoughts and expression of those thoughts. When the dept turns a research Centre, the said institutional responsibility increases. 

This is not a comprehensive list of what a Ph D can do in an institution of Higher Education. There is so much else one can. This is just to remind the Ph D holders and the institution of which the doctoral degree holder is a part, that much is expected from them and that they are capable of delivering on those expectations. A research promoting Higher Education ecosystem can thus be fundamentally promoted where the count of ideas and capabilities, publications and patents, together with the count of Ph Ds, will rise.

 

-          Babu. P. K., Ph D

 

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