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The making of a research scholar
The research domain is one that attracts a significant number of students. In this new series, we will try to provide aspiring researchers with a detailed view of what research is all about.

Education has several noble goals many of which are sublime. They aim at making great human beings with altruistic motives in whatever they do. Culture, compassion, and ethics have roots in education in its widest sense. However, for the great majority of people, higher education is a means for securing a respectable job that would ensure them a successful life, success in the sense in which it is commonly understood. They would hope to find a job or profession that gives them sufficient money for a good living. A sense of job satisfaction, and ample time for rest, leisure, entertainment, and enjoyment, with a reasonable quantum of work and responsibility would please them.

Pursuing knowledge
However, there is another segment in the population that would find satisfaction only in the pursuit of knowledge by breaking new ground to arrive at enchanting discoveries in virgin areas. The development of the fields of science and technology, new vistas in social life and the progress of humanity in general depend on the fruits of the tireless striving of such individuals who work with a sense of dedication. It is their spirit of inquiry that spurs fresh dreams and takes mankind to new worlds. These are the people who take up research.

It has to be appreciated that any subject would grow, only through sustained research activity. Status quo cannot prevail in any field in our world of intense competition. There are struggles for survival at all levels.

Rapid strides
The tremendous strides in the fields of science and technology were made with stunning rapidity during the past two centuries. All the significant scientific inventions were made during this short period. According to one estimate, if the life of the earth is reduced to a scale of 24 hours, all these inventions took place in the final 1/450 of a second.

Look at an example. How many of us would remember that Abraham Lincoln never used a telephone, typewriter, fountain pen, or motorcar? These were discovered only after three, three, 19, and 22 years respectively after his death in 1865.

Meaning of research
The word `research' may mean different things to different people. It has been defined in many ways. But we should have a clear picture as to what research is in our discussion. It is a scholarly or scientific investigation or inquiry. It contributes to expansion of knowledge through discovery of facts, theories, or laws. It may involve hunting for facts or experimentation. A thinker says, "It spans inquiry from isolating a specific gene to investigating the workings of a camel's third eyelid, from identifying themes of masculinity in dance choreography to determining if older computer users are put off by fancy graphics."

A misconception
There is perhaps a misconception that research is confined to science and technology. There are vast areas of research in disciplines such as history, languages, literature, and sociology. Whatever might be the discipline, research has to be an active, diligent and systematic process of inquiry in order to discover, interpret or revise facts, events, behaviour, or theories. Applying the findings of research for the refinement of knowledge in other disciplines, or in enhancing the quality of human life also falls in the realm of research and development.

We are discussing research in its noble sense. But it is sometimes reduced to a mundane activity, when the sole intention of the researcher is to acquire a doctoral degree just to satisfy the administrative requirements to secure a promotion in teaching or some other academic field.

The candidate in such cases may not be motivated by a real spirit of inquiry, but by an eagerness to fulfil certain organisational stipulations. He may not enjoy the thrill at the moment of discovery of a new theory or concept through higher intellectual pursuit. There are, unfortunately, ignoble enterprises that dish out readymade Ph.Ds like parcels from a fast food restaurant, where the recipients never enjoy the emotional peaks of a true researcher. Let us ignore that variety of research, and focus on the exciting world of genuine research.

The attributes

We know that any researcher should be motivated by a noble goal. Work gets the first, second, and third priority. The attributes of a good research scholar may be summarised thus:

  • Analytical mind
  • Communication skills
  • Concentration
  • Dedication
  • Determination
  • Flexibility
  • Freedom from the obsessions of clock and calendar
  • Global outlook
  • Honesty
  • Innovative approach
  • Insight
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Intelligence
  • Keen observation
  • Lab temperament
  • Optimism
  • Organisational ability
  • Originality
  • Passion for knowledge
  • Patience
  • Persistence
  • Precision and accuracy
  • Presentation skills
  • Questioning attitude
  • Resilience to withstand temporary setbacks
  • Scientific discipline
  • Self-confidence
  • Social skills
  • Spirit of enquiry
  • Teamwork
  • Writing skills

The Hindu - Education Plus - Monday, September 18, 2006