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Most Important Question in PhD Defense?

  • #1
    Moderators, Category Moderators, Science, Health & Environment Moderators, Society & Culture Moderators Posts: 46,986 mod Black Swan


    The "So what?" question.

    Your committee had approved your research proposal. Data had been collected and analyzed. The results, conclusions, limitations, etc., were then written into the final draft. When you defended your PhD research, did they ask you the "So what?" question; i.e., ultimately, did your research really matter?

    Or did your research fall into a bin metaphorically similar in some ways to what James March and Herbert Simon called the "garbage can" years ago? Their discipline and topic may have been different than yours, but was the outcome essentially the same?


Comments



  • Did you get a question like this? Some variation on this seems to be standard - your contribution to knowledge, broader relevance of the topic, scope for future work etc.




  • efla wrote: »
    Did you get a question like this? Some variation on this seems to be standard - your contribution to knowledge, broader relevance of the topic, scope for future work etc.
    Would it be interesting to hear from those that have been asked this question, or ones similar, if their reply back then would be the same today upon reflection?

    James March and Herbert Simon suggested that such researches, as well as the "publish or perish" expectation in academia, often produced works that were really of no consequence, other than to obtain a degree, or to advance towards tenure and promotion.




  • The work that I did for my PhD resulted in my current group being offered a £1.5+ million grant from Cancer Research UK, so it definately led to something of such interest that CRUK would fund us.

    I guess that the 'so what?' question can be 'pre-answered' in the student's conclusion section/chapter, where they discuss what the results mean and where the nexts steps could be.

    On what topic did you do your PhDs?

    Kevin




  • Good post.

    I think it is worth mentioning Murray Davis's 'thats interesting' paper. Does the question your thesis seek to address deny us a taken for granted assumption or wisdom? Or does it turn an assumption on its head.

    The Davis paper provides a great armory for answering the so what question




  • Kevster wrote: »
    The work that I did for my PhD resulted in my current group being offered a £1.5+ million grant from Cancer Research UK...
    The work that you did, or the work that your group did?


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  • Black Swan wrote: »
    Would it be interesting to hear from those that have been asked this question, or ones similar, if their reply back then would be the same today upon reflection?

    I wasn't asked this, and TBH it's not one that the researcher can answer properly at the time. You publish your stuff and 'sell' it's value, but ultimately only time will tell whether it'll be valuable or not. There's value in negative findings too, e.g., I've tried this method and comprehensively shown that it doesn't work, hence nobody does any further work on it.

    Asking a PhD candidate whether the work is useful is akin to asking a prisoner on release whether they're reformed :).


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