Research is an intimate engagement with the topic, with an area of investigation. A researcher lives with the subject matter during their research period. It is an organic relationship between the research subject and the researcher. There is no doubt that research can be arduous in its undertaking; however, it can be rewarding in the end.
In the Bangladeshi education system, we come to be familiar with the term "research" at the tertiary level of education, sometimes even after that, i.e., during higher degree research such as MPhil or PhD.
It is quite unlikely for Bangladeshi primary or high school students to understand the meaning of the word "research", though some English medium schools are promoting research-based assignments, activities, and projects at school and hence, they orient their students to research.
The departments across the Bangladeshi public universities that do not engage their students in their higher studies with any sort of research activities do harm to them in different ways.
First, research is one of the primary missions of higher-education institutions like universities. A university accommodates the spirit of new knowledge formation, its preservation, and dissemination, and research is a pedagogical mandate to meet this end.
If an educational entity aspires to the educational ideal of a university, it must include a graded research assignment for its students. Without any research experience in their home university/department, our Bangladeshi students often find it difficult to pursue the rigorous research demand in the Global North, or in any higher degree institutions where a high standard of research is maintained.
To my knowledge, the Department of English at the University of Chittagong has not yet included any research project or dissertation in its curriculum after almost 60 years of its inception. Such academic indifference does injustice to the bright students who intend to pursue higher degrees/studies. As a result, we often lose many budding scholars.
Second, research has effective consequences on our personality. Just as Francis Bacon referred to different disciplines as a remedy to our intellectual and characteristic needs, research impacts our personality if taken and undertaken seriously and ethically.
While pursuing research, a researcher must be patient, assiduous and focused — three characteristics that have a pragmatic impact on our personality and behaviour.
A good researcher tends to refrain from being judgemental and making hasty assumptions. The cognitive attention that a researcher invests in their work turns them into a curious investigator and keen observer of what happens around them.
Now the question is what impacts a researcher's research experience. Let's consider a few issues that impact a researcher's experience conducting research.
First and foremost, is the research infrastructure and the research culture of an institution and/or department/school. In terms of global research impact indicators, our universities and institutions have been struggling to level themselves to the international standard, and the struggle goes on.
Why so? One of the prime reasons may be that we have not yet been able to create a research infrastructure. Having MRes (MA by research), MPhil or PhD programmes does not necessarily ensure a research infrastructure. The question is how these programmes are run and what institutional amenities we offer to the researchers to quench their scholarly thirst.
How many updated databases do our researchers get access to in order to be familiar with the more recent research findings, or how many conferences, seminars, and workshops do we organise for our post-graduates to participate in?
How many research networks do we engage our researchers in? Do our researchers get proper guidelines regarding research conduct and progress? Do we help our researchers during or after their research, i.e., during- or post-research publication? Do our supervisors or institutional higher degree infrastructure organise enough training sessions or workshops for the ECRs (Early Career Researchers), MCRs (Mid-Career Researchers) or researchers without any prior research exposure? The answer to this set of questions is quite frustrating.
In Bangladesh, due to historical academic indifference towards research, students undertaking research projects often find themselves helpless and at a loss. It's not that they are incapable, just that they need some guidance about the research trajectory.
Doing academic research is a lone journey. Hence, institutions and supervisors can be and should be the best support for the researchers.
Quite a few researchers working in Bangladeshi higher degree institutions drop out before completing the degree, the reason being scared and not getting enough support from their peers and supervisors.
Three-year PhDs finishing in 6-8 years is a common perception about the Bangladeshi higher degree structure. Such a "session jam" is often caused by supervisory negligence; however, the students' personal inconvenience and irregularity also come into such delays.
I personally know a few scholars who started their PhD in some reputed Bangladeshi universities, and after 3-4 years, they quit with utter frustration from not having enough academic support from the doctoral cohort or the institutions. Not being able to exorcise an uncanny fear about research often leads students to procrastinate and sometimes quit.
Procrastination, be it institutional or personal, has a risk too. For example, the research topic someone is lingering on due to institutional or supervisory sluggishness might be taken up (knowingly or not) and completed/published by somebody else or some other institution, before the researcher who initiated it first completes it.
Hence, that researcher might need to change their topic, which often poses a big psychological pressure on the researcher. Moreover, procrastination may breed demotivation and intellectual disconnectedness. Sometimes, even the supervisors don't even realise the question of the well-being and work-life balance of the researchers.
That leads to a crucial question of whether the supervisor themselves have a high degree of research experience. This question has an ethical dimension to it.
For instance, can someone without a high degree (experience) supervise an MPhil or a PhD? Or should the same person be a member of the very powerful Higher Studies Committee of any entity? The answer is —ethically, no; but in Bangladesh, yes.
Do the research students have access to any space or mechanism to raise their voices regarding the qualification of their supervisors? No. Or even if yes, the consequence has its psychological toll on the research students.
When it comes to ethical considerations in conducting and disseminating the research, our students often find it an alien issue. What does ethics have to do with research? Well, to put it simply, just as plagiarism is an ethical issue in publication, our methods of data collection might have a very serious impact on the research participants.
For example, doing research with human participants might have a serious economic, social, and medical impact on them. To flesh it out more, if I collect research data from a marginalised group of research participants, my act of data collection might expose them to worse vulnerabilities. This is one of the reasons why we raise our voices against the capitalist pharmaceutical industries for their alleged clinical trials on the impoverished people of the Global South.
The only ethical guidelines for conducting research with human subjects available in Bangladesh is the one outlined by Bangladesh Medical Research Council (BMRC). However, there are not any such ethical guidelines available on a national level or at the university level. Therefore, whenever our researchers pursue research in collaboration with any Global North universities, they must comply with their ethical guidelines.
We can start thinking about how to utilise the research outcomes of our researchers in national development. As academic and academic administrators, it is our responsibility to create career opportunities for our researchers; otherwise, like most of our PhD thesis, the afterlife of research of our students will be the dusty corners of the libraries.
A massive restructuring of our research parameters and ensuring accountability and ethical conduct of research will not only embolden our academic structure but also help us create generations of responsible scholars.
The author is an Associate Professor (on leave) at the Department of English, Jahangirnagar University. He is currently a PhD researcher & Postgraduate representative at the School of Law, Society & Criminology, UNSW Sydney.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.