Advisor. Gathering data to answer questions sounds simple in theory but almost no-one does it in practice without help. Every research student has an advisor to guide and monitor progress. Is the advisor a guru whose word is gospel, a captain who must be obeyed, a sponsor to be kept happy or a guide who can be ignored? The answer depends on your role in the research.
Research roles. Research as a complex journey is often undertaken in a group, where who does what is often broadly negotiated as follows:
- Pilot. Decides the research direction and has the final say in all decisions (PhD).
- Co-pilot. Advises the pilot and takes charge for part of the journey (Masters).
- Assistant. Helps as directed and required (Postgraduate project).
There are many exceptions, but in general PhD students take on the pilot role for their last research “flight”, after which they can go alone. For a Masters the advisor often gives the research question, so they are a co-pilot who may help out by for example gathering or analyzing data. Finally, in a post-graduate research project, one is usually just an unpaid research assistant but you get to see what is involved. If a paper results, the pilot is usually the first author, then co-pilot(s), with assistants optional. Research assistants paid to work as directed aren’t usually listed as authors but acknowledged instead.
Role conflicts. It is important student and advisor agree on roles from the beginning or problems can arise. For example, I did my PhD on information systems in the nineties, just as the Internet was starting up, after retiring from the army. My advisor wanted an assistant for his work co-located computing but I saw the future as distributed computing and wanted to pilot my own research. Eventually I was told to get with his program or leave, so I left and got another advisor. Of course when a PhD student asks “What do you want me to research?” they want to be an assistant, although that is not what a PhD is about. Even worse, students who say “I’ll do whatever you want for a PhD” are research prostitutes, while advisors who say “Do what I want or no degree” are corrupt. The research journey is not a business transaction.
The next two chapters are about what all academics do, namely write and review papers.