Sunday, January 31, 2016

What is the Difference between MS/MPhil Research and PhD Research

An MPhil/MS research differs qualitatively in two aspects with a PhD Research: (i) Quality of literature survey, and (ii) rigor of research methodology [1].

1. Digestion and Synthesis of Related Research or Literature Survey

PhD literature survey requires a synthesis of the related literature in a framework designed by you. MPhil research can get away with a list of related research, however, PhD research requires a synthesis. This can be understood as the food before digestion (list) and food after digestion (synthesis). The original constituents of the food you are eating are visible in the form of bread, meat, vegetables, gravy etc even in the stomach before digestion, and can be put in a list. However, once you have digested the food these constituents are no longer visible. Their ingredients have been synthesized into new compounds or enzymes and have lost their original characteristics as in a chemical reaction vs physical change.

In PhD you are expected to have read yourself personally all the papers that you are referencing in the dissertation. You may get away in an MPhil by reading some survey papers or second hand description of the work that you are quoting.
MPhil/MS research may get away with a literature survey section that does not do justice to the concept of synthesis and without even covering the survey of the entire field. However, a PhD researcher must justify through synthesis and digestion that the entire area has been mastered and the literature survey section has captured the state of art of research in that area. PhD students of good universities are expected to actually publish a paper (in a journal or a peer reviewed conference) on only the survey of his selected area of research where the contribution is the synthesis framework in which the existing literature has been embedded. This synthesis establishes that the student has mastered the field and is identifying the state of art boundary which can now be pierced by his proposal.

As described in the illustrated guide to PhD [2], a PhD student's first major effort is to ensure that he covers the space in the chosen area to an extent that it touches the boundary of research also known as the state of art. It is when the researcher keeps on banging on this boundary for an extensive amount of time, that he is able to identify the gap from where he proposes to pierce the boundary and make that small bump, that would represent the contribution which should indicate the original and significant contribution. 
How a PhD literature survey ensures that the state of the art boundary has been reached.  [2]
The orange section hitting the circle boundary. 
Originality and Significance of the PhD research is also evaluated in terms of whether it meets the subjective standards of a PhD as determined by the community of researchers in the chosen area of research.

One major element of the evaluation of originality is determined by the extent to which your literature survey has covered the existing research. This determination is made easier by the necessary condition typically imposed on all PhD students to publish a research paper in the specified level of Impact Factor Journal. The reviewers of these journals first look at the references to ensure that all the prominent research in the field has been referenced or not. Also, whether the link with that research has been established.

2. Rigor of Research Methodology: 

The rigor with which your hypothesis are tested and the methodology that is pursued differentiates a PhD from an MS/MPhil. A PhD is held to higher standards of meticulousness and scholarship which becomes evident from the rigor of the analysis of conditions, constraints, variables that influence the experiment, and may have an impact observations, and use of established theories for justifying their inclusion or exclusion.

Rigor is indicated when every strong statement in the dissertation is corroborated by some existing research or is the outcome of this PhD research. Rigor relates to the consideration of  all relevant methodologies, all relevant alternatives, and all relevant approaches in the analysis to arrive at the selected methodology and use of convincing reasons for ruling out the alternatives, approaches and methodologies that have not been selected. Furthermore, rigor is indicated by the meticulousness and care with which the data was handled, organized, and analysed to come up with results.

Rigor of research methodology is a subjective assessment of whether the students is eligible for a PhD or not. A supervisor typically comes to the realization that the student has now sufficiently completed the work and has become eligible for PhD when (i) he sees that the student is now critically analyzing his work the way the supervisor analyzes the work, and (ii) when he sees that the student can critique the work the way the community of researchers working in the selected area of research would analyze the work. The latter gets determined by the publication of paper in the journal of the chosen area of research.


References: 

[1] Pugh and Phillips "How to Get a PhD",
[2] Illustrated Guide to PhD

See Also:


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