Monthly Archives: December 2009

How many strings can my academic bow have?

One of the more interesting aspects of my job is teaching research methods to e-business and international business masters students.  A large component of this is having students actually do some research, a trial-run on their dissertation as it were.  The techniques of research methods are not rocket science but finding the right and interesting topic to apply them and then fine tuning that topic is a challenge for students. In many cases, it is as difficult as actually implementing the research.

Given that students come from a variety of backgrounds (business, law, literature, history, ocean science, electrical engineering, entertainment, social science to name a few) the variety of topics is always wide ranging but more importantly for me it is far more interesting than reading 50 (or 250, depending on class size) copies of specific assignment material I’ve prescribed. There are always several every year that “wow” me, change my thinking and have me questioning how and what exactly students should be studying.

Here are some from this year

  • One student’s project is a business plan considering a particular tourism venture in Turkey. Unfortunately, the format of a business plan doesn’t suit the academic requirement of the exercise. But, I ask myself, why not?  Would not a business plan be far more practical and useful for this particular student?  This then has me wondering why she didn’t pursue a master’s in entrepreneurship. The reason is simple – there isn’t one. What does a master’s in entrepreneurship look like?  What would the capstone project of an MSc in Entrepreneurship look like – an academic dissertation of an in-depth well considered business plan?  When would a student be considered to have “mastered” entrepreneurship – on submission of this plan, on successfully acquiring the necessary funding, on turning their first profit?  Would the awarding college incubate the idea and then claim a percentage of the profits?
  • There are plenty with the recession as a theme, requiring me to get to grips with various strands of economics, finance and policies therein. How exactly did we allow our banking system to become so corrupt in this country?
  • Every year I am astounded by the Chinese students. They continue to be fascinated by Western perceptions of them and their country, and are excited about China finding its place in the global world.  They genuinely make me question my pride in my nationality. When I travel abroad do I question the perception of Irishness that might be out there?  Is being Irish a significant part of my identity?
  • A Croatian student’s topic revolved around the effects on importing and exporting to and from her country once it acquires EU membership.  The effect of being so close to the EU for so long but not quite being part of it is palpable. Balancing this with the very strong feelings both for and against accession for her country makes this a fascinating topic for this student. But again, I have an agghhh reaction. To fit academic research requirements, the project has to lose its speculative and futuristic approach.
  • Sometimes I don’t know the strength of my own words until they come back to me in another format. The class has a large variety of nationalities. There are students in there from 14 different countries. An ice-breaker at the start of the year involved me generating discussion on social construction of ideas, knowledge and practices arising and evolving from where people find themselves both personally and geographically and who they find themselves surrounded by.   One student used my attempt at integrating nationalities to build his topic – the innovative manager amidst the melting pot of a large multicultural team.

Having students research and chose their own topic adds an extra challenge that they don’t have to the same extent in many of their other subjects. Some struggle with it but none can deny that it adds a dimension of self-discovery that is vital.  It’s vital for me too.