What is the purpose of a dissertation in 2019? It’s a question many universities are asking, particularly at a time when there are so many more ways for a student to prove that in-depth research and analysis has been conducted in a particular field. Academicians are now broadening the scope and purpose of the dissertation, going beyond the long paper, weighed down by footnotes and a trail of citations.
Now students can go on live projects, engage with the communities and the industry, and even publish their work in journals before much before their doctorate degrees.
“Earlier, research paper writing was comparatively smaller in scope, topic specific, with a limited number of relevant aspects, variables or features to be studied,” says Dr Manu Sharma, senior academic operations co-ordinator at the School of Social Sciences and Languages at Lovely Professional University. “Now dissertations have more elaborate and analytical grounds, with a more outcome-based approach.”
The PGPM students at Great Lakes, Gurgaon have a compulsory “Live Project” component, which runs over multiple terms of their course and must be submitted in their last term “Students work with companies, in groups of three, on some of their live or ongoing or upcoming areas of decision-making,” says Dr Umashankar Venkatesh, professor of marketing and programme director of the institute. “Students help in collecting, researching and analysing data. They then draw conclusions and recommend a validated course of action.”
Shreya Gupta, a marketing major from PGPM class of 2020 is working with a start-up operating in the FMCG sector. The first part of her project includes building brand strategies and product portfolios for the startups. She is expected to study key international markets like US, Korea, Japan, UK on hot emerging trends on ingredients, claims and benefits. “In a span of a month, I have learned about developing a strategic perceptual-map, brand equity and positioning and studying the global consumer trends.”
At the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, most of the Masters programmes have a credited research project component. Students write monographs, reviews/term papers and while some might be better at theorising, some others are actually better at getting results through intervention,” says Asha Banu Soletti, faculty at the Center for Health and Mental Health, School of Social Work. Students from the Centre for Livelihood and Social innovations at the institute work with the tribal self-help groups and farmers located in Aghai village in Maharashtra as part of the field action research project called Pragati (Integrated Rural
Health and Development Program). “Through their engagement they have brought positive changes in the water conservation mechanisms, they have set up indigenous poultry, trained villagers on SRI (System of rice intensification) and organic farming. And all of these they do within a particular time frame,” says Soletti.
At the University of Petroleum and Energy studies (UPES), students are motivated to make functional prototypes of their ideas. In 2016, the university started Sodh Support’ a research assistance and funding programme for students at the School of Engineering and School of Computer Sciences. “Under this programme, students at both the BTech and MTech levels can get funding of upto Rs 4 lakh from the college, albeit, their ideas must be developed into working prototypes,” says Jitendra Kumar Pandey, associate dean of research at UPES.
The idea of funding dissertations was to push students to think originally and develop unique projects that could be eventually patented, says Pandey. “Essentially, we wanted them to develop original products.” As a result, the projects ranging from devices to clean space debris to smart dustbins that can segregate waste and, energy generation from micro turbines that can be used to power LED bulbs.
“The best part is that students are taking their work far more seriously and are moving beyond the theoretical scope of a dissertation to a more contemporary, problem-solving approach.”
At Lovely Professional University, since 2016, dissertation mentors are helping students publish their research work in a number of UGC-approved journals. Some students are even going beyond the classroom to present their hypothesis are national and international conferences.
In 2018, 23 year-old Saurabh Singh, a master of biotechnology student at the university, presented his paper on bioethanol production at the CSIR-Indian Institute Of Integrative Medicine and then at the 27th European Biomass conference and exhibition at Lisbon in Portugal. “My mentor suggested that we implement the hypothesis into a functional prototype, which was selected to be showcased at the conference,” says Singh.
These changes in the way dissertations are perceived and presented were introduced to sharpen the research orientation of the students says Dr Manu Sharma, senior academic at the university. “Moreover, it helps train them to use more scientific methods of research for investigating problems and also helps them improve their orientation for the PhD-level research.”
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