A GBSN co-organized research workshop series for current and ongoing PhD students in Mauritius
Mauritius is a developing economy in the Indian ocean and one of Africa’s most thriving democracies. Being well-known for beach tourism, the country has diversified its economy throughout the last decades (www.economist.com). The IT, industrial and financial sectors have become important pillars of the Mauritian economy. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitive Report (2018), Mauritius is the best place for doing business in Africa.
In order to transform Mauritius into a knowledge-based economy, the Mauritian government developed a “Tertiary Education Strategic Plan 2013-2025”. Mauritius wants to become a “prime destination for higher learning”. In particular students from Africa as well as from Asia shall be attracted to undertake a formation in one of the local or international universities on the island. In this context, Mauritius has developed the “Uniciti Education Hub” campus, which hosts universities from all over the world (www.unicitieducationhub.com). Different French and English universities have already established a campus on the spot.
In line with these endeavors, Mauritius also aims to become a location for high-quality research. Consequently, various Mauritian universities have updated their research strategies and want to strengthen their research activities as well as their research collaborations.
The Project: A Research Workshop Series
In the framework of my PhD project, I undertook a research stay at Middlesex University Mauritius (www.middlesex.mu) at the beginning of 2019. In return for the university’s hospitality, I agreed to develop a research workshop series and thus to contribute to the university’s research goals. Together with Adeelah Kodabux and Denisha Seedoyal-Seereekissoon (current PhD students at Middlesex University Mauritius), we designed five workshops on the “Craft of Doing Research.” The workshops were targeted at current and future PhD students from Middlesex University Mauritius to provide valuable inputs on designing research projects successfully. The workshops took place on five Wednesday afternoons between January to March 2019.
Thanks to the support of the Global Business School Network, four of the five sessions were conducted by experienced scholars from different GBSN member universities. Each scholar held an interactive session about their respective research expertise. Three of the sessions were conducted virtually using the online tool Zoom, one session was held on campus. This approach enabled us to design with minimal effort a high-quality research colloquium in which participants could gain from the expertise of experienced scholars from all over the world.
Hereinafter I briefly summarize the context of each session and I outline how the participants benefited from the gained insights.
Session 1: Look for variables within an examined case!
Dr Gita Bajaj (IMT Business School, Dubai) on Qualitative and Case Study Research
Dr Bajaj launched the workshop series by a virtual presentation on common research methods. She illustrated the main differences between quantitative and qualitative research. Furthermore, she highlighted usual circumstances that favour the use of qualitative over quantitative research. Based on various research examples, she explained the proper use of case study research.
Thanks to this presentation, the participants gained a good understanding of case study research and qualitative research in general. Open questions could be answered as all participants had the opportunity to raise them. Based on these inputs, participants could evaluate if the discussed research method is appropriate for their specific research project. If yes, they received many proposals for relevant literature to deepen their knowledge. A key lesson learned was that case study research is not the simple observation of an event, an organization, or a similar research object. Case study research is instead the identification of relevant variables within an examined case.
Session 2: A good theory is simple, consistent and interesting!
Dr Marc Krautzberger (University of St.Gallen) on the Purpose of Theory and Theory Development
Dr Krautzberger visited the campus to offer a workshop about theory in research. He targeted relevant questions on this issue such as: Why theory, what is theory, why different theories, what is good theory, and how to develop theory? To answer these questions, he referred to ongoing academic discussions. Additionally, he deepened the questions by group works on the example of two different management theories.
The participants learned the necessity of referring to theory when doing research. Furthermore, they gained a good knowledge of how theory is developed while building on previous theoretical insights and on collected data. A crucial statement was that theory has to be simple, consistent and interesting.
Session 3: People are predictably irrational!
Dr Tulsi Jayakumar (S.P. Jain Institute of Management & Research, Mumbai) on Behavioural Decision Theory
Dr Jayakumar gave a virtual presentation about main aspects of Behavioural Decision theory. Based on many illustrative examples, she explained how this economic theory differs from classical economic theories. She could demonstrate that people often do not act as fully rational actors as assumptions about the homo economicus implies. However, she could elucidate that previous scholars have identified patterns within people’s actual behaviour. As she pointed out, people are predictably irrational.
Some of the participants were inspired by the discussed theory and identified potential to apply it to their own research. On this basis, they asked specific questions regarding existing work on Behavioural Decision theory within their respective research field. The participants could also benefit from the provided literature list in order to deepen their understanding. Finally, they received a contact in order to raise future questions on the topic.
Session 4: Become an expert in a specific topic!
Mia Raynard PhD (Vienna University of Economics and Business) on Sociological New Institutionalism
By a virtual lecture, Dr Raynard provided an overview about Sociological New Institutionalism. She explained how this dominant management theory has evolved over time. She highlighted how relevant research questions and applied methodologies have changed throughout the years. Referring to her own research, she exemplified that her research started with a specific research puzzle of which findings lead to a theoretical contribution in Sociological New Institutionalism. Finally, the participants were asked to undertake a similar exercise and thus to develop research puzzles from Mauritian related newspaper articles.
Through the presentation, the participants did not only receive a good idea of Sociological New Institutionalism. Thanks to the group exercise, the participants also trained to establish research puzzles of which solution can lead to theoretical contributions. However, to know what an interesting theoretical contribution is, she amplified that one has to be an expert in a specific theoretical topic.
Session 5: Wrap it up!
Adeelah Kodabux (Middlesex University Mauritius) and Emamdeen Fohim (University of St.Gallen) on the Craft of Doing Research
In the last session, the co-organizer Adeelah Kodabux and myself briefly summarized each session of the workshop series. We tried to identify the key findings of each presentation and put them into the context of an overall research project. For this purpose, we discussed our own ongoing research projects to reflect on and share our experiences of doing research. Adeelah Kodabux talked about her PhD project on the BRICS: Conversion of Common Sense into Good Sense? A neo-Gramscian study. I discussed my research on Institutional Entrepreneurship: How Actors Acquire Skills to Change Institutions? The Case of Spatial Planners’ Career Paths.
The participants could benefit from the final session as it provided a holistic overview of doing research. They could learn how the raised issues of each session connect to each other when establishing a research project. Furthermore, open questions could be eliminated when they were discussed by the example of a concrete research project.
The workshop series on the “Craft of Doing Research” was a good opportunity for students at the beginning of a PhD to gain relevant insights on successfully designing a research project. Feedback was usually very positive. Many participants mentioned that they will incorporate the discussed aspects into their own research and will deepen the raised topics.
Thanks to the support of the Global Business School Network, we could expand the expertise of the workshop by the involvement of the various scholars from different GBSN member universities. In this way, we could incorporate various perspectives on the craft of doing research and thus increase the quality of the overall workshop series. The workshop series became also a platform to foster further cooperation beyond the project among all involved actors.
As most presentations were undertaken virtually and all lecturers shared their experience pro bono, we could establish with minimal effort a high-quality research colloquium from which all involved actors could benefit. The project is thus a very good example of the purpose and the strength of an academic network as the Global Business School Network is. We can highly recommend relaunching a similar colloquium wherever is a need to strengthen knowledge on designing research projects.
Emamdeen Fohim is a PhD student at the University of St.Gallen, Switzerland. His field of research is in Public Management. He examines institutional entrepreneurship in the context of spatial and urban planning. In the framework of his PhD project, he undertook a research stay at Middlesex University Mauritius where he co-organized a GBSN workshop series about different aspects of doing research.