Are you thinking about applying to a PhD program? Are you already a doctoral student? PhD is a huge investment of time and money. So make sure you spend 15 minutes of your time reading this blog devoted to PhD program success and survival tips. I'm confident that these tips can save up to 10 years of your life, up to $1,000,000 of your money, and, most importantly, your physical and emotional health.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Novel research

I think that many bright, ambitious PhD students have a misconception that any kind of research has to offer new ideas. This kind of PhD students usually do not graduate.

Look guys, it's extremely hard to come up with something new, especially in social sciences. The only scholars who had the luxury to create new ideas were the likes of Aristotle, Plato, and Socrates. Research is not about creating break-through ideas. It's about reshuffling and repackaging what has been done in the past and then persuading others that your stuff is new. A good case in point is Clayton Christensen's theory of innovation. His theory seems to be a blunt application of the punctuated equilibrium theory from biology to the context of innovation. There's nothing new about his theory, yet he has received a lot of credit for it. Many of Michael Porter's ideas seem to be a blunt repackaging of ideas from "industrial organizations" area of economics. This seems to be true for hard sciences too. I once attended a presentation by a Computer Science professor. In his presentation he made a very strong case that there was nothing new about things like World Wide Web or relational databases. All those break-through ideas were based on decade-old ideas from the past.

If you try to create something new, you will drive yourself into a mental hospital. At first, you will you will be struggling with the fact that no matter what you come up with - you will find it in other people's work. Even if you succeed in creating something new, you will be terrorized by skeptics with questions like "what is your theory?", "how did you come up with this?".

So don't even bother. Your goal is to graduate, and not to change the world.

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