We tend to think of part-time, post-grad research as a personal development process and in many cases it is just that. Professionals who want to transition into academia or build their CV, and in that light; the fact that less than a third will finish and if they do finish even less will publish, is not particularly interesting. Yes, it may be an unnecessary waste of time and resources, but mostly, they pay their own way and the time and experience can potentially be justified with the philosophy that all experience is learning and therefore hardly wasted.
But if we consider that it is the post-grad professionals doing research degrees who provide us with the valuable resource of practice driven data, the cost is far greater. These are the people who have worked in practice and identified research-worthy issues within their field. They are the ones who are driven to find practical solutions to real problems within the context of the problem itself.
When we think of it in those terms; the attrition rate of approximately 70% is very worrying. It means that, potentially, 70% of the problems are not being addressed by the practitioners, who have experiential knowledge of the context of the problem. It means that two thirds of field driven innovations are not shared with the wider global community.
In that light; I believe that we need to take a long look at what we are doing to support practice driven research. How do we support part-time, post-grad research students? In my personal experience and my work with my academic coaching clients, the conclusion that I have reached is not a lot. Very little thought is given to how these students experience the process and that is understandable as many departments are run by people who have always been in academia. They haven’t had the experience of trying to do a part-time research degree remotely after years of being out of the academic arena while still managing a private practice or a full time career.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to undermine the academic institutions. All I am saying is that there is a potentially untapped source of invaluable resources and I propose that we need to do more to support these students to complete their degrees and publish that information. We need to recognise and acknowledge the value of the resources they add not only to the greater body of research, but also to the way we practice and work within our fields.
We also need to recognise that these students have unique support needs that require an inventive, effective, sustainable and student-oriented approach. If we take the view that these students have a great deal to offer and prioritise the development of practical, innovative and effective support programmes designed specifically for these students; we would see not only an increase in practice-driven research, but a massive improvement in the quality of the research that is being published.