Doctoral Research: The Importance of Objectivity

By: Dr. Ron Jones

The dissertation process typically begins with the identification of a problem. Although the problem must be worthy of doctoral research, oftentimes the problem is of personal interest to the student-researcher. Does a doctoral student typically decide to study a topic that holds no personal or professional affiliation, walking blindly into an organization, industry sector, or phenomenon without any prior knowledge or, for that matter, any pre-conceived notions? Probably not, yet studying a problem that is personally significant oftentimes induces the temptation to provide a solution, solve the problem, prove the researcher’s theory, and at the same time, change the world. Remaining engaged and motivated to complete the study normally requires a topic that is in some way linked to the researcher, yet maintaining objectivity becomes a challenge.

Doctoral researchers examine (quantitative method) or explore (qualitative method) topics, phenomena, and problems. Researching with neutrality requires one to keep a rein on emotions while ensuring the research motives are pure, without bias. The problem under study might hold a personal attachment, yet the goal is to address the problem from a detached perspective. Researchers collect data for a reason. Data provides the basis for the conclusion. The researcher’s findings must flow from the data, not personal or subjective opinions. The adage, “let the chips fall where they may” must rule the process.

An example using the quantitative method further illustrates the concept of objectivity. Quantitative researchers develop and phrase hypotheses as testable statements. The findings from statistical analysis of the data provide a basis to reject the null hypothesis or a failure to reject the null. For the objective, impartial researcher, either outcome is fine. The intent of the study was to examine the problem, not prove the existence of a statistically significant correlation between variables.

Doctoral advisors might provide students with numerous warning regarding preset ideas about the outcome of the study, yet personal or professional curiosity may actually be a predetermined assumption. Will the doctoral scholar enjoy a feeling of success and possible vindication if a preconceived theory or notion proves out to be true? Probably. Should the researcher feel any less successful if the data causes an initial opinion or belief to be ruled inaccurate? Absolutely not! Completing a doctorate requires patience, diligence, self-motivation, and objectivity. An objective researcher does not worry about where the data leads and the resulting findings. The goal is to examine or explore with impartiality, report the findings, and complete a doctoral project of integrity. Allow the drying ink of Chief Academic Officer’s signature on your study be the basis for celebrating success and completion, not a key finding that aligned with a preconceived opinion.