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Doctoral Research: The Importance of Purpose

By: Dr. Ron Jones

Conducting doctoral research requires the student to state the purpose of the study. The typical purpose statement includes the method and design, geographic location, data collection technique, and participant information. The intended contribution to the existing body of knowledge, topically-related theories, social change, or professional and business practices completes the purpose statement. Although the formal purpose statement is an essential component of the dissertation or doctoral study, the informal, personal purpose of conducting doctoral research is equally, if not more, important.

Completing a doctoral project requires an extra measure of patience, motivation, perseverance, and endurance. Doctoral students should have a good answer to the question, “Why is earning a doctorate important?” A self-centered desire to have a professional prefix before one’s name is unlikely to be a sustaining, inspirational reason to undergo the grueling process of successfully completing the study. Can every doctoral student conduct research that results in changing the world for the better? Probably not, yet the implications from the research should transcend the student’s personal desire to hold a doctorate.

The purpose of the research may be to satisfy a personal or professional curiosity regarding a problem, yet the overriding purpose of earning the doctorate might be for career advancement, increased academic credentials, and opening doors to new opportunities. In other words, the formal purpose of the study and the personal purpose of earning the degree are likely two distinct concepts. Writing the official purpose statement is a function of mechanics; describing the rationale, method, and processes undertaken to conduct research. Determining, recognizing, or remembering the purpose for enrolling in a doctoral program requires self-reflection, inspirational thoughts, and sometimes a good memory because of academic criticism and life events that tend to cloud one’s sense of recollection. Failing to remember the formal, written purpose statement holds little to no negative consequences, yet forgetting the true purpose of pursuing the degree holds the potential to derail the entire process.

The purpose of the research and earning the degree should be transformed from a logical rationale to a passion; a passion to inspire others to excel, a passion to make a difference, a passion to improve our organization, our community, and our society. The foundational motivation for conducting doctoral research must reach beyond a narrowly focused, formally written purpose statement. When the critique of reviewers becomes overwhelming, and the challenges appear insurmountable, the successful doctoral scholar reflects back, remembering the answer to the question, “Why am I pursuing a doctorate?” Consider two written purpose statements: one that describes the purpose of the study and one that reminds you every day of why you are devoting time, money, energy, and resources to earn a degree. The former will allow you to move through the review process while the latter will allow you to overcome every obstacle, never give up, and reach the doctoral finish line.