Researchers must deliver on practicality

Sunday June 17, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2012/6/17/education/11457734&sec=education

I REFER to the letter “
Ensure grants goto quality research” by Dr Megawati Omar (StarEducate, June 10). The writer asks: “How is the quality of research determined?” By its utility. That is, by how useful the research is – first, to the person who has sponsored the research, and then to the public at large.

There are two kinds of utility: practicality and convenience. These are basically the same, but expect that people would pay more for convenience.

I don’t think the writer should worry about money being allocated to low quality or unworthy research projects. In the awarding of grants, market rules apply; both politicians and business people know this very well.

In my observation, one area researchers can improve on is in the presentation of data or findings. This must be made simple and easy to understand, even for the lay person.

People who control money are often not experts in the subject; therefore, it is the challenge of the researcher or the seller to make them see how the results will be of use to them.

Ultimately, researchers must understand that in order to get paid more they are not necessarily required to work more, but rather to make things easier.

I recently attended a talk where the speaker’s objective was to present, and presumably sell, a machine that characterises and alters polymer. This person kept the talk highly technical, spewing numbers and vocabulary that were well beyond the understanding of the average person in the audience.

This in turn gave the impression that the machine was very difficult to use. I doubt if the chief executive officer of a manufacturing company which could have used the machine would have responded favourably.

In my experience, the challenge researchers face is to always make difficult things seem easy, to make the uninitiated familiar with concepts and ideas that have taken a long time to develop.

In doing this, the researcher may find that so much work is needed for so little result, or so little enjoyment.

And this is where the truly successful researcher needs to have faith in himself; faith that will help him find the common language to make his research easy to replicate.

MARISA DEMORI