Research mentorship—practice, problems, the path-goal theory and models

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Part 1
THESE days, our HEIs are catching up with the rest of first-world universities on research as the primal function of higher education. Thus, where before undergraduate degree programs required no research reports as capstones save a few in the sciences, nowadays, all degree programs require a research paper. Fostering a research culture is a great leap forward. However, it has presented some serious problems in graduate studies.

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Mix of generations. One is the mix of generations of students on both the masters and doctoral levels. Those of yesteryears had no research courses, hence no corresponding capstone was required. For this group, basic research courses have to be crafted. So, too, with the academics of mixed generations, the older ones themselves have not been honed in research. There are also those of this generation who, for valid reasons, would choose to accept extra paid hours for overloads in teaching, rather than spending time for research which takes more time than teaching an extra load and corresponding post-teaching work. Or there may not be enough sustained research support paired with satisfactory funding.

Lack of advisory panels. Graduate students in first-world universities are usually given an advisory panel upon their first term to enroll. In contrast, we seldom have advisory panels; individual research mentors are assigned only in the latter part of the students’ degree program. Research methods classes enroll students in various disciplines in a class—sciences, social sciences, health-care, language students would be lumped together for class size viability. The array of related disciplines expose students to trans/inter/multi-disciplinarity—or crossbreeding of disciplines. However, if the course requires a research proposal as the capstone, a problem arises. One academic cannot responsibly fulfill guiding students in various disciplines to arrive at research topics appropriate to a discipline. Worse is when the same academic becomes a mentor in a field of study not matching his/her expertise.

Mentoring for form rather than for content. The rationale of having a research-advising panel for a mentee at the early stage of choosing a research topic is to widen the reach of the student to available disciplinary expertise, exposure to research trends and standards of a discipline. Finally, a research mentor, chosen among those in the panel, is the academic who best matches the mentee’s research interest. Otherwise, the most that an “all-around” mentor could give to mentees are areas within the mentor’s own discipline colored by the mentor’s bias for particular topics. Mentoring, then, becomes more on form rather than on content. Exit conferences with students urge the call for change of “all-around” mentors. Sound mentorship by academics will not only ease the psychological rigors graduate students experience, but raise as well the quality of graduate scholarship and reduce attrition of degree candidates.

Effective mentoring activities. Besides instituting a research panel, one further step to learn from studies on effective mentoring activities or conducting a study in the special context of one’s university on the state of mentorship. Such a study would provide much useful data to improve mentorship among an institution’s academics and consequently, to more quality research capstones from the research proposal stage to actual conduct of the research, to the final research report and the orals. This better ensures improved form and content of theses and dissertations.

Effective mentoring activities in one’s institution would be one way to come up with a “mandate of Philippine Higher Education,” which, according to CHED Memorandum Order No. 46, s. 2012, is “(1) to produce thoughtful graduates imbued with values with a humanist orientation, (2) analytical and problem solving skills, (3) ability to think through the ethical and social implications of a given course of action, and (4) ability to learn continuously throughout life.” <http://www.ched.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/CMO-No.46-s2012.pdf> If one were to review the process of conducting research, one would realize that these four purposes of the above CMO are in themselves the product of scientific thinking, of which research certainly is.

Studies on research mentorship in one’s institution. On the suggestion to study mentoring in one’s university, one can anchor mentoring on the path-goal theory. This theory assumes “that leaders are flexible, and that they can change their style, as situations require.” Two contingency variables are proposed for this theory. One is the environment and the other is follower characteristics.

Environment refers to factors “outside the control of the follower” such as “task structure, authority system, and work group” and “determine the type of leader behavior required if the follower outcomes are to be maximized.” “Follower characteristics refer to the locus of control, experience, and perceived ability. Personal characteristics of subordinates determine how the environment and leader are interpreted. Effective leaders clarify the path to help their followers achieve goals and make the journey easier by reducing roadblocks and pitfalls.” Studies demonstrate “that employee performance and satisfaction are positively influenced when the leader compensates for the shortcomings in either the employee or the work setting.” <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Path%E2%80%93goal_theory> The analogy of the leader and followers and the interplay of variables clearly demonstrate the application of the path-goal theory to the research mentor and mentee relationship.

According to Northouse, the theory is useful because it reminds leaders that their central purpose as a leader is to help subordinates define and reach their goals in an efficient manner,” just as what would be expected of a competent research mentor to achieve relative to the success of a mentee. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Path%E2%80%93goal_theory>

(To be continued)

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Teresita Tanhueco-Tumapon, PhD, is one of the Philippines’ most accomplished educators and experts on institutional management in colleges and universities. Her studies included not only education and pedagogy but also literature, general science and history. She studied not only in the topmost universities in the Philippines but also in Germany, Great Britain and Japan. She headed chartered institutions, was vice-president for academics and for external relations and internationalization. She is copy editor of the Liceo journals, an internationalization consultant and professorial lecturer on-call and at the Graduate Studies of Liceo de Cagayan University (in Cagayan de Oro City). She holds a Lifetime Professional Achievement Award from the central office of the Commission on Higher Education.

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1 Comment

  1. Abdul Ampatuan on

    Many research papers are just found sleeping in the shelves of schools and a less number of them are being used for practical application. Majority of the students don’t have any interest on research, they might be forced to do it, perhaps, as a curriculum compliance.

    The question is why most students don’t have the eagerness to do a research? The answer is that it boils down to the kind of educational system that we have in the country. In basic education (specially, in public schools), students are not trained constantly, to do a research and there is no discrete development of skills (plantilla of skills) to become a good researcher.

    You also mentioned that some mentors are not competent. This is true not only in the HEIs, but, specially, in the basic education. Qualification of teachers is often a mismatch. You can see an English-major teacher teaching Science or a PE teacher teaching Math, Chemistry or Physics. Also, the MLC (minimum learning competences) provided by the DepEd seems to be confusing, since, it has to be followed in order, in contrast, to the HEIs that usually follow a syllabus. As a result, some foundational skills are not properly assimilated.

    There are also reports that a lot of public school teachers specially in the areas of Cotabato and Maguindanao who are bogus teachers (they are given a plantilla because they bribed or paid someone which is a common thing in those areas). They, usually, hold fake licenses and made in Recto TORs. Now that they are caught by the CSC, yet, they are still given an option to teach should they pass the PRC exam or they can retire early with pay. My gosh! It’s more fun in the Philippines!

    Finally, I don’t understand our system, DepEd says, ‘we still need a number of qualified teachers’, when in fact, we have a flood of them, unfortunately, they are not chosen, because it is either they don’t have money to bribe or they don’t have someone who could back them up.