Sunday, February 24, 2008

Research And Classification of Research Activities

Anonymous said...
I have the idea that there are two categories of research positions (but I am not sure if it is right). People in the first position do the "hands-on" stuff (whatever the type of research it is, e.g. basic, strategic, applied etc). People in the second position are generally the more senior staff who lead projects or manages the companies. What are the differences in the challenges in two categories? What are the differences between the kind of skills required for each category?

My Reply ....

In general practice your observation that there are two distinct categories of research positions is correct. People who are “hands on” and those who lead projects and manage companies. What are the differences in the challenges in the two categories? The differences are in the background of the individuals involved and how they climbed up their corporate ladders. The most desirable and suitable persons in research are those who have experience, who can do both the hands on work as well as lead and manage the projects or companies at the same time. Most successful technopreneurs in the private business belong to this class. They possess some S & T background related to their work to start with whether it is from the Poly’s ,universities or even the craft courses. These people cannot stand too much bureaucracy, especially “arm chair” detectives who have little or no S & T knowledge of the research subject at all. Every country likes to have more such technopreneurs.
Large organizations, (Governments and big corporations) with modern “good” governance practice require the systems to separate policy making from executive and operational activities. The policy makers need not have hands on experience although it is an advantage if they have. Their priorities are to ensure that the Government or Companies’ policies are implemented. This process divides the responsibilities of the Ministers, Chairmen/Boards, at the policy level from CEO’s/COO’s, managerial. S & T officers who have to use their “research” capabilities to execute, plan and implement the policies. With this arrangement people have to work harmoniously together to get results especially research where there is so much uncertainties to start with. The people involved must have faith, trust and confidence in those they work with. Otherwise a lot of time and effort will have to be spent in convincing and monitoring each other and to decide the best approach to take. This process is commonly known as bureaucracy which hinders the important parties from working more closely together. It is usually quite a frustrating process for genuine researchers to have to follow. This is the modern corporate life that researchers have to live with.
Some believe that the policy makers are the most important people in any set up. They believe that all technology or technical know, which reside in humans, can be bought. I cannot say I can agree with this. Important research personnel, like the military personnel, should never be manned by foreign mercenaries whose loyalty has not been proven. It is not easy to get good foreign researches who love their work passionately and are at the same time also loyal to our country and companies unless they are made only to work on selected short term projects.
We must also not overlook the importance of providing the opportunities and encouragement for our own “research” workers to rise from the rank and file, from hands on work to become leaders of projects and management of companies, small though some of these may be. It is wonderful if we can make our “guppies” become whales. It is also necessary to support our “caterpillars” to become “butterflies” as a natural sequence of their metamorphosis process instead of allowing them to die prematurely to become somebody’s silk kimonos during economic restructuring.

It is ideal if more “hands on” researchers can be helped to be leaders of projects and management of companies and successful technopreneurs. This happens and is still happening in most of the developed countries. Their local industries play a very important part in the countries’ economic and national development. It is time we have a hard look at how our local industries can be helped. If we overemphasis on too unrealistic aims we will have to depend on miracles to happen to achieve what we want. Technologically impressive projects are good for the soul but it must not be a desperate attempt to impress as considerable resources, time, effort and even lives can be wasted in the process which could have been put to better use.

My wife has suggested that we should give some case studies and share our experiences in our effort in making research our careers. You can then decide whether such a career path is worth your effort or not to pursue or to continue.

Lee Kum Tatt

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