That PhD story

by Dries De Roeck on June 23, 2014

Most people that follow me in the social media bubble will probably already be aware, but for those that aren’t up to speed yet:

my PhD is no more.

As I promised in the tweet above, time for a little explanation. A few weeks ago, I was still assuming everything was on track. I even posted a preliminary thesis outline titled ‘meaningful connected products’ here, got some good feedback on the title here, and was ‘officially’ allowed to use a great image by Filippo as a cover image! But from there onwards, things suddenly went downhill. I’m still not entirely sure why it happened, but on May 23 my PhD commission decided to ‘pull the plug’ and stop the PhD trajectory. Reading the commission’s (unfinalised) report, it seems that there are a couple reasons why the decision was made;

  1. Ideology
    • My research originates too much from my own ideology and lacks a rigorous scientific approach. My references from literature are cherry picked and do not form a coherent framing. I might not have been very consequent in the references I use, my literature review could still be improved – for sure. On the other hand, related to  ‘connected objects’ literature – quite a lot is moving at the moment. I have the feeling that if I don’t update my references as I go along, I have the risk of staying stuck in the past. A good example of this is a recent paper by Koresoff et al. in which a call for a human centered internet of things expressed. This paper confirms a lot of my thinking, so I believe I should use this as a central publication in my ongoing research.
  2. Experiment execution
    • The past couple of months my PhD’s prime focus has been running a quantitative experiment. Before starting this experiment, I was very doubtful about a quantitative approach. The reason why I eventually went on a quantitative endeavor was because my commission highly recommend me to do so. It took me a while to find a set of metrics that I found useful and that linked with the way my brain works. During creativity and cognition ’13 conference I got to know the ‘creativity support index’, which was a standardised set of questions which can be used to indicate the perceived creativity of a ‘creativity support tool’. Eventually I was totally convinced to run a quantitative experiment, in which I would compare two creativity support tools within the context of the ideation of connected products.
    • When I presented and verified this approach to my commission in october (and gave a status update in december), everything was still looking good. However, after my result analysis, I did not get the results out of the data what I had hoped for (i.e. creativity support tool A were to be better than tool B). During the experiment, my intention had always been to see what the participants would ‘do’ with the tools provided to them, and if the tools provided would really be beneficial during the generation of concepts. In the end, the generated connected product concepts were described in a rather high level way – their usefulness for further evaluation was questionable. Although that I had, based on my quantitative data, formulated a set of guidelines for an improved version of the tools provided – that didn’t seem to be a scientifically valid route to take.
  3. Timing
    • What I proposed was to run a validation workshop with an adapted tool, in order to see if the changes made would have effect. The commission however judged that I should have to redo the whole quantitative experiment in order to achieve a usable outcome. If I were to do the latter, I would have no chance in finishing my PhD before my funding ran out. The chances on getting an extension were very low to non-existent, so because of that the conclusion was made to ‘pull the plug’.

During the presentation I gave to my commission, I was very confident in the story I wanted to bring across (which I will post on this blog later this week). I still believe I have the data to support the arguments I want to bring forward. I deliberately chose to present my thesis outline as a story I wanted to tell. Unfortunately it was decided that my story did not align with what a PhD degree should be.

I started my Phd trajectory in 2009, and I do agree I have not entirely ‘lived by the academic ruleset’. But after talking to several people from several disciplines in academia, I get the same message : the decision to stop a PhD process is not made when you’re 5 years in. After those 5 years I refuse to come up with an argumentation to ‘defend’ my case, the past 3 years my approach towards ‘research’ has been rather clear – if the quality of the work was not sufficient at that point I wonder why I only get the ‘abort’ message now.

So what’s next?

Instead of coming up with arguments to defend myself, I find it much more valuable to spend my energy in coming up with alternative routes to get the insights of my research ‘into the wild’. In the short term, I’ll most likely be able to continue teaching a couple of courses at the faculty where I was doing my research (besides the work I do at Studio Dott of course). This should give me some time to consolidate my research into an alternative publication. I’m currently thinking about an extend pamphlet to spread around. Besides that, I’m creating at least one example of what a ‘meaningful connected product’ is from my point of view. Doing so, I plan to create a stronger link between the theoretical insights and the translation into practice.

In the coming days/weeks I will be sharing more on the content of my work. What is a meaningful connected product? Why is this interesting for industrial designers? How is a ideation process of a connected product different from a ‘regular’ product? Stay tuned!

One comment

[…] not going to spend a lot of words on this item. I wrote about it here somewhere in May last year. To cut a long story short, the plug has been pulled from the […]

by Bye 14, hi 15! « Dream here on January 27, 2015 at 8:46 pm. #

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