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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Research integrity - Part 7

Earlier this year, I met my very first boss of my working career, Dr Abdul Razak Abdullah, whom I have not seen in many years. He holds a D.Phil. from Oxford University. We had an interesting discussion covering many things. The discussion started to veer from current issues to my doctorate study. When he inquired about it, I told him that I was finishing up my thesis-writing. He was happy to hear about the progress and went on to make an interesting remark, "Some people who enrolled for PhD did not manage to cross the finishing line. They did all the review, data collection, analysis and writing. But they did not submit the thesis for examination." In other words, people who ran the race but did not cross the finishing line.

Dr Razak's comment got me thinking. I know of people who did three or four years of doctorate studies, but at the end of the day, came off it empty-handed. Some of them are my friends who, during their course of study, faced some unforeseen and unavoidable personal problems that affected their studies. These are usually sponsored scholars who were unable to extend their duration, and hence had to abandon their study after the expiry of the sponsorship. These, to me, are genuine cases. It is a pity that they were not able to finish because of certain difficulties that had befallen them. This is akin to an athlete who is not able to cross the finishing line because of an accident somewhere along the racing track.

Unfortunately, I have also heard of some who did not finish their PhD (for whatever reason) and yet were bold enough to use the doctorate title in front of their names. In the past, there were some similar cases that were highlighted in the media. In another discussion with another former boss of mine, Datuk Dr Abdul Monir Yaacob, I was told that in countries like Egypt, it is normal for PhD candidates to use the title "Dr" as soon as they enrol in a doctorate course, way before they actually finished their studies. This got me thinking, if for some reason, these candidates who are already using the title "Dr" fail to finish, do they still keep their title because people are already used to calling them with that title?

In any case, the norm in Malaysia and most other countries like the UK, USA and Japan, doctorate is conferred only upon fulfilling all the necessary criteria such as submission of thesis, viva voce and other criteria as set forth by the university (which may differ from one university to another). You don't call yourself "Dr" until and unless you receive a letter from the university saying that you have obtained your PhD. It is, without a doubt, unethical on the part of the person who uses the title "Dr" before being officially granted the esteemed academic qualification. To do so would mean to cheapen the value of the doctorate degree and is adds insult to those candidates who really earn the title.

I have no idea how many people out there who go around claiming to have a doctorate without actually properly completing their studies. This is just like athletes who cheat by not running the full course of the race, but instead suddenly appearing after the finishing line as if they had run the full race. None of us really checks if a person is really a "Dr" or otherwise. Most of us take people's claim in good faith.

But really, if these people are men of faith, they would not be claiming to have something that they in reality do not own.

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