Demystifying Research for the Indian Psychologist

Besides being engaged with clients or students, some psychologists might undertake research, not just as an alternative to lazy weekends, but to earn a decent living. In fact, most psychologists are meant to practice, teach, and research, in some combination or the other.  These three distinct (yet interconnected) roles require different sets of skills, and graduate and post-graduate training is usually targeted to develop such skill sets. Psychologists who practise can also conduct research with clinical samples, similar to researchers who conduct studies with their students. As an undergraduate student of psychology you may well be tired of being asked to read people’s minds, but you also should have taken part in a professor’s research project.

However, most Indian students of psychology have hardly had this opportunity, and that is a cause for great concern. As a result, most undergraduate (and in some cases, postgraduate) students hardly have any understanding of research in psychology and research methodology.

So how do undergraduate students grasp what research is? One way is through the arduous Lab sessions that are a mandatory part of the curriculum for psychology majors. And another way is… Um… Yes! When they’re required to complete a Research Methods course as part of post-graduate study. And then, training in research is complete (?). At least as complete as it could be to receive a passing grade, anyway.

Given such limited exposure to the rigors of scientific research in psychology even at the postgraduate level, chances are the student will often be dissuaded from doing/participating/assisting in research for the rest of their careers. Unless of course, the resilient few go on to complete an MPhil or a PhD (and I completely empathize with you!). Yet, an additional degree often does not guarantee adequate training in research, because the quality of training vastly differs from one University to the next. No, this isn’t the difference between one institute teaching Path Analysis and the other not; this is the difference between being exposed to a flourishing research environment, with innovative principal investigators, and enthusiastic participants, and an ethics committee that distinguishes right from wrong, and co-investigators who cooperate more than compete, and… basically, a culture for research.

This is a utopian view, where systems and processes are stable, and the profession of a social science researcher commands respect. But reality  tends to be a bitter pill. The notions of research and the profession of a researcher are often misconstrued, misperceived, and misunderstood, not just in a discipline like psychology, but in the sciences as whole (which, by the way, include social sciences). Scientific illiteracy can contribute to such a state of affairs, where individuals may not only be ill-informed about how to think analytically and interpret scientific conclusions presented in popular media, but may also be ill-informed about what the components of science and research really are. Although critics of this opinion may throw Indian literacy figures in the air, I oppose the criticism by stating that most individuals who have the fortune of receiving higher education are literate, but are often scientifically illiterate. And this lack of information, combined with poor monetary incentives to continue researching, significantly contributes to students being dissuaded from entering research.

So now, I’ll break down some myths of research in India that I’ve come across.

Yes, research is fun, if you make it so.

No, natural science research and social science research are not at par; the former often receives more funding (often for completely valid reasons, too).

Yes, research requires resilience, commitment, and internal motivation (in more than equal proportions).

No, the monetary payoffs aren’t great; but the feeling of contributing to knowledge more than makes up for it.

Yes, if you’re good at it, you’ll go places, get published, and the whole deal.

Yes, you’ll receive credit for your work, most of the time.

No, you won’t receive funding for all your ideas.

Yes, research is creative! Scientific creativity is prized above all else.

Yes, you can choose any topic under the sun that can be plausibly studied about, in a scientific manner.

No, you won’t be able to plagiarize; integrity is one of the corner stones of academic research.

Yes, seeing your name in print in an article that you’ve toiled over for months on end really makes it worthwhile.

No, it isn’t easy.

It’s a tough road ahead for social science researchers here, and I admit, it isn’t all roses and peaches. But I’d urge students of psychology, and other social science disciplines to give the profession a chance. After all, dismissing something without knowing what it is, is a marker of scientific illiteracy. In the spirit of the indomitable Mr. Spock (and Leonard Nimoy): “Live long and prosper!” and research!

 Hansika Kapoor


On Language and Its Rules: History in Language

The Merriam–Webster dictionary defines language as “the words, their pronunciation and the methods of combining them, used and understood by a community.” The very definition of language implies that its primary function is to express ideas, thoughts, and feelings to our communities. An infant picks up this skill from the tender age of six months. It would just be incoherent babble at that time but in accordance with the definition given by Merriam–Webster, it could still be classified as language because the infant is trying to convey a certain message to his parents, even though the message might be as inane as “Change my diaper, Dad.”

Further, the history of mankind has been a witness to the fact that language is very dynamic. Whether it is English, French, Greek, or Zulu, all languages have evolved, adapted, and expanded to cater to the changing and ever increasing needs of mankind. Every year, around 1000 words are added to the English dictionary alone. Around 2000 slang words are also invented and added only in Oxford Dictionaries Online (Datoo, 2013). The Oxford English Dictionary, on the other hand, never removes a single word even if it’s no longer in use (Datoo, 2013).  Slang words, as though in defiance, also become an integral part of the English language. This makes it almost impossible to define the scope of a language, begging the question “Who has the right to define or limit a language?” Is it the stodgy old men working for Merriam–Webster occasionally swearing (which is not considered to be a part of language) or is it the people who use these words to express themselves? I would like pose a third option that would render the above two choices obsolete. I believe that language should not be constrained or standardized because language is a culmination of experiences and a non-standard language can lead us to unexplored heights of creativity. This blog series will explore various reasons that support the non-standardization of language.

During British Imperialism, a young British judge called William Jones was stationed in India. He made an attempt to learn Sanskrit in order to effectively enforce British rules in India. While learning Sanskrit, he noticed certain similarities between Sanskrit, Greek, and Latin which pointed to a possibility that many of the Indo-European languages emerged from a common source. Some historians further postulated that these Indo-European people were descendants of the same race and found archaeological evidence supporting their theory. This is a rather detailed example of how language contains history at the macro level. Similarly, language is repository of experience at the grass root level too. It is a well-known fact that the attitudes, behaviors, personality traits, and other psychological characteristics of a person are influenced by peers, parents, media, and other socializing agents like teachers and schools. Language, as established before, is also an integral part of an individual. Hence, it cannot be spared by the pervasive influence of the environment.

English is my second language. I did my high school education in India and pursued my college degree in the Unites States. My English accent is a mixture of Indian and American accent. However, since India was a British colony and British English is widely spoken here, some British accent also seamlessly slithers in. Therefore, a person’s language is like his memoir. It contains the much valuable history of his race, his gender and pivotal moments of his life. James Baldwin (1979) explores the above given claim in his essay “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me, What is?” He writes, “Subsequently, the slave was given, under the eye, and the gun, of his master, Congo Square, and the Bible–or, in other words, and under those conditions, the slave began the formation of a black church, and it is within this unprecedented tabernacle that Black English began to be formed. This was not, merely, as in the European example, the adoption of a foreign tongue, but an alchemy that transformed ancient elements into a new language” (Baldwin, 1979, Para. 7). Baldwin further explains how Black English was a product of the cruel history of slavery and racial discrimination. Similarly, a person’s language is an embodiment of his past including all his toils and rewards. By dismissing his language, one callously dismisses his history.

 Coming up next in this series – On Language and it Rules: Why context matters?

Prachi Bhuptani