Undergraduate Research – Critiquing Bangladesh

Conducting an academic research is a highly skillful thing to do. It is a test of capabilities and focus that finally culminates into a paper worth publishing in the academic journals. From scientists to teachers, everyone with an interesting idea, regardless of the genre or subject, are on this bandwagon and it is one that reaps a lot of extraordinary results. So, if you are a scientist, higher frequency of publication does well for the rep, the profession and the all-encompassing base of knowledge; the case is similar for the economist, the political analyst, the Boston feminist anthropologist, the Japanese biotech engineer or the NYC consumer behavior analyst. Bangladesh, in comparison, has individuals indulged with our fair share of researches and there is doubting that. However, the question I pose is one that digs deep into the education culture: How are the future researchers doing?

Student researches are turning into one of those inexplicable phenomenon that everyone considers to be important but not important enough for students to immerse themselves into it. Hence, you find teachers and institutions not facilitating proper academic research. What might be the problem here, one can ask. Is there a floating perception, like a small broken cloud on a mid-summer evening that finds students incapable and incompetent? Or is it mind-bogglingly difficult to pursue during undergrads? You will find different versions of the same answer and different answers from the same person. I will rather offer you mine, I only ask for the next two minutes in return.

I think this is a deep-rooted problem that begins with the central institution. There are been thousands and thousands of articles on the Bangladeshi Education system and the glorious flaws it fosters with care. The worst is their incessant effort to drain kids off creativity and concretize the “learn by heart” method. From a very early age, students are exposed to strict orders and shunned from asking questions. You see, academic research, and the tangible gain of increasing the base of knowledge, stands firmly on the society’s ability to ask questions, to be inquisitive and the hunger to know if the grass is green on the other side. Simply put, being able to ask a question is fundamental in conducting interesting researches.

The biggest scientific inventions and economic theories exist because the larger than life individuals asked a question that no one asked before. Ironically, kids are taught to memorize why Newton asked about the apple that fell on him from the tree. And that’s how many of us spend twelve years of our lives – memorizing why humans, just like us, asked a question and discovered great things.

After the twelve years of schooling as just another cog in the system, devoid of creativity and drunk on that “memorizing” potion that saw us through the general knowledge test, we enter what has been heavily accused of being “the real deal” –  a university! We all have cook up an idea of how real things will get in a University. It is rather intimidating to have seniors fill you up on applications and practicals of theories you only memorized in school. But big guns call for big responsibilities, and things should change, no? Unfortunately, this is not entirely true. While, Universities are the ones encouraging more students to take up research, things still look bleak. This one is multi-faceted:

A. Researches need a congenial atmosphere, with the right sort of intellectual discourse. However, I realized academic discussions outside an academic setup are discouraged and rather frowned upon. And you are right, it is difficult to do the jugular with quizzes and midterms and assignments and finals, all meshed together in a peanut sized semester. But if University is supposed to teach us how to apply the skills we learn from the book, then it becomes important for us to exercise our brains continuously until we hit gold. Having the right kind of intellectual discussion, outside borders that surround our knowledge shrine, becomes important, but that is not happening.

B. “The real deal” gets to us. We become busy trying to ace tests and please faculties for a good recommendation. We prepare ourselves for the money hungry world, armored with the brightest cGPA we can muster.

C. We enter a world where we mostly follow footprints. Seniors leave a sign behind of the impending doom and the salvage call, and we end up following their guidance. It is time we concede that we do not have the research culture ingrained in the system. Naturally, following the seniors entitle us to a joyride of failures, dragging ourselves from one compartment to another. In this mix if things, students become oblivious to this interesting world of asking a question. Therefore, we find ourselves in a system where kids do not even know that they can publish an idea. Gradually, the system swallows us to a point where someone with a question just drops it and goes home to prepare for another mundane day.

The most striking aspect of this bad research culture we nurture is probably the non-existent student journals. We all are aware of exceptions and it is quite amazing how we find a mind or two, wading their way out of all this and attempting to write an academic paper. While we do foster rated journals of publication, there is none to cater specifically to the students. Therefore, staring deep into the face of a cut-throat and sometimes a biased competition, students drop out of the race and their ideas successfully occupy a few kilobytes of harddisk and internet space.

I so desperately posit that this system, and the frail culture of student research, needs more inclusive outlets for students to follow up on their ideas, a platform to express their opinions and logically pose a question. It is imperative to understand the frail student research culture that I just mentioned. Every University houses a few students who are trying to dive into the world of journals with one shining idea, learning as they go and bugging the faculties to help get it right. Yes, there are platforms like House of Social Thought, emerging as the only student exclusive platform, literally hosting the young researchers, but there needs to be more. We should be done with the theory days and enter the pragmatic realm of application and research because it is high time, and the call is passing us as we speak.