How to set Aims and Objectives for your Ph.D. work
For a PhD research scholar, the PhD work usually begins with the through literature survey in the domain of his interest. Based on the research gaps identified, significance of the work, resources available and the research capability of the research scholar, research aims and objectives are set at the beginning of PhD by both research supervisor and research scholar. This will help the research supervisor to delineate the research work in early stage of research and as well set the timeline for each objective. In my observations many research scholars fail set clear aims and research objectives which ultimately leads to the non completion of their work in the defined time boundary. In this blog post I have tried to explain the concepts of aims and objectives with examples. This may help the reader in clearly stating his aims and objectives at the beginning of his research.
How many aims or objectives should there be?
- There are no fixed number of aims or objectives.
- Some supervisors are happy with one clear strong aim, whilst others like to see a main aim supported by at least two subsidiary aims.
- Three to Five objectives are sufficient for a PhD work. Through each objective the doctoral committee members must be able to measure progress of the research work.
The Aim is about what you hope to do, your overall intention in the PhD. Aims are the broad statements of desired outcomes or the general intentions of the research, which ‘paint a picture’ of your research work. It signals what and/or where you aspire to be by the end. It has to be ambitious, but should not be beyond possibility. Emphasize what is to be accomplished and not how it is to be accomplished. Aim should address the long-term research outcomes, i.e. they should reflect the aspirations and expectations of the Ph.D. topic.
The main aim of this work is to design novel and efficient algorithms for a visually guided wheeled autonomous Robot that can explore an unknown or partially known 3D environment, construct navigation maps, identify objects of interest and plan paths. It is also aimed at reducing the uncertainties of real-life situations that can cause problems for Robot navigation.
In general, research objectives describe what we expect to achieve by set of aims. Research objectives are usually expressed in general terms. Even if the nature of the research may not be clear to the naive researcher, still he should be able to understand the research from the objectives. Your objectives should be stated using action verbs that are specific enough to be measured. For example: to design, to model, to develop, to compare, to calculate, to predict, to assess, to determine, to verify, etc. Avoid the use of vague non-active verbs such as: to appreciate, to understand, to believe, to study, etc., because it is difficult to evaluate whether they have been achieved. Objectives must always be set after having formulated a good set of research aims.
Objectives should be S.M.A.R.T.:
- Specific – Be specific and precise about the task you want to implement. Critically review and revise your objectives before finalizing.
- Measurable –Each objective set must be measurable in terms of quality and quantity. Decide on the metrics you will use to measure the outcomes.
- Achievable – Think about the infrastructure set up you have, your expertise and the time constraints. Based on this set your objectives. A less ambitious but completed objective is better than an over-ambitious one that you cannot possibly achieve.
- Realistic – Be realistic about the idea you are proposing. Does your idea looks sensible and practical ?. Think before you propose.
- Time constrained – Determine when each objective needs to be completed. Is there time in your schedule to allow for unexpected delays?
Doctoral committee members generally look to see if the time and money available for the research will genuinely allow the researcher to achieve their objectives. They also look to see if the objectives are possible, actually research-able. Objectives should be mapped onto aim and specific phases of activity all of which should be time limited with a start and stop date. Some of these will run in parallel, some may even run throughout the project.
Many PhD students define PhD objectives which are based upon surprisingly generic elements. They may look something like this:
- To identify and review the current state of prior literature.
- To design a robust study to answer the research question,
- To collect all the data needed to conduct research.
- To derive and present the results of the study from the data collected,
- To analyse the results of the study in the light of prior knowledge.
- To draw conclusions about the contribution.
- To prepare the PhD thesis report based on the experiments done.
These objectives are too generic and hence needs to be avoided.
Here is an example of objectives defined for the aims set in the beginning.
This problem involves four main objectives:
1. To design an efficient representation of the navigational environment to handle environmental uncertainties.
2. To device an appropriate mechanism to identify objects of interest from the sensors with quick response time.
3. To Predict the motion of moving objects within the navigational environment.
4. To Design a control scheme for Robot navigation.
Before submitting your PhD Thesis, the research scholar and the supervisor need to check whether or not the objectives set have been met or not and if not, why not. You may not always meet your aims in full, since your research may reveal that your assumptions were vague and you have missed out certain critical parameters that is changing the whole dimension of the problem. Whatever may be the outcome, your thesis have to reflect on how well the research design, which was guided by your objectives has contributed to addressing your aims.