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The Triad of Graduate Studies


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This post is co-authored by Orit Hazzan and Yael Dubinsky, who was Orit's first doctoral student in 2002-2005. In the past 20 years, since joining the Technion in 2000, Orit has supervised 28 graduate students (15 Masters students and 13 Ph.D. students). Yet, as was the case with Yael's research, and as Orit has conceptualized her supervision style, many of the research works Orit has supervised involve a unique triad that links the supervised student (as part of the research community), the research subject, and the research process. As we will demonstrate, this triad has real impact beyond the knowledge created in the research. We believe that the fact that the two of us have continued to collaborate since then largely results from this triad. The rest of the post describes the story of our joint research (using the pronoun we), along with Orit's supervision style and Yael's professional development process (using our respective first names).  

This unique triad is based on a characteristic that is common to many of Orit's past and present graduate students: they did not continue to their Masters or doctoral studies immediately after earning their undergraduate degree, but rather returned to graduate school after pursuing a career in either the industry, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the education system, or the third sector. Their reasons for deciding to return to graduate studies are varied: a) some of them simply felt a desire to continue studying; b) others felt they had exhausted the potential of their current career, were ready to change their professional focus, and wished to explore new directions for professional development through graduate studies; c) others had found a subject related to their current job that they were highly motivated to explore: sometimes it was a project at their workplace that they were required to pursue, and wished to accompany its development with some research; in other cases, they felt a desire to understand a specific problem they were concerned about in the organization or sector they worked in.

Whatever reason they had for returning to graduate school, they all conducted their research while continuing to work. As we explain below, this fact is crucial to their research subjects and to the research processes applied in the investigation thereof.

In Yael's case, for example, the process started with her desire to merge her two career paths of engineering and academic teaching. At the time she began her doctoral studies, Yael was Chief Information Officer of the Technion's Computer Science Faculty and was the instructor of the faculty's capstone course Projects in Operating Systems. One of the first reading materials Orit suggested that Yael read was Kent Beck's book entitled Extreme Programming: Embraced Change (Beck, 1999). After reading the book, Yael suggested implementing the extreme programming methodology in the project-based course she was scheduled to teach in the following Summer semester. This implementation process became Yael's research field for the subsequent three years and it enabled us to explore various aspects of both software engineering as well as software engineering teaching. From Yael's personal point of view, it was a perfect way to combine the engineering path (that is, exploring new state-of-the-art software engineering methodologies) and the academic teaching path (which meant exploring the teaching of these methodologies as part of her doctoral research).

In general, and no matter the reason, Orit's graduate students typically have extensive experience in different organizations upon entering graduate school. Furthermore, several of her doctoral students had either an MBA, an MSc in science and technology education, or a Master's degree in the scientific or engineering discipline in which they earned their undergraduate degree.

One of the basic guidelines of Orit's supervision style is that the students' backgrounds and experience are taken into consideration and guide the selection of their research subject. One implication of this guideline is that the research subjects that students explore during their graduate studies are suggested by the students and are related to their everyday jobs (as illustrated also in Yael's case). In other words, unlike many cases in which the supervisor suggests a research subject that are part of a broader research plan, in Orit's case, the students select their doctoral research subjects.

At the same time, however, the subjects that the graduate students suggest for investigation are related to Orit's research interests in cognitive, social, and organizational aspects of computer science, software engineering, and data science. The selection of research subjects enables the graduate students not only to fulfill their curiosity, but also to contribute to their professional development. Orit's main role is to guide them in the investigation process of their research subjects. It is manifested mainly in identifying the focus of the research, guiding the research process, and supporting the students in the long and gradual process of refining and formulating their theses. At the same time, the fact that students focus in their research on subjects that are related to their interests and professional backgrounds provides Orit with an opportunity to become familiar with new research fields, to broaden and deepen her areas of expertise, and to foster collaboration and integration between different research subjects that her graduate students explore. As a byproduct, and as illustrated below, this supervision style also improves and enhances the alignment between industry and academia through relevant and timely research works.  

The Triad

The triad discussed in this blog comprises three entities: the research community, the researched subject, and the research process, and includes also the interrelationships among them, which can be weak or strong, depending on the specific characteristics of the research. This idea is reflected in Figure 1, in which the strength of the relationships between the three entities of the triad is represented by the width of the two-directional arrows. The community – process – subject relations are expressed in several ways, e.g.,

  • The students explore a subject they are engaged with elsewhere on a daily basis and so do not have to switch back and forth between work and research. Thus, the students not only eventually earn their degrees, but also continue to perform their original jobs, which they must carry out anyway, in a more professional manner in terms of planning, tracking, and achievements, since it is now being accompanied by research.
  • The researched subject (whether a project, an organization, etc.) is improved since it operates and is developed alongside a research work, which enables the students to explore and apply continuously relevant lessons derived from the research, without investing additional resources.
  • Accessibility to the community fosters the agility of the research process since intermediate results can be tested immediately, in practice, in the student's work organization (and other related organizations).
Figure 1: The Triad's components and interrelationships

 

Illustration of the Triad – Yael Dubinsky's Ph.D. Research

To illustrate the triad in practice, we present Yael's doctoral research, which is also highly relevant for the Communications readership.

Yael Dubinsky earned her Ph.D. in 2005. In 2002, when she started her doctoral research, she was Chief Information Officer of the Technion's Computer Science Department. She had been working at the Technion for 15 years when she came to consult with Orit in 2002 about the option of beginning doctoral research. At that stage, Yael already had a BSc and an MSc in computer science and had participated in a Business Management for Engineers program, all at the Technion.

In 2002, implementation of the agile approach had only just begun, and Orit had just heard about it at the 13th Annual Workshop of the Psychology of Programming Interest Group that took place in 2001 in Bournemouth, England. Both of us still vividly remember Orit asking Yael whether she was familiar with extreme programming and the agile approach, handing her Kent Beck's new book Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change (1999). Yael answered negatively, picked up the book, and returned to Orit's office one week later, declaring that she was going to implement extreme programming in the Projects in Operating Systems course that she was scheduled to teach in the upcoming 2002 Summer semester. Neither of us was aware that, since the agile approach was so new, in its infancy, and the agile community was just beginning to emerge, we were among the pioneers worldwide in applying extreme programming and the agile approach in academia. We started realizing this pioneering role when we presented our preliminary findings from the capstone course mentioned above in the 2002 Workshop on Empirical Evaluation of Agile Processes (EEAP 2002), held in conjunction with the XP/Agile Universe 2002 conference in Chicago, Illinois, USA (Dubinsky and Hazzan, 2002).

Eventually, Yael's research focused on teaching software development methods with the goal of constructing a framework for teaching software development methods in higher education. For this purpose, the teaching of software development processes was examined, as mentioned, in a computer science project-based capstone course in which the agile software development method of extreme programming was applied. The main theoretical contribution of this research was a teaching framework for software development methods courses in higher education that was composed of conceptual principles and teaching practices (Dubinsky and Hazzan, 2005).

How does the triad manifest in Dubinsky's doctoral study?

  • The research community: The fact that Yael taught her course, as a worldwide pioneer in the implementation of the agile approach in higher education, enabled her to focus on her research while teaching the course, without the need to juggle her research and her managerial and teaching roles. Furthermore, it was a win-win situation for both the undergraduate students who studied the course and the hi-tech industry. Specifically, since the hi-tech industry was also just becoming familiar with the agile approach, it expressed interest in recruiting students who had taken the course and had acquired knowledge about the agile approach that was just beginning to spread worldwide. The industry also acknowledged the expertise gained during the research, and together, we were both highly involved, as consultants, in guiding the assimilation of agile processes into many Israeli hi-tech companies.
  • The research subject: The implementation of the agile approach in the course was improved since it was researched in parallel. Further, the Technion's Department of Computer Science, in addition to being among the first in the world to implement the agile approach in academia, enjoyed at no extra cost a thoughtful, controlled assimilation process of a new and timely method for teaching a software development approach, whose assimilation process worldwide was accelerated in subsequent years.
  • The research process: The research process also benefited, since each new finding could be incorporated immediately in the course and examined, without depending on any approval process. Furthermore, since Yael was both teaching and investigating the process, she knew what to implement and how, as well as its rationale.  

After graduating, Yael left the Technion and pursued a career in a variety in organizations, including the University of Rome La Sapienza, IBM Research, Ness Technologies, and several startups. In parallel, we continued to work together as agile consultants to many (national and international) hi-tech organizations in Israel, and to write numerous papers as well as two books (Hazzan and Dubinsky, 2008, 2014). We further expanded our expertise in agile management to a variety of other domains in a variety of organizations in all sectors: governmental, for-profit, and non-profit NGOs (Hazzan and Dubinsky, 2014, 2018).  

Analysis of the triad from the intrinsic motivation perspective

We will end this post with an analysis of the triad from the intrinsic motivation perspective. The fact that students decide on their own subjects of research, which are highly connected to their everyday professional lives, fosters their intrinsic motivation since it enables them to fulfill their needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness (see the self-determination theory by Deci and Ryan, 2000). While the fulfillment of the needs for autonomy and competence are obvious in the context of graduate research in general, and doctoral research in particular, the fulfillment of the need for relatedness is more challenging. However, when students bring to their research subjects they are is working on in other contexts (namely, in their work) and wish to further explore them and deepen their own understanding of the subjects in order to foster their professional development, the potential to fulfill the need for relatedness increases. Intrinsic motivation is especially crucial in the case of doctoral research, since it is a long process that requires many resources (mainly, but not only cognitive, mental and social). 

Summary

Orit's graduate students have additional characteristics in common, including the fact that upon graduation, as Ph.D. degree holders, they are experts on their research subjects, and many of them quit their job after earning their Ph.D. in order to start a new career, in most cases in another kind of organization. We suggest that this is somehow connected to the fact that, in their research, they inevitably focus on subjects that are highly relevant and interesting to them at the beginning of their doctoral research, and as the research progresses, they start realizing its broad horizons and professional opportunities it holds for them.

References

Beck, K. (1999). Extreme Programming Explained: Embrace Change, Pearson Education.

Deci, E. L. and Ryan, R. M. (2000). The "what" and "why" of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior, Psychological Inquiry 11(4), pp. 227-268.

Dubinsky, Y. and Hazzan, O. (2002). Agile-training of XP-supervising group: A case study of a project-based course, position paper presented at the Workshop on Empirical Evaluation of Agile Processes (EEAP 2002), held in conjunction with the XP/Agile Universe 2002 conference, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Dubinsky, Y. and Hazzan, O. (2005). A framework for teaching software development methods, Computer Science Education 15(4), pp. 275-296.

Hazzan, O. and Dubinsky, Y. (2008). Agile Software Engineering, Undergraduate Topics in Computer Science' (UTiCS) Series, Springer.

Hazzan, O. and Dubinsky, Y. (2014). Agile Anywhere - Essays on Agile Projects and Beyond, Series: Springer Briefs in Computer Science.

Hazzan, O and Dubinsky, Y. (2018). Practices of agile educational environments: Analysis from the perspective of public, private and the third sectors, in Parsons, D. and MacCallum, K. (Eds). Agile and Lean Concepts for teaching and Learning – Bringing Methodologies from Industry to the Classroom, Springer, pp.47-61.

 

Orit Hazzan is a professor at the Technion's Department of Education in Science and Technology. Her research focuses on computer science, software engineering, and data science education. For additional details, see https://orithazzan.net.technion.ac.il/. Yael Dubinsky is the founder and manager of the Development Unit at the Kinneret Innovation Center (KIC), and the head of the Software Engineering Department at the Kinneret Academic College.


 

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