F1-BR2-2 - Anti-Patterns for an Industrial PhD

2. Research-to-Practice Full Paper
Hannu Jaakkola1 , Tommi Mikkonen2, Kari Systä3
1 University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland
2 University of Helsinki
3 Tampere University, Tampere, Finland

The postgraduate studies are an essential part of university activities and  an important source of public funding, at least in Finland. The idealistic and optimal way to organize these studies is based on the idea that the PhD student continues towards higher degree straight after master’s degree. From administrative point of view the optimal path is based on a 3-4 years study plan in the role of a researcher conducting the work in the university, funded by the university / grant, without any other duties but those progressing the PhD as a goal. From university (administration) point of view this is productive; an “administrative optimal PhD” from this path is under 30 years old, having experience only from academic work. The path may still continue in academic environment as a post-doc researcher or teacher – still without remarkable work experience from industry. Practice is not the same as the “administrative optimal”. In reality, only few PhD students have opportunity to fully concentrate in the research work and the related studies as a research assistant funding the PhD study period by a grant. In most cases funding is coming from a variety of research projects, which dominate the goal setting instead of the researcher’s individual needs. In the best case the project length is long enough to enable long term (3-4 years) research work towards the same goal. In most cases the research funding is coming from a variety of sources (changing projects) having wide spectrum of goals from industry oriented practical to research oriented academic. In this kind of situation, it is reasonably difficult to follow the optimal PhD path based on well-planned research plan having well-structured partitioning of the research problem as a basis for the publications (in the article-based thesis) or the structure of the monograph.

In addition, PhD has become also an attractive option for practitioners – experts working full time in industry. Typical “industrial PhD student” works in consulting business or in demanding product / process development. This kind of PhD students typically do not share the same mindset as students who pursuit their career straight after masters’. Their PhD programme neither fits to the “administrative optimal”; opportunity to concentrate in research work is limited, which means longer time to finish the studies. They apply the PhD program after several years’ work experience and start their studies in that age (or older; wide variation exists), in which the “administrative optimals” finish. Because the research work is done simultaneously with the industry work, the 

duration of the studies is double or more to the “recommended standard”. Additional problem relates to the PhD studies (courses), which are implemented according to the needs of full-time researchers working in the academic environment. There may also be some “threshold” type of requirements to get status of postgraduate student in the university. Even these are planned from the needs of the full-time researchers.

The experience context of the authors comes from ICT industry, most often from the field of software engineering.  Typical research topics in this field of science apply constructive research method / design science approach, work is experience based and experimental. In this kind of work availability of empirical data and test environment is beneficial – this comes from the company of the researcher. The researcher has internal view and access to the company data / processes, which may be beneficial in validation of the research outcomes. Disadvantage of this internal view is that it may lead to subjectivity and it may support continuation of the company’s bad practices. If the same work is done by an academic PhD researcher in a university – industry collaboration project, these problems would be avoided, but access to company internals remain limited.

To summarize the discussion above, we have separated two archetypes of PhD students: the administrative optimal and the industry PhD. The administrative optimal PhD student is

In contrast, a industry PhD

The purpose of this paper is to report our experiences related to the industry PhD students, which have received considerably less attention than the administrative optimal student. The problems are presented in the form of anti-patterns as a counterpoint to the pattern. Pattern is an optimal way to do / organize something. In this context it represents the PhD process specified by the university considering its administrative needs in an optimal way. Antipattern differs from this optimal approach and has some negative obstacles. In software engineering (design) patterns are used to implement certain positive properties to a software architecture [Gamma et al., 1997]. Antipatterns, instead, represent bad quality solutions, and if recognized, must be replaced by a good solution. Both patterns and antipatterns are presented in a structured way. In this paper we follow the same idea: the antipatterns listed are based on our findings in practice. The antipatterns are presented in a structured pattern format. Our aim is to provide ideas how to  proceed  beyond  the obstacles documented by the antipatterns.