Postgraduate dissertations--a suggested scheme for objectivising their evaluation.N Ananthakrishnan
Dept of Surgery, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research, Pondicherry.,
Keywords: Curriculum, Education, Graduate, Educational Measurement, Human,
The preparation and submission of a dissertation is an integral part of the curriculum at the level of postgraduate examinations at the degree level. Unfortunately, this exercise is not taken with due seriousness by most students since the current system of evaluation of the work is totally subjective and is strongly biased towards acceptance of the dissertation irrespective of the merits of the presentation. It must be admitted that examiners are to a large extent responsible for this state of affairs as most of them treat writing of dissertations as an unavoidable evil that must be accepted rather than as a purposeful exercise. It is the aim of this presentation to stress on the objectives of this aspect of postgraduate training and suggest a scheme of objectivising the evaluation process.
The main aim of requiring a postgraduate student preparing for an MD or an MS degree to write a dissertation is to ensure that sufficient training has been given to the candidate in scientific methodology, in the analysis and interpretation of a problem and in cogent, clear and logical presentation of data in a meaningful manner. Such a training is required for all health personnel irrespective of whether they enter academics or not since analysis of a problem in a scientific manner and clear communication of one's views on the same Js necessary for all doctors irrespective of their station in life. In this context it must be stressed that there is a significant difference between a doctoral thesis and a postgraduate dissertation. A doctoral thesis is essentially a hypothesis or a proposition, which the candidate advances and is prepared to defend. The criteria of acceptance here is, therefore, originality. On the other hand, a post-graduate dissertation is merely a written presentation on the subject, which analyses the problem in detail and contributes to knowledge in that particular area. The emphasis, therefore, should be more on fulfilment of the objective of knowledge of research methodology and format (interpretation, accuracy of data, presentation) rather than on originality.
In view of the aforesaid, the assessment of a post-graduate dissertation must be based on certifying the possession of the following abilities:
1. clear approach to the subject and ability to define a problem, plan a study and realise and overcome difficulties, if any;
2. ability to interpret others' work in so far as it applies to one's own;
3. ability to record and analyse data,
4. ability to infer the significance of his work in the context of knowledge on the subject already existing.
Importance must be given to clarity, brevity, precision and accuracy of presentation. Emphasis must be laid on completeness of presentation, impartiality of analysis and logical sequence of recording. it is particularly necessary to look for objectivity of the candidate's analysis and a realisation on the candidate's part of unresolved issues and limitations of this study which require further work.
The current practice of evaluation of dissertation largely consists of the evaluator's recommendation on whether the work is to be accepted or not. Some universities require general comments by the examiners on the quality of the work. However, there is no structured evaluation form and there is no scope for gradation of the work. A well written dissertation must answer the following four questions as stated by Bradford-Hill.
A. Why did the candidate do it? - in other words the introduction and the aims and objectives of the work.
B. What did he do? - This refers to the section on Material And Method.
C. What did he find? - This pertains to the observation and results of the study.
D. What does it mean? - This refers to a discussion on his findings with reference to the work of others and conclusions from his study.
In view of the above, the following scheme of evaluation is suggested on a 3 point rating scale for each section of the dissertation.
Although, only a 3 point scale is mentioned above, it can be expanded as required. Points can be allotted for each item mentioned in the evaluation form above and a total, which indicates the candidates’ performance arrived at. In the current system, by its very nature, evaluation of a post-graduate dissertation is likely to be influenced by the topic and the familiarity and the interest of the evaluator in the subject/topic. By objectivising the process as above, the total marks obtained by the candidate would be independent of the subject matter over the choice of which he seldom has any control.
The final score can be converted and expressed in one of the following 3 conventional terms:
1. Adequate and acceptable (with grading of quality)
2. Not acceptable for reasons stated
3. Acceptable subject to modification/corrections and clarifications
In conclusion, it must be stated that postgraduate dissertations have a very important role to play in the training of the specialist. It is necessary that this is realised and a meaning and a purpose given to an exercise which hitherto in most instances is not given the importance that it deserves.
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