Home > Sustainability, Uncategorized > 6 months down the drain?

6 months down the drain?

I missed my own deadline for completing my blog last week due to some work commitments that encroached on my weekend, and due to a meeting with a Professor and Associate Dean from the Strathclyde Business School.  A meeting necessary to proceed further with my PhD onto the research courses later this month.


Firstly, I introduced my area of research in terms of learning theory, adult sustainability education, and using 3D collaborative spaces to deliver this training.  The Professor’s feedback appeared harsh,  for one he suggested I sounded more like a journalist than an academic, and from that I assume he meant I was telling him a interesting story but it was lacking real academic perspective.


Secondly, he suggested if it is education I am interested in then perhaps the Education Faculty or another institution would be more appropriate, if  it is Sustainability of interest then he said “I can’t see how this might be of any relevance to a business school?”, and if it is how to effectively use “flight simulators” (using his words), then perhaps this might be of relevance to business in the effective or not use of such technology.


Feeling a little off step, I tried to convince him of the need to set up a Sustainability Elective for the university, when he immediately pushed me back suggesting that many a consultancy had approached the school for curriculum development in this area – subtly he was saying – who am I, or what credibility do I have to create such an elective?


Thirdly, he mentioned that in his many years of advising many PhD students – they always start out with a broad research topic which is in turn refined into a robust research question – and then they move on and get the job done, however, he said in my case he had never seen such a broad beginning?!


There is clear evidence in the literature that there are major short falls in Sustainability Education on MBA programmes worldwide, nonetheless, the Professor makes some valid points. What am I really going to focus on?  What experiments do I hope to create and robustly defend? Who in the business community really has any interest in this area of research?


I could, and I did for a few days take this to be a rather de-motivating experience, but at the same time through support of friends and family, I will admit he is not wrong either, albeit I can imagine it seemed like I was receiving the news from Simon Cowell that I would not be not proceeding to the next round of X-Factor!


Can I stand up tall and discern the messages?  Here is what might be required moving forward:


  1. Step back from the advocacy of Sustainability and 3D Virtual Worlds and ask some academic questions, and knuckle down to find some specifics.
  2. Tie my research to relevant business issues if I am to continue with the SBS Dept. of Management.
  3. Make independent from my research my grand idea of setting up a new elective on Sustainability for the MBA programme.


I have spent considerable investment this past six months thinking, reading and writing about my research ideas, looking at coaching, learning theories, virtual worlds, values, behaviour intentions, sustainability etc. only to walk out of that meeting thinking I might have no idea of what I am going to research, and why it would be of interest to anyone anyhow?  This sounds like a pessimistic interpretation, one which my colleague at the Environment Agency rebuked, paraphrasing –  “It is not time wasted, it can help later on in terms of defending decisions made and directions embarked, and in part is simply just part of the journey!!!”


So, I find myself trying to get my balance and make sense of things.  Two new ideas have come up in the past week, the first being on researching the power of collaboration in virtual worlds:

  • 3D collaborative spaces may offer businesses’ cost effective means of collaborating and innovating across domains and businesses – this is of interest.  There are exemplars around the world e.g. IBM who are actively using the technology.
  • 3D collaborative spaces may offer benefits such as fun, safety, and being able to create things and test ideas at low cost.
  • Eco businesses is a new industry in the making, and innovative ventures/products thereafter may be able make use of 3D collaboration, that may offer leveraging the social capital needed to find new solutions with global players across disparate disciplines.


The second idea that has come up is on researching economic behaviours in virtual worlds.

  • Experimental economists are finding that virtual world economic behaviour maps well to real life behaviour estimation.  This may offer the ability to run scenarios from ethics, corporate social responsibility or sustainability with employees using the same attributes that these technologies purport.


So I have some hard questions with few answers:

  1. Does Sustainability really matter to business, and do I have what it takes to set up valid experiments that are useful for business?
  2. Will I drop Adult Sustainable Education altogether or is this an over-reaction and all I need to do is get more specific in terms of interest and focus?
  3. Will I drop the focus on changing values, beliefs, attitudes, skills or many other constructs I was investigating?
  4. Where will my data come from?  Will I now create the environment or observe existing environments?  Just – “who am I” to think I can create these and pass the stringent tests of academics that one day will sit before me?
  5. Do I move to collaboration theories, behavioural economics or stick to the adult sustainability education focus?  These new ideas may be of interest in general but is this of any interest to me?


Why even write about the backward steps of my PhD journey?  In the spirit of Kuhn’s historical perspective of science, I want my diary to be an accurate reflection of the journey – and not one rewritten to show a story of heroism and success.


Should I be annoyed at what transposed from this meeting, reject a perceived indoctrination, and stubbornly continue with my previous train of thinking, – OR – should I recognize it might be more about my ego, and my perceptions of essentially a very useful discussion – and move towards a more modest end?  Importantly, perhaps I should be forever thankful that this particular Professor cared enough in his own way to prevent me from wasting many more months of effort, wandering about with little to show for investment?  My intuition is whispering the latter but the jury is still considering!


What do you think?  I’d love to hear from you – give me your vote to stay the current course on adult sustainability education, move to collaboration theories for eco businesses, or move to economic behavioural analysis in virtual worlds?


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