Research Programs vs Individual Studies

The Context

Recently, there has been a bit of discussions in my circles about programmatic research and if this is something that we should be striving for as researchers. It got me thinking about what the purpose of programmatic research is and, ultimately, if this is something that we should be doing.

Programmatic What?

Programmatic research is this idea that multiple individual studies can be combined together into this conglomerate of research. There might be one overarching goal or multiple overarching goals in which each individual study strategically feeds into. Taking this approach means that you can construct a program of research that may span multiple years and teams, could produce multiple papers, and be presented at multiple conferences. This kind of work can also develop a social media presence or develop into a ‘lab’.

This Sounds Great!

It does, right? So why don’t we do this more?

Well… We do! PhDs are typically a form of programmatic research and most grants, by their nature, require programmatic research. Many supervisors also use the programmatic research with their students to divvy up aspects of the larger project to individual student projects. But, that does not mean that Programmatic research is the only option.

A Case For Individual Studies

Programmatic research works really well in most cases, however sometimes the individual components of the program are so disparate that, on the face of it, it does not look like a coherent program. Rather, it is a pool of individual studies on a related topic. This is, for myself, what typically happens. I have a pool of studies that, at first, seem unrelated. However, they are all acting as foundational studies for bigger research questions that will lead to programmatic research in the future. There is nothing wrong with dabbling in many areas of research, particularly if to develop your expertise in those areas. For example, I want to move into stress in minors, however there are so many unanswered questions that I need answers to before I can begin to ask the questions I really want to ask. I could label them “Chris’ mix of stress phenomenology studies in children and their parents” but it is not a program of research in the typical sense.

Closing Up

Long story short – my view is that programmatic research is definitely the goal and where we should all be headed, but that does not mean that we are all there, or that we should force programs of research prior to our fields being ready for them.

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