Today Maxim Mozgovoy, from the University of Joensuu, defended his dissertation titled “Enhancing Computer-Aided Plagiarism Detection” against his opponent Prof. Kinshuk, from Athabasca University. After responding to 18 slides-worth of pointed and well-thought through questions, Maxim had a look of relief on his face as Prof. Kinshuk announced that he would recommend Maxim and his dissertation work worthy of the position of a doctorate.
The floor was then opened for questions from the audience, and as is typical in Finland no questions were asked. Had it been part of Finnish etiquette for people to ask questions and had I known more about the computer science discipline, here is what I would have asked:
“Your opponent questioned how you would distinguish your work as research instead of simply as software development, and I have three related questions to this. Your research questions on page 9 can be answered a hundred different ways. It is typical in most fields to document your particular approach to solving the problems/answering the questions, making explicit some of the strengths, limitations, and assumptions and some justification regarding the framework you chose for as the way that you wanted to go about answering those questions. (1) Did you have a framework (sometimes called a methodology) for answering your research questions? (2) If so, what was it? (3) If so, why did you not write a section about it in any of your papers or in the dissertation as a whole?”
Afterward I talked with Erkki and Kinshuk about this, and they indicated that it is much less likely for those in computer science (specifically when dealing with algorithm development) or mathematics to have such a section. Although it is more typical to have a methodology section in hypothesis-based research, I still wonder if it would be good in any dissertation to at least make some effort to understand and explicitly state what assumptions (along with their underlying strengths and weaknesses) went into the approach chosen for the research.