2020 Honours Thesis Reflections

By | September 22, 2021

During 2020 I completed my Honours Thesis and was lucky enough to receive a scholarship from the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority. While I did achieve the coveted ‘First Class’ grade, my research was by no means perfect. Now that the psychological trauma of year is behind me, I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect on my rookie errors.

Reflection 1: Research question must be forefront and explicit!

“The broader question is really well explained but the actual research question is less clear… A more focused approach would have helped”

Reviewer 2

Straight off the bat, I didn’t explicitly specify my research questions until page 17, instead, I spent the first 16 pages motivating the broad research area through reviewing the evolution and taxonomy of global retirement systems and retiree choice… boring!

Why did I do this?

  • Incentives. We were heavily graded on our ‘research motivation’ and ability to ‘communicate specialist research to non-specialist audiences’. I took this to mean that every facet of the research area needed to be motivated and explained – in detail – before the research question could be addressed.
  • I thought the ‘Thesis’ format warranted a lengthy introduction to the topic.
  • I lacked research experience.

Reflection 2: Transparency is critical for transparency’s sake.

“Very well done. The sample, variables, and method are appropriate to investigate the research question. There are areas where the data is limiting but this is identified and discussed”

Reviewer 1

I think I did quite well with the quantitative aspect of the research. I’ll admit that some models could be better specified, but on a whole, I tried to be transparent with the results and shortcomings of the models.

Why did I do this?

  • I misguidedly hoped that my research would have some kind of impact or be taken seriously, so I tried to be as honest as possible. This likely prevented me from engaging in dubious p-hacking to which I would have otherwise periled.
  • My supervisor, Paul Gerrans, was always supportive of my work and far more interested in modelling something unbiasedly than finding ‘results’.
  • I have always preferred quantitative work to qualitative work.

Reflection 2: Quality over quantity. One topic done well is better than two done mediocrely.

“Some very good passages and interpretations for H1… The discussion of the other hypotheses feels more hurried”

Reviewer 2

I put too much on my plate and barely managed to complete it… the Honours course is only 9 months… with lots of coursework! If fact, to submit on time, I had to scrap multiple sections! If it wasn’t for the deadline extensions granted due to the pandemic, I likely would have failed.

Why did I do this?

  • I was stupidly ambitious.
  • My ambition was exacerbated by the burgeoning opportunity within the research area as well as my unique data (i.e. I had unique data that could be used to answer lots of questions so I tried to answer lots of questions).
  • Pressure, I had received a prestigious scholarship so I wanted to do as much as I could.

Reflection 4: Reviewing more literature does not mean a better literature review.

I needed to be more precise with the literature review. There wasn’t a need to explain the underlying mechanics of the entirety of the retirement and financial decision making literature all the way back to Simon H.A in 1955! Although fantastic for my own learning, this likely confused and bored the reviewer… I even found myself skipping paragraphs when I re-read it.

Why did I do this?

  • I thought I was being thorough and wanted to show that I had done more research rather than less.
  • After spending months writing the literature review I struggled with the idea of scrapping parts of it (funny that after reviewing prospect theory that I was still subject to its effects).

Reflection 5: Research as a tool for impact.

After completing the Thesis my supervisor asked if I would like to publish some of the research. Opportunistically I said yes. Today – several months later – I have not gotten around to doing the actual work.

Why did I do this?

  • While I enjoy research, I found the events of my Thesis year quite traumatic. Also, the number of academic hoops that must be jumped through to get something published seems ridiculous. So, until now, I have done everything in my power to avoid revisiting my Thesis.
  • After completing my Thesis and presenting it to the Reserve Bank of Australia and Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority, I had a crisis of confidence in research as a tool for impact. My presentation felt more like a novelty – a pat on the back for the scholarship – then a serious discussion of the research. Further reducing my confidence in research, was that I witnessed the publication and political dismissal of a 600 page review of Australia’s retirement system and research. Which led me to the question, what is the point in superannuation research if there is minimal political will to enact improvements?