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Phil had reached the discussion chapter of his thesis, and we were talking about how he might shape it. The aim of his PhD project was to determine whether agricultural forestry could make a worthwhile contribution to the rehabilitation of degraded tropical uplands. He had spent a year on field research in Sri Lanka and, in the end, carried out two major research programs: a comparative study of existing land uses, and an economic analysis of a particular agroforestry system sponsored by a German aid agency. He had written chapters of his thesis describing the results of these studies, as well as the appropriate background chapters, but now found himself in trouble trying to pull it all together. Luckily, he had followed some earlier advice to keep his introduction and conclusion in alignment. I asked him whether he knew what the overall conclusions of his research project were. ‘More or less’, he replied. ‘Enough to write them all down?’ He hesitated, but ‘yes’ was the eventual answer.
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Randall was another example of a kind of research personality I mentioned earlier, with a reluctance to bring work to that final point where it could be refereed or examined; to complete something. In some students this is a striving for an unnecessary perfection or completeness—for example, a perception that because the work has opened up new questions then it is unfinished .
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