WAYWARD AND FANCIFUL: The Role of Research in Higher Education

(Excerpt from plenary address given by the author at the 1st Graduate Research and Innovation Conference of the Ateneo de Davao School of Arts and Sciences held on 04 March 2017.)

I am employed as a higher education instructor in the social sciences, but I really am a community researcher at heart. And maybe that is just as well as the National Higher Education Research Agenda – 2 (2009-2018) opens with this assumption: Research, as a major function in higher education, sets higher education apart from basic education.

I can’t therefore in conscience stay in the classroom and just parrot what the textbooks say chapter by chapter. I need to know how these textbook pronouncements hold on the matter of human behavior in our place and time.

One cannot be a good teacher without a demonstration of this curiosity to interrogate what one teaches and the burning desire to apply one’s expertise at making the world a bit more orderly and bearable for those who are suffering. For, after all, isn’t that what the social sciences are all about? We are to apply them to provide solutions to social problems.

We should thus test what we teach through research that informs how to proceed with our community work. And again we bring our new knowledge for the appraisal of our jury of peers and then into our antiseptic classrooms to bridge our students’ understanding of the world as they know it with the social realities that await outside.

My biggest nightmare is that one of my former students would someday reproach me to say: “You did not teach me this about the world I would find out there.” And that he would be right.

Today, I focus most of the research work that I do at understanding community security in conflict-affected areas and trying to make out which sectors to target for sociotherapeutic interventions, psychoeducation, or policy advocacy to harmonize efforts at working for peace in Mindanao. I present my findings to a diverse audience – the security sector, academic conferences, peace researchers, students of psychology, and the bigger community of practicing psychologists.

I also keep publishing in journals, in conference proceedings, and in books. I am heartened to note that these findings impact in particular on security sector reforms especially in adjustments to the conduct of ground operations, civilian oversight on campaign plan implementation, and expanding the dialogue space for multi-stakeholder engagement for enhanced community security.

Through all this, I remain inspired by what Dr. Macario Tiu counseled just as I was starting out. He said, “Today, it doesn’t matter where you are or what language you speak. If you have something important to say, people whose opinion matter will make the effort to hear you.”

There were many other things that Mac said that I had taken to heart. He said, “Find a niche.” Find a topic of interest that is so crucial to social order as we know it and get to understand it so well that every time the subject turns up, those who know well enough will know well enough to turn to you for answers.

I pray you too will find your niche. Begin by being a good graduate student: Treat each course you take as a research course. Be curious about the course content. Don’t be resistant or tentative about wanting to know for yourself. Be conscientious with your methods of inquiry. Constantly check your lens if it’s giving you an accurate picture. Don’t take shortcuts in the search for the truth. And when you find it, find a way to let it light the way for others.

You know, they never asked me to deliver the valedictory speech when I graduated. Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to do so today. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan’s column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches at the Department of Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University You may send comments to gail.ilagan@gmail.com. “Send at the risk of a reply,” she says.)