Just before Christmas I received copies of the examiners’ reports on my thesis. I am not able to know the names of the examiners until the whole degree process is over but I assume that all three were chosen for their expertise in ageing.

I find it difficult to accept that three people with what should be parallel backgrounds can have such different views. One gave positive ticks in all the boxes, one gave all negative ticks and the third is all over the place. This was particularly intriguing in terms of whether each examiner regarded my research as new knowledge or not. One said it was, the other two said it was not although the one who was all over the place seemed to think that if I did some more study it would be! Considering that I am supporting my arguments using the fairly recently accepted brain plasticity research, which to my knowledge no-one else in the field of later stage of life research has applied in this area, I find it difficult to accept that it is not new work. In addition, if it is not new work and other people are already following this line I would assume I would be aware of it through the very many conferences I attend, both in Australia and overseas.

I know that there is some unease about increasing the number of undergraduates exponentially as we seem to be doing, without lowering standards. This concern then extends to higher degrees, particularly with doctorates. At my first conference for researcher students in ageing five years ago I was concerned that so many students, many of them in the field of physiotherapy, were researching very trivial issues. In their case the incentive was that they could then call themselves ‘Doctor’ when setting up their physiotherapy clinics and people would assume that they were medical doctors.

This mass production of higher education needs to be monitored to make sure that ‘easy’ topics don’t replace genuine research in much-needed areas. If we look at the world today we do not seem to be producing research in the right fields nor  are we applying it as we should. Any newspaper any day is likely to portray at least parts of  the world in a state of chaos, either nature produced or man-made, and we seem to have no solution for either. The collapse of the banking sector led some people to realise that our so-called democracies are actually controlled by dictatorship banks. Queensland, which has been suffering for years from drought is now inundated with water which has to be left to flow distructively away. Will this be replaced by another drought which again we don’t know the cause of, nor can we prevent it.

Meanwhile I am left to grapple with an academic problem nearer home. If one examiner objects to part of my thesis and the other two don’t is it a problem? How do I address such differing responses? The one who failed me makes comments that have already been refuted in the text, suggesting that he read it in a hurry. The one who ticked all the boxes is very keen for me to publish several parts of my research which I intend to do but not initially in the academic press which is what I think he has in mind. Ageing, and the effects of it, are an everyday problem for an increasing number of older people. This is where most research should be taking us, to practical use in the community. A few years ago a researcher in Sydney did research on solar panels but could get no financial support here. He found a very different story in China which seems to be well ahead of other economies in its use of natural energy and welcomed him with open arms.

Research should be largely based on the natural, and man-made, problems around us, recognised as such and assessed as such. Then we will have a better world, including for the homeless and starving. Then our scholarship and research will have its rightful place in society.

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