Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Determinants of Graduate Research Productivity in Doctoral of Programs of Public Administration

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

Determinants of Graduate Research Productivity in Doctoral of Programs of Public Administration

Article excerpt

More than forty years ago, Frederick C. Mosher (1956) complained that scholars of public administration were not doing enough to advance knowledge in the field. He maintained that too little research had been performed, the stimulus for research effort was inadequate, and research output was not meeting the needs of society. To Mosher, the problem was more than academic (pun intended). He felt that research was the first step in improved practice, and that the real tragedy of poor research performance was the human suffering that could be alleviated if public administrators were provided with better knowledge (see Mosher, 1975, esp. 3-7).

Mosher argued that the close relationship between scholarship and practice was a strength of public administration, and he encouraged scholars and practitioners to work together to solve the "research problem" (Mosher, 1956, 178). Furthermore, he recognized that the American Society for Public Administration (ASPA) was one of the few professional societies in any field with close connections to scholarship and practice, and he urged ASPA to assert a leadership role and make the advancement of knowledge one of its primary objectives.

As a result, the Public Administration Review (PAR) began providing a forum for the debate over research, and this forum has been sustained by lively commentary for more than forty years.

Unfortunately, the research problem has not been resolved. Knowledge production by public administration scholars continues to be criticized as insufficient to meet the field's needs.(1) Several critics have laid much of the blame on doctoral education. Yet no published study has examined the determinants of graduate research productivity empirically; and, consequently, doctoral programs do not have empirically-validated information on how to produce better research scholars.

Earlier we examined how doctoral programs are shaped, particularly on the dimensions that experts speculate should matter most for the quality and distinctiveness of doctoral education in the field. We found considerable variation, and some surprises (Brewer et al., 1998). Now we move beyond description to explanation-in particular, explanation of the variation in graduate research productivity across doctoral programs.

The purpose of this study is to examine doctoral programs in public administration and public affairs and identify the program characteristics that are important in developing productive research scholars. The article begins by reviewing the literature critical of research in the field. Next, a model for improving doctoral program performance is developed and tested. The characteristics of doctoral programs that contribute to developing productive graduates are then presented. Finally, the implications and limitations of this research are discussed.

Criticisms of Scholarship in Public Administration

Over the past fifteen years, scholars have sought to assess the quantity and quality of research in the field of public administration by examining dissertations written by public administration students and articles published in public administration and related journals. The results have been most discouraging.

The first study by Howard E. McCurdy and Robert Cleary (1984) examined the quality of dissertations written in the field in 1981. The authors found that most dissertations were of low quality, and they concluded that doctoral programs were largely to blame for not providing students with the knowledge and skills necessary to complete quality research.

Next, Jay D. White (1986) surveyed dissertation abstracts from 1980 and 1981. He, too, found that dissertation quality was low, and that most dissertation research was not being published in leading journals. White (1986, 231) also placed much of the blame on doctoral programs. He said the dissertation experience should prepare students for research and publication, and that dissertation committees need to work harder to ensure that their students' topics and methods prepare them for research and publication. …

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