Prof. Vinay Kumar Chaganti

My short profile is typically always work-in-progress! Although it doesn’t render itself as a researchable entity, any attempt at writing my profile seems to risk exposing a part of who I am for judgment, if not scrutiny of the society, especially of its intelligentsia. I will, however, attempt the exercise here again, and take up the gauging of consequences as a separate exercise.

On the professional side of life, I currently describe myself as a seasoned professional with a wide range of experience in managing small and medium-scale operations,  projects at an enterprise level in roles involving significant client interfacing, providing insightful research and analytics for business-critical decisions, execution support, and life cycle documentation.

In earlier phases of life, and even now to a large extent, the professional interests are tightly held in a state of flux between industry and academia, with tides of varied research interests consuming me, and then shores of technology and businesses seducing me.

Purely from a research perspective, I am your methods guy. I specialize in the design of experiments, qualitative and quantitative methods and their applications in different fields of research. I admire all philosophers but I am particularly inspired by works of Socrates, Immanuel Kant, and Michel Foucault.

Question: You have got varied experience in entrepreneurship, consulting, research, admin and many more. How do you handle so many roles? 

Answer: Most of my career choices were driven by the phase of life I was going through. Early in my career, I had opportunity to involve in high-impact projects at a large MNC. That instilled a belief that perhaps I can take on business opportunities on my own, and I ventured into setting up my own company. When realization dawned upon me, I reflected and decided to pursue my childhood goal of becoming someone like Socrates, which I believed was possible through PhD. After joining PhD, I would say my life was on auto pilot, perhaps with some divine intervention, I kept taking opportunities coming my way. I was fortunate to have teachers who trusted me, guided me, and allowed me to explore my own potential. Significant acquaintances during PhD tenure, opportunities to engage in international research projects, exposure to world-class research that my own supervisor was involved in, and consulting opportunities that my professors encouraged me to take up were all building up the environment around me. Most importantly, the first few words of my supervisor still ring bells in my ears – “if the work you are proposing is not practical and if it is not socially relevant, then I suggest you apply for a change of guide”, but how could I do that when I knew here was the best person to shape me up.

Over time, without delving into details, I can say I had adequate opportunities to test my skill sets, be selective about fields of my operation, and refine my capacities. Managing multiple roles between industry, research, teaching and consultancy is now by choice. And I have come to believe that if I don’t do any one of them, I may not stay relevant to the times we are living in. But I must caution here. Seldom was my profile looked at so positively for the diversity and breadth of experience! I am glad there were some gentle beings who talked to me first before passing their judgment such as “lack of focus”.

Question: How have been the experience so far in guiding and mentoring the research students? Share any interesting experience of learning.

Answer: This is an interesting question! The question emphasizes guiding and mentoring as essential activities binding the supervisor and researcher. My beliefs may be tangential in this aspect. I have had great fun working with researchers who were better than me, and some researchers where I had my two cents to offer.

This again is a result of several lessons received from teachers. An idea that was put into me at a very early stage by a teacher I like to mimic was, “if you are not in a team, it is not called research. It is arm-chair theorizing”. This teacher went on to suggest that he will not even review my paper until I found a co-author who can contest my ideas. His inputs were valuable to me.

Then another pearl of wisdom I received was that “there is nothing called perfect research; sometimes you publish because the journal wants you, and sometimes you work harder because you want the journal”. This wisdom came at a time when I had nine different people who reviewed my first manuscript, and I could not satisfy them all. I still have not published that paper.

My biggest lesson on identifying research opportunities came through my post-doctoral supervisor who had a knack of forming teams with creative goals. He would find infinite ways of marrying two distinct research topics into a beautiful third one with a more amplified practical outcome.

Most recently, I was happy to add my two cents I learnt from these lessons to another colleague, a Fulbright scholar, on her research. She sounds happy and content; and is aspiring to do more work. When she continues, I know I will find some inspiration in carrying on the good work.

However, I must admit that all is not rosy. I have come across colleagues whose only intention was to get a p-value dredged out of the data. Irrespective of how much I would explain about the futility of such an exercise, some scholars seem intent only upon proving or disproving, allegedly, their theories. Such experiences make my feelings about field of research hollow on occasions. But I have my teachers, and fortunately some very committed colleagues, to fallback on to draw energies.

Question: As you are a reviewer for three journals, which 3 most important points you take care while reviewing a research paper?

Answer: As a reviewer, first thing I always look for is clarity in the abstract. The less adjectives there are, the more work I imagine would have gone into the paper.

The second thing I would look at is the dates in citations. This would give me a fair idea about the coverage of times through which the theories propounded in the paper would have been discussed. I found it an extremely useful exercise, to satiate my own curiosity, to find out how proximate or farther the topic under discussion was to the current times. More often, I would have pointed out to the authors that they must either bring a historical perspective on the paper or must update the paper to suit to current times.

The third thing I look for is protocols followed for data collection, not the statistical methods. Most sophisticated analysis on bad data still leads to nonsensical results. So, I try to look carefully for the description on the circumstances in which data is gathered, the sources and their reliability, and methods used to validate the data. Most unfortunately, most papers are completely silent on this aspect. Farthest that papers seem to go is to mention “random sample” or “random stratified sample” which, even as a statistician, makes no meaning to me.

Beyond these, I would appreciate good grammar, story-like flow, and not inclining towards making lofty claims, either on their own work, or what historical works had not done.

I absolutely despise papers that say “previous research had not focused on…” simply because they have no clue why the previous works ignored certain variables. Way too often, papers or even theses that begin with that kind of gap identification seem to land into trouble finding their p-value. And then they find ways of manufacturing one, and so goes the vicious cycle!

Question: You have written a very interesting book titled: It’s all about how we talk. What is this book all about? How do we use the learnings in our daily life?

Answer: The book is an outcome of my doctoral thesis. The broad idea was that our jobs, what we do in our jobs, can greatly influence how we generally talk to people; people who are not just our colleagues, but also family, friends and other social circles. To be precise, I tested the hypotheses that our communication is style is governed by our jobs. My first challenge was to define a communication style or just-style in general. This exercise took the most part of my doctoral work tenure. Obviously, style is not slang, not accent, not just mannerisms, not frequency, not pitch, not rooted in culture. Even more surely, style is not attitude! So, how do you define style? I will leave you to figure out how you may do that and be convinced that you are indeed defining style and style alone, but not shades of stuff that I mentioned here.

There had to be a strong justification for why I was intent on studying style. So, I dug into troves of publications over the past century and classified evidence into psychological, sociological, and evolutionary pieces of evidence. Bibliographical support was presented and was backed up further by evidence that only modern technology could produce, N-grams, indicating the frequency of use of words. This is the part that I would love to look back upon because it gave me the opportunity to reflect about the futility of trying to come up with a new theory! The experience of meeting a dead-end at every turn!

But once I could get a hold on the concept of style, I explored the types of methods that I can employ to study my hypotheses. Statistical methods are ruled out, but necessary for the degree. Narrative methods are wonderful but tedious. Lexical methods were the most appropriate, already in vogue by Scandinavians, a community that again, obviously, values social well-being more than other countries. For practical reasons, I concocted a method that was acceptable to key stakeholders involved in the evaluation of my thesis.

Then came the interesting part of figuring out who would I study! To see if stylistic differences exist, it might help to approach people who are in jobs that are radically different. But who would really have organized by jobs by how different they were? And what do I mean when I simply say that they should be different? Because most jobs can be bucketed into being similar on some parameters! I had to make the journey forward and backward before I could settle on a list of jobs that I would target.

Once the background, justification, methods, and participants are established, you would know what could have happened. Grinding work, and a few years later, I have received my doctoral degree. The thesis had 60% of the pages which had stuff only academics can brag they will understand. I decided I will make modifications to it to render it more readable and publish.

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