Thursday, August 9, 2007

SRT (Student Research Training) and My Years at Graduate School

The following short essay is a summary of my research experience when I was an undergraduate student at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China.

My first two years at UESTC was smooth and uneventful. I've already got used to ordinary coursework and student activities which, by the way, seemed exciting and sometimes challenging. Well enough and no regrets? Not really. Since the beginning of my sophomore year, I became extremely interested in my major discipline which was claimed by critics as dismal science but later widely regarded as the crown of the social science. Economics has revealed some basic laws and principles that governed individual and collective behavior, and its causes and consequences. That is to say, economic laws and theories must have strong explanatory power and predictive power toward social and economic phenomena, which in turn can be used properly in order to achieve some desired outcome. Unfortunately, we could not be educated systematically because of the valuable but scarce teaching resources and the high substitutability between teaching and research tasks of most professors. Then I asked myself, why couldn't I adopt the process of “learning by doing”? Well, it sounded plausible but a new question arose, “How?”

In my junior year, opportunity finally came by. Our management school and economics department sponsored a brand new program, namely Student Research Training (SRT hereafter) program which was targeted exclusively for (sophomore and junior) undergraduate students in order to get them prepared for specialized and deep and independent research. I was fortunately advised by our dean, professor Zeng Yong, on the subject of venture capital contracts. Since then, my research interest was shaped. The fundamental theory of why firms exist and what factor characterizes and determines the boundary and the internal organization of the firm became my central concern. One strand of literature, i.e., the framework of incomplete contract attracted me most. Not only because it has incorporated so many insightful ideas from neoclassical theory, principal-agent model, transaction cost economics, and the nexus of contracts approach into its own framework, but also because it has explained the fundamental question in an integrated and coherent manner and at the same time it could be used to explain a bunch of phenomena within and between organizational boundaries. The debate is still going on, and the foundations of incomplete contract and its extensions are now at the very frontier of modern economic theory.

I might not get so obsessed with this fundamental theoretical question if I hadn't engaged in SRT program and at the same time under the supervision of professor Zeng. More broadly, I might not get accustomed to my study and research methodologies in graduate school so fast if I hadn't participated in SRT program so early.

An early start often means a first mover advantage, particularly in an academic context. With the aid of the process of “learning by doing”, this effect could be strengthened. The study of two-tier principal-agent relationships and its governance mechanisms in venture capital industry also shed light on other contractual relationships as well, such as Strategic Alliances, International Joint Ventures (IJVs), Outsourcing and Offshoring contracts and the like. The study of incomplete contract can also be applied to activities inside an organization. My term paper on technological innovation is also indebted a lot to this framework in that residual control rights do matter in motivating parties to invest in innovative activities, as the theory has long argued.

One year of SRT program was fruitful. Not only did I learn a lot on theories and thier applications, but also on research ethics and methodologies. How to conduct an independent research? What rules should you follow? What specific methods could you employ in proceeding according to your intention? How to organize your materials so that the main theme is proposed adequately and logically? I think I've already found some answers to these crucial questions, at least preliminarily.

Undoubtedly, my own research will continue. From my personal Econ-Biz Blog, I excerpt the following paragraph, “I believe that in the process of pursuing the beautiful truth of nature and mankind, everyone could make a contribution, and in order to achieve that goal, you need vision, passion and devotion.” Thanks to SRT program and the school of management at UESTC, I can enrich my knowledge reservoir so that my dream would become closer. I am largely indebted to professor Zeng for his generous help and illuminant guidance. On behalf of all previous and current SRTers, I am also grateful to the faculty members and staffs for their excellent work. It is them that make all this happen.

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