A year of discoveries

A year of discoveries

PhD student Sashi Athota’s year of study has been full of discoveries. In this blog he talks about the research methods that have formed the basis of his investigations into the fairness of tax systems. myView asked Sashi about his methods and how his research is coming along.

Sashi Athota taking a break from his studies during a holiday in Jordan.

MyView: How has the year been for you as a PhD student?

Sashi: So far, my research journey has been fast-paced, stimulating, and fulfilling. There’s a satisfaction that comes from the discovery of knowledge, and through that, discovery of your inner self—those ‘aha!’ moments—that make you feel like you have found your calling. I’ve always believed in learning from diverse sources, such as books, travel, and even movies, but I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did from the two research methodology courses I took earlier this year.

MyView: What do you need to be able to take on a big research project?

Sashi: An important part of University research course work is learning about both qualitative and quantitative research methods. Quantitative methods deal with objective measurements of the real world and promote statistical analyses of the data collected.  The quantitative methodology course I took this year really stimulated my interest in statistics, which was unexpected given that a previous dalliance with stats was uninspiring. Another skill I learnt during this course was how to critically review articles, which is also useful outside of academia. Being able to critically review biased news media helps us create better-informed opinions about happenings around us and in the world. In my research, this skill helped me critically review articles and reports about behaviours of taxpayers and tax authorities in the context of tax administration.

MyView: So, what’s your PhD about exactly?

Sashi: My PhD research is all about tax—specifically, the impact of the behaviours of taxpayers and tax authorities during tax litigation on the effectiveness, efficiency, and fairness of the tax system. Quantitative methods will help me conduct and analyse a survey of the views of hundreds of taxpayers.

Sashi contributing to a discussion at a seminar hosted by the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

MyView: What about qualitative research – why is that important for students to learn about too?

Sashi: Qualitative research methods deal with unstructured data such as document review, observations in the field, interviews, and detailed questionnaires. I found that the qualitative methodology course I took earlier this year stimulated thinking and my reflections about some of the course readings became a part of my PhD research proposal. My research uses qualitative methods to review case law (i.e., document review) and interview tax authorities and taxpayers.

A word cloud that Sashi uses to bring together some aspects of good research.

MyView: Do you have a personal philosophy that helps you in your approach to study?

Sashi: I’d say I try to take a pragmatic approach to my research. Pragmatic researchers prioritise the research question/problem and use different methods to arrive at an answer/solution— i.e., their loyalty is to the research and not to either the qualitative or quantitative ideology. Imagine taking this approach in life to decide each issue or situation according to its own merit without being influenced by one or more ideologies. Pragmatism helped me overcome the qualitative versus quantitative research methodology divide and gave me comfort in adopting both qualitative and quantitative methods in my research design.

MyView: What advice do you have for people embarking on academic research journeys?

Sashi: If you are curious and question everything, explore research both academically and professionally, but do so with an open mind and commit to research only when you confirm your passion for it. My experiences learning about critical thinking and research have helped rekindle my love for reading and brought to the fore research and writing as a potential calling.  But you also need breaks from research every now and then. When I am not researching for my PhD, I write prose and poetry, attend seminars and workshops such as those offered by the Wellington International Leadership Programme or Wellington Plus, go for long runs, watch movies, travel, or listen to music (sometimes, even while working on research projects).

Sashi Athota has graduate degrees in engineering, law, and business, and is pursuing a PhD in taxation.

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