Category: PhD Problem StatementWhich research approach to choose for ethnobotanical study?

I am in my second year of Ph. D. My research field revolves around the study of medicinal properties of certain plants. My first year was dedicated to grasping the basics of preparation of the extracts and assessing their secondary metabolites. Now as I’m in my second year, I need to choose the plant I would do my research on, and also decide the specific medicinal properties I would be looking for? The existing data on medicinal plants is huge and I am totally confused as to decide where to begin, which plant family to start from and what therapeutic properties to involve in my research aim? Mu guide is pestering me to submit a basic blueprint atleast about what roadmap I have decided upon.  
My dilemma arises on the matter regarding which plant to choose as the topic of my study? Should I go for a plant that has been researched extensively as there will be literature, which I can refer or should i should i go for a novel or a less explored plant, on which although research can be done but there is no existing literature to begin with. My guide is adamant on using a novel plant, though, I am a bit skeptic. What if after analysis, no significant activity is found in the plant species? What if turns out to be a dead end? All the efforts will go down the train. On the other hand if I go for an already researched plant, there won’t be much to explore. I am thoroughly perplexed on this matter as to which path to choose as it will determine my whole thesis and subsequent post doc research. Some guidance will be highly appreciated.

asked on 23 Jan 18Lalit Mudra Lalit Mudra
2 Answers
answered on 25 Jan 18

I think you should take the road that’s less traveled and as your guide suggested, go for a novel plant. Why? Because even if after analysis u come to a conclusion that the plant doesn’t show significant medicinal properties, at least you did find something new about the plant that wasn’t known before and can easily defend it. The findings at the end of PhD is not necessarily always positive. On the other hand, if you go for something thats already been researched on,though you’ll find a lot of existing literature on it, yet at the end you wouldn’t have arrived at anything of importance and might feel disappointed at the end.
I agree that if you go for a less explored option, the process would be filled with challenges and you will face some difficulties in finding literature, but on a positive note you can at least start by studying the family to which the plant belongs and look into other medicinal plants that have similar therapeutic properties to the one that you eventually select to study. It is quite understood that if a scholar does his research on a new and unique idea, then it would be impossible to present existing literature on it. So you don’t have to worry a lot on this and should go ahead with a novel plant. And I am pretty sure that if your guide is pitching in for you to select a new plant for the study, then he will definitely support you at the later stages as well. All the best with your work!

Lisa Hedgewell Lisa Hedgewell
answered on 25 Jan 18

I will suggest you to look up some lesser known plants that have been mentioned in ancient medicine systems all around the world (Ayurveda, Korean medicine, Japanese traditional medicine system etc) and see whether research has been done on them and if yes, then, to what extent. Blindly choosing any plant can do harm also, by simply lengthening your research. Also, you might not have enough data to build a proper research methodology revolving around it. Also, you might like to go for such a plant which is known for its medicinal properties and explore the plant for different medicinal properties (different than those properties for which it was previously known). Beneficial plants usually have a multitude of medicinal properties attached to them. Good luck!

Yashti Iyer Yashti Iyer

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