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Maximizing Methods Courses
February 10, 2014 - 8:33pm

Introducing Guest Post Tuesdays! GradHacker has received so many quality guest posts recently, that we've decided to expand our publishing schedule. Each month, we will now publish a few bonus guest posts as part of our "Guest Post Tuesdays" program. If you're a graduate student and would like to write for us, you can find more information here.

Our first featured guest author is Lindsey B. Jakiel who is a PhD candidate at the University of New Orleans in Educational Administration. She holds an EdM in Higher Education Administration from the University at Buffalo and you can follow her on Twitter @LindseyJKL.

Picture of quote by Albert Einstein: "If we knew what were doing, it wouldn't be called Research."

Some graduate students are already married to a methodological tradition when they begin their graduate studies, others are not. If you can keep an open mind as your approach your methods courses, you might be able to carve out some space for yourself as a mixed-methods researcher or, at the very least, as a scholar with facility in both the quantitative and qualitative traditions. I am now positioning myself as someone with expertise in both traditions, but I was most certainly married to quantitative methods when I began my Ph.D. program.

I was dragged kicking and screaming to qualitative research. When I began my doctoral studies, I was convinced that I would be a quantitative researcher. I was obsessed with hierarchical linear modeling and other, as I called them, “fancy statistics.” I once stalked strategically planned to introduce myself to a well-known educational statistician at an Association for Institutional Research annual forum. Fast-forward 2 years of coursework and several methods classes later, and I found myself working on a qualitative multiple-case study dissertation proposal.

So, what happened in those 2 years to cause this seismic shift?

Well, in brief, a lot. I decided that I was more enamored of my Latina/o Critical Race Theory theoretical framework for my dissertation than I was of being a quantitative researcher. Although I had a fondness for quantitative methods, I wanted to ask qualitative questions, and I became interested in qualitative answers to those questions—the nuances and ambiguity that I was so repelled by initially. I evolved as a researcher and as a scholar. I stopped rejecting qualitative research, and I realized there is both good and bad research from every methodological tradition. There is good qualitative/bad qualitative, good quantitative/bad quantitative, and good mixed-methods/bad mixed-methods. I decided that I wanted to be able to determine for myself what made for good research in all of these approaches.

Both approaches do not a mixed-methods researcher make.

I chose to take both of our methods sequences—quantitative and qualitative methods. I did this in lieu of taking extra electives that I didn’t need. (My Master’s is in the same field, so I transferred in a majority of my needed electives). If presented with the opportunity to complete both methods sequences, this may be a better option for graduate students rather than choosing courses to simply maintain your program’s credit hour requirement each term.

My program does not offer a course on mixed-methods, but I was able to attend some pre-conference workshops at conferences like the National Conference for Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education to learn more about the up-and-coming area of mixed-methods research. Most graduate students (myself included) will not use mixed-methods in their theses or dissertations, but intentionally learning multiple methodological traditions, as well as how to mix-methods,  may be useful as we enter the academic or non-academic job markets.

Lessons learned.

As an advanced doctoral student, every time I conduct a literature review for a manuscript, begin developing a conference presentation, or embark upon a new research project, I find more and more articles that use mixed-methods approaches or that are published in mixed-methods journals. There is an interdisciplinary journal of mixed-methods research that has been in publication since 2007. I am in an applied field where we as researchers are asked to plant ourselves in another disciplinary tradition. A common quip is “education is not a discipline, it is a field of study; go plant your feet in a discipline.” In my case, I am planted firmly in sociology, which may explain my predilection for mixed-methods research.

However, there is an increasing acceptance of and a demand for interdisciplinary research. I suspect that we are coming up upon the time where broader and more fluid definitions of methodological traditions will not only also be acceptable in many fields, but will be called for. If you have the option as a graduate student, an efficient use of your elective courses may be to take additional methods classes or specific mixed-methods courses, if they are available to you. Three years ago, I never thought I would be extolling the values of qualitative or mixed-methods research. While my interest in and affinity for quantitative methods has not dissipated completely, I have evolved to a place where I am more comfortable with both/and when it comes to research than I am with either/or.

Weigh in on mixed methods and graduate studies electives: what are your thoughts on the most effective use of graduate-level elective courses?

[Image by Flickr user astronomyblog used under creative commons licensing.]

 

 

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