Research Method & Methodology Revisited

Editor’s note – An important aspect of learning in Higher Education is undertaking research. Research methods and methodology are terms students often come across, many HE institutions run ‘Research Methods’ modules but what do these terms mean? In this article, Dr Nadia Anwar discusses both terms and tackles their use when preparing students for research. Enjoy – AA.

Most of the books on research prefer the titles ending or highlighting the words ‘method’ or ‘methodology’ such as, ‘Introduction to research methods’ or ‘Research methodology’, ‘A primer to research methods’, ‘A handbook of research methodology’, ‘An overview of research methods’, ‘Research methods in social sciences’, ‘Current methodologies in life sciences’, ‘A guide to methodology’ to name a few. Please note this is a general list of prevalent and popular book titles gleaned from hundreds of available books and in no way targets any specific writer or book. These are indeed very helpful resources, carefully designed to assist the readers initiate their research journey with a solid footing and base. Some even taking the responsibility to prepare the researchers in advanced level research.

However, through experience I have observed that because of the variety of uses and meanings given to research methods and methodologies, they also generate a very disturbing problem for the researchers (especially from social sciences and humanities disciplines) whose acquaintance to research jargon is still at its primary stage. This article, specifically, is going to look into the chaotic nature of labels given to research procedures which in turn, create multiplicity of interpretations and confuse students and researchers. Moreover, it will also try to challenge the mismatch between the titles of the books and their contents. In other words, the targeted question is whether research method and research methodology can work both for the specific role they play in the overall research and used to encompass the whole research procedure at the same time?

Let us start with the etymological understanding of the problem words. From Latin ‘methodus’ and Greek ‘méthodos’, the lexeme ‘method’ refers to the ‘systematic course’, equivalent to Greek ‘hodós’ meaning road or journey. Naturally, the meaning evolved to reflect the procedural dynamics of conducting a research. In academia, method, which is sometimes replaced with mode, takes into account the way something comes about or happens. For many critics and analysts such as Griffin (2013), Dawson (2002), and Kothari (1990) to name a few, methods are the tools or techniques used to collect data or conduct a research. In other words it is the operationalizing of research. For a researcher, it turns out to be the most appropriate and logical procedure that suits his/her research.

As analytical tools research methods can be used to collect data (observations, interviews, questionnaires, opinionnaires, surveys, case studies etc.), establishing relationships between variables through statistical tools (standard Deviation, Correlation, T-Test etc.) or checking the accuracy of the results. They may, at the level of structure, guide the researcher step by step to walk on the tightrope of analysis. For example, methods such as content analysis, discourse analysis, thematic analysis, textual analysis, visual analysis, narrative inquiry, close reading, ethnographic etc. prove very useful for the researchers from social sciences and humanities.

Conflation of ‘method’ and ‘ology’ (field of study), the word ‘methodology’ comes from modern Latin ‘methodologia’.  It takes the concept of method to another level by systematizing the set of methods by referring to the underlying principles governing a given discipline. These are the rules of organization that provide a framework to a given research. In humanities, for example, these are the critical / theoretical or philosophical frameworks which define the rules under which a given research is conceived. It is that particular stance, attitude, or perspective that lends originality to the research.

Through comparative insight into the problem words Griffin (2013) gives a comprehensive and succinct definition of methodology. He asserts: “Whilst research methods are concerned with how you conduct a given piece of research, methodologies are concerned with the perspectives you bring to bear on your work such as a feminist or a postcolonial one, for example”. The perspectives about which Griffin talks about are termed as the ‘philosophy’, ‘general principle’ or ‘overall approach’ by Dawson (2002). A very interesting observation about these two entities is that sometimes they can work both as method and methodology – for example, the research done from the perspective of deconstruction and hermeneutics – since they both allow a systematic method as well as a philosophical framework to the researcher to carry out a research.

From the above discussion, one can see that the methodology is like a mould which works as a container of the research material. It shapes it up to limit its philosophical outreach, while the method is that ladle with which the research material is stirred and mixed in the mould. The assimilation of research argument or thesis into the content or data takes place through method; however, what keeps the boundaries of the research in check is the methodology. This discussion also answers the question raised in the beginning about the loose practice of titling the books on research by referring to the individual aspects of the whole research procedure. A rather less confusing and better choice, I think, is to let the ‘method’ and ‘methodology’ rest in the body of such books as two crucial and inevitable parts of research, instead of standing as ultimate titles.

With all that said, an important issue still prevails. Can these methods and methodologies, which are rooted strongly into their definitive domains can also be adapted and appropriated for research in other disciplines? I believe, they certainly can and such a practice should be encouraged as well. Such an undertaking may solve many research related problems faced by less scientific fields such as encountered by researchers in humanities. Although fields of knowledge are in no way deficient in methodological frameworks, there is still a need to devise, design and create methods according to the specific needs and requirements of a discipline. It may save many a good research becoming a victim of someone’s deficient knowledge or field specific approach and face neglect to die an untimely death. However, it is equally important that the appropriations are done under strict guidance of the instructors and supervisors to avoid incongruous alliance between subject area and method. In any case one wouldn’t like to serve drink in a pan and egg in a jug.

About the author – Dr Nadia Anwar has a PhD in Nigerian drama from the University of Northampton, UK. She is a Senior Lecturer in English at the Education Department in Pakistan and is a visiting faculty member at the University of Management and Technology, Lahore. Her primary research interests are African literature in general, specifically focused on Nigerian theatre and drama.

If you enjoyed reading this article, please share. Would you like to share an article in The Hub? We would love to hear from you. Please get in touch – info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com.

On the Career Carousel – Rethinking your Career Plans

We are all aspiring professionals seeking that awesome and exciting career. But what does it mean to have a career? Are we thinking about it in the right way?

I see my career as a fair ground ride – at times a carousel with its inevitable ups and downs, but also at times a roller-coaster ride with unexpected turns and maybe even complete changes in direction.

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Carousel – Image Source: pixabay.com

What is a career?

When we are leaving college or university we think of that “dream job”, what career will I have? We’ll enter our first job, which might be a short-term contract and we have to leave, or we might take the decision that it isn’t for us. Therefore, isn’t it more sensible to think of a career not as that perfect, dreamy route to retirement 40 years hence, but that roller-coaster ride where we need to stay alert to negotiate it?

Perhaps a career is a linked set of adventures!!!

I can illustrate the point by thinking about my own career – a hotch-potch of roles. I started out in medical research in a hospital, entered the pet food manufacturing industry, then academia for 15 years, and this year, back to the tea industry. Some of the changes were out of my control. The hospital work was a 2 year contract, at other times left to relocate or because I didn’t like the job or the environment.

How has it worked for me?

My adventures have resulted from me grasping opportunities rather than following a set plan.  I think I’m incredibly adaptable to different environments, I love new challenges (and the more challenging the better), and I seek out positive and inspirational people that I want to work with. The downside is having to keep starting again, but so far I haven’t taken a step down the salary ladder.

So maybe we need to think differently.

I think here is where we may have a problem. Colleges and Universities always talk about ‘skills’. This skill. That skill….University degrees and courses are ‘validated’, that is, quality assured by a panel of people, and part of this is reviewing a checklist of skills – literacy, numeracy, transferable and other. My gripe with this is institutions are turning out students that broadly look the same. Employers tell us that graduates quite often aren’t meeting their needs.

What colleges and universities should be celebrating and enhancing are YOUR DIFFERENCES – this is what will make you unique to an employer. Have a think. What are your talents, motivations and values? What is your sense of humour? How do you express yourself artistically or through sports?

In my last two interviews I was asked about how my values align with that of the company. I was unprepared!

Look further than your careers fair.

Careers fairs are either good or bad in my book depending on the dedication of the staff running them. At their worst, you may get a distorted impression of what jobs are out there and things that interest you may be under-represented.

Ask yourself – does your university careers fair reflect all the potential employers in your city or area? Or are there other companies out there, including small ones like social enterprises? I’m not an expert in this area but a 2017 government report highlighted nearly half a million social enterprises in the UK.

See the report here

This work was done to help define what a social enterprise is, and generally they are organisations with a social purpose, that might put back some profit to the wider benefit of society, who operate with clear ethical values.  So being small, they might not readily appear on jobs searches, but I’m sure there are many of them out there that could offer really exciting and worthwhile career opportunities, and they will be well worth investigating. You could approach one offering to collaborate as part of a project? What about writing and asking for a summer internship?

Are we preparing for interviews in the correct way?

I’m not sure I’ve ever been taught how to really keep a decent record of my experiences and talents. Digital tools like LinkedIn are great for capturing who you are and what you’ve done and are becoming the ‘new CV’. I’m a big fan of blogging where you can be more creative with photographs and media. Having all of your experiences / qualifications and attributes to hand is essential for that job application where you’ll then go on to map what you offer to what the role demands. Highlighter pens are a must for this task. You take the job description – highlight the main points and then tailor your application to those points right?

But is this enough? I’ve seen real changes in selection processes in recent years. The use of personality and performance questionnaires are becoming more common which you’ll be invited to complete before the interview. These are quite terrifying I think, but you can do some research on the company supplying the tests and find some mock questions online. On one occasion I paid for temporary access to their online training so that I could practice the questions.

I’ve also experienced a complete contrast where a company requests you write a covering piece about yourself expecting you to be personable and creative. Some companies today are looking for the ‘right person’ first, and may ask about your knowledge much later on. So be prepared for a mad variety of selection processes. The best advice I can give is to be honest and be yourself.

Your portfolio of You!

So what does a portfolio of ‘you’ look like? Yes, keep records of your qualifications and achievements, and do express them as ‘skills’. But what more do you offer? What type of a person will you need to be to jump onto and succeed at the career carousel?

Dr Vivien Rolfe (Writing in a personal capacity) is the Head of Herbal Research at Pukka Herbs and an experienced academic and scientist. She is also internationally recognised as a key expert in Open Education Learning and Resources and has authored many peer reviewed journals and has spoken at many conferences worldwide.  

Many thanks to Dr Rolfe for her contribution to the APH. At APH we are keen to enable the career development of early career professionals worldwide and welcome our readers to send us articles on their experiences or advice for other professionals or students. You can find other career related articles on the hub or visit our career resources pages for more.

  1. Identify and Articulate your skills on your CV (APH Special – click here)
  2. Successful Transition from PhD to Industry by Dr Monika Stuczen (click here for article)
  3. Does International Relocation mean starting your career all over? by Lola Adekanye (click here for article)
  4. How I got my first Graduate Role by Zohra Ashim (Click here for article)
  5. Graduate Employment: The Things you never get told (Click here)

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Career Pathways in Biotech and Pharma: Launch your Career in Industry: Become the Standout Candidate

Recently, I attended a panel Q&A discussion at the American Biomedical Research Conference for Minority students (#ABRCMS2017) with speakers from several biopharmaceutical organisations (Biodesix, Genentech and Novartis) sharing their personal experiences as candidates and recruiters and offering advice on how applicants can be standout candidates.

The discussion was aimed at delegates from all aspects of the bio and medical sciences and included undergraduate, postgraduate, post-doctoral candidates and faculty members.

According to the speakers, there is no one size fits all approach to recruitment and attraction of candidates by employers in the biotech sector however, these employers generally are attracted to stand-out attributes and skills.

The panelists included –

Dr Alex Gaither (Novartis),

Dr Garry Pestano (Biodesix),

Jonathan Zarzar ‎(Genentech) and

Pam Leung (Genentech)

The range of the questions were on CV/resume, culture fit, personal branding and interviews. I have collated some of the questions asked in the session and included some of the responses from the panel.  

For advice on writing a great CV, do read our previous post here

ABRCMS
Image source – E. Adukwu

 

Question – Should I provide CV or resume and is there any need for the covering letter?

The employers generally advised that it is important to provide the #CV and #coveringletter when contacting an employer. One of the employers mentioned that if it is relating to an application, the employers would normally indicate what you as a candidate would need to provide e.g. CV and covering letter or completion of an application process.

One bit of advice offered was for candidates to “Build your CV as early as you can” as this should be an ongoing process to remember the activities you have taken part in and a record of the skills gained

Differences between with academia and industry. Are the skills required similar or different?

This is a very common question asked by students and according to the panel, they look at it differently.

“Obviously your record of accomplishment is important but what we really want to know is how much more can you do?”…”When we hire, in our thinking, we are looking for the person a year or two in advance”…”We also want to know that you can last for the years ahead” – Alex

” if you are determined, you can pick whichever path you want to follow and go for it.”- Garry

Can you expand on culture-fit and what it means?

This question was asked because one of the employers had mentioned that sometimes there is a hidden conversation around “culture-fit” in some organisations he had encountered.

“I have worked with some brilliant scientists that are unable to work well in a team”….we really cannot have such people. You need to be able to fit our culture of teamwork, be a team player and be excited about developing the science and pushing the industry/organisation forward….What we want to know is how well you are going to react and move the company mission forward” – Alex

“You get to work with people in other areas and sometimes you might be the only scientist in your team so the skills you need to have are; how to negotiate, get data from others, communication etc… sometimes we do bring in consultants to help transition our culture and help us create values to shape our culture. Culture allows you the opportunity to have a safe space to excel” – Garry

A short presentation about the importance of branding was delivered by Jonathan (Genentech). He talked about the “elevator pitch” but also mentioned the importance of defining the concept of YOUR personal brand and highlight how it can benefit you at the job or workplace.

For articles on elevator pitch and how to use the elevator pitch to land a job, the Forbes article by Nancy Collamer  is a good place to start.

Anything you do not recommend someone talks about with regard to his or her personal brand?

the idea of a personal brand is about “messaging”, “getting yourself through the door…..think about it in terms of aligning yourself to what the company or your contact is looking for” – Jonathan

“we all have a brand; how we dress, how we carry ourselves and how we engage, these are all parts of that brand. It is something you need to pay attention to; it is the eye contact, level of voice, tone etc. Like it or not, we are constantly being watched and assessed by someone.” – Garry

“every single interaction in a professional space is a part of your brand” – Alex

How do you know it is too much information (TMI) in terms of branding?

“don’t talk about money; don’t continuously talk about what you did in the past; do not always revisit where you were especially if you are at an interview – recognise why you are there!” – Alex

“there is a fine boundary on what you should be sharing and maybe what you should not” – Garry

Should I be applying to a company where there is a lot of competition and many applicants?

“if you did not choose not to apply to university or a specific programme even though it was competitive, you should not shy away from applying for a competitive position.” – Garry

“actually attending a meeting or conference already puts you in a competitive space, you are likely to be recognised, and you can make a good impression, which can go a long way” – Alex

Phone and/or video interviews. Any advice?

One of the key suggestions given here was the importance of preparing like you would if you were going to a face-to-face interview.

Also, speak slowly, it is easier to talk on the phone. Also, make sure you do research the company. (Pretty simple!!) – Jonathan

Interviewers tend to ask, what your biggest weakness is. How do you advise applicants to answer this question?

According to the employers, this is a question that can often trip a lot of applicants and candidates however they remarked that it is a question that candidates can be smart about and be creative.

“it is about recognising what you need to work on and telling the employer what you are planning to do to” – Jonathan

“there is no right answer. What I am impressed by is the creativity in those responses. This question can show how you think, your behaviour and also create interesting conversations or further discussions at the interview.” – Garry

How should students explain gaps in work history when applying for jobs?

biotech is looking for more people at the moment so sometimes we do not look at these when we recruit – Jonathan

The other speakers suggested that it is dependent on the circumstances!

Do you accept international applicants for internships? 

“Genentech does accept international interns. We have about 500 interns and constantly looking for the best” – Pam

Quite a fascinating session and lots of great advice I wish I had as a student. The #ABRCMS2017 is a great four-day conference which had over 4000 student delegates from over 350 colleges and presenting in twelve STEM disciplines. You can find out more and see information about the conference, organisers and sponsors by visiting their website here

Hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you would like to discuss any aspects of this article or have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us at info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com.

EAdukwu

About the writer – Emmanuel Adukwu, Ph.D. is an academic, scientist innovator and content writer and co-owner of the aspiring professionals Hub . He has a PhD in Microbiology and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK). For more about Emmanuel, visit the about us page here.

#NationalInclusionWeek –Inclusion, Diversity and Equity in the Workplace, How are you Performing?

It is hard not to notice globally the topic of race and gender taking centre stage due to recent political  decisions in Europe, the UK and of course the US.  The impact of the politics has and continues to affect professional and work environment e.g. the uncertainty around #brexit and research, job mobility between the EU and the UK, #Charlottesville and the after-effects  etc.

What might have gone unnoticed, was that last week was #NationalInclusionWeek in the UK. This is an annual campaign to raise awareness of the importance of inclusion in the workplace and the benefits of an inclusive and diverse workforce to business growth.

What is #Inclusivity and why is this important?

“Inclusion” in itself as a term is self-explanatory and is “about making sure that people feel valued, respected, listened to and able to challenge. It’s about recognising and valuing the differences we each bring to the workplace and creating an environment where everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources and can contribute to the organisations success.”

Sounds easy doesn’t it? That should be the minimum expectation in any workplace however the reality is different. In all aspects of professional engagement: workplace, research and governance etc. there are several identified barriers to inclusion (NIHR)

  • Cultural and institutional barriers
  • Attitudes and beliefs
  • Emotional and psychological barriers
  • Issues of mental capacity
  • Financial barriers

In the educational sector, inclusion is also a key problem with some barriers more deep-rooted e.g.

  • Physical barriers and accessibility still remains a major barrier in the UK and beyond. Students with learning and physical disability are less likely to access education and resources due to unavailable ramps, doors and well trained personnel.
  • Curricula is a key barrier to inclusion as closed or region-centric curricula does not cater for students from diverse background. In the UK, the National Union of Students (NUS) has started a campaign “Why is my curriculum white?”  aimed at challenging what had been identified as a non-diverse curriculum as a means of shining a light at the lack of diversity in education in the UK.

Overcoming the barriers of inclusivity is undoubtedly not a straight-forward process however there are suggestions to how to achieve this. The NIHR paper on diversity and inclusion in research highlighted three key ways that these barriers can be overcome through:

  • Organisational policies and procedures
  • Flexible ways of working
  • Innovative ways of working

Are there benefits to inclusion?

The evidence suggests that inclusivity and diversity are important in developing a richer culture in the workplace and very important, organisational growth. A recent report by the worldwide management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in 2015 showed that companies in the top quartile with gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns above the industry means and where the ethnic and racial diversity were in the top quartile, the figures were around 35%.

Other benefits of inclusion include

  • Diversity of thought
  • Wider reach and wider network
  • More innovation

For more about the benefits, see the Forbes article here

Personal views

In the years I have been actively involved with the issue of diversity and now inclusivity, I have found that this conversation is often viewed through many lenses and it is important to engage with these different viewpoints however what should not be lost is that diversity/inclusion/equity for all should be a human right for all and the ethos of any good organisation should embody that.

Here are some lessons I have learned that might be of benefit for organisations interested in supporting and developing a diverse and inclusive workforce

  • Inclusion cannot be achieved without “Intentional” initiatives and thorough policy review. A lot of organisations attempt to address diversity without evaluating the impact of historical policies on promoting exclusion.
  • Inclusion, diversity, equity is not about deficit. It is about “It is about valuing all individuals, giving equal access and opportunity to all and removing discrimination and other barriers to involvement.” keystoinclusion.co.uk
  • The message of inclusion needs to start early e. children and young people need to be taught to embrace, welcome and respect the views of others and the abilities of the “different” others. In organisations or departments where diversity is lacking issues such as bullying, harassment and gang-mentality in the workplace are very likely.
  • One of the surprising threats to inclusion and diversity is fear! You are more likely to exclude others when you have “doubts”, feeling of “uncertainty”, questions about whether others will “fit in”. To achieve inclusion, organisations need to have bold and emotionally strong leaders.
  • Finally, leadership is an important drive of inclusion. Leaders need to understand the value and importance of inclusivity and to be champions of inclusion and diversity as it is very difficult to achieve without that.

A recent example of a leader using his platform to engage the conversation and promote the discourse was seen last week when Lt General Jay Silveria superintendent of the Air Force Academy addressed 4,000 air force cadets saying “What I wanted the cadets to see…I wanted them to see all of them as an institution protecting these values…I wanted to have a direct conversation with them about the power of diversity, about the power of our make-up. …we need those diverse ideas and that’s the message I wanted them to hear”.

The video of his address has gone viral and whilst the army operates differently from other organisations, the speech/initiative by gen Silveria has not gone unnoticed and shows there is mileage in taking a stand as a leader and it is possible for leaders to lead from the front on the issues of diversity and inclusion.

Is your employer  inclusive or diverse, or are you a new employer interested in developing a diverse workforce, you might find this simple checklist useful. See full article here

Simple checklist for inclusivity
http://diversityintheworkplace.ca

To my knowledge, the #NationalInclusionWeek went almost unnoticed across many organisations in the UK. Did your organisation celebrate or put on an event last week to celebrate inclusion? Do share with us! To find out about organisations who are participating in this campaign, see the link here

You can also read

 Hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you would like to discuss any aspects of this article or have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us at info@aspiringprofessionalshub.com. 

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About the writer – Emmanuel is an academic, scientist and regular blogger. He has a PhD in Microbiology and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK). He is actively involved in supporting, developing diversity initiatives at organisational level and is keen to support local, national and global initiatives to encourage inclusivity.  For more about Emmanuel, visit the about us page here.

 

 

Career Focus – eSports Industry

What do you think of when you hear eSports? If you’re not in the computing or gaming world, maybe not much. In this article, Marcus Clarke from Computer Planet shares some insight into the range of careers options available in the eSports industry? Enjoy!

Climbing the career ladder is no small feat. Luckily, the modern world has created a new industry for jobs within the eSports market. This multi-million dollar  industry revolves around competitive video games that are played online and streamed to thousands of fans internationally. The industry is becoming lucrative and is opening to not only professional gamers and tech-savvy roles, but also for typical career roles in finance, marketing and design.

Getting Into…Neurosurgery

An important part of our mission here in the APH is to demystify the world of work and careers. We often take for granted how difficult it can be to access information about what is required to succeed in a particular discipline.  This is why we routinely interview aspiring professionals and share their personal stories of the steps they took to excel in their careers.  Recently, Amara had the opportunity to interview Dr Andrew Alalade, a neurosurgeon with a subspeciality interest in skull base tumours and discuss his #MyCareerStory of building a successful career in Medicine in the UK as an international medical graduate. 

APH: Please can you tell us about your educational and professional background? 

AA: My  school education started in the United Kingdom but I moved back to Nigeria and studied Medicine at the University of Ibadan. I returned to the UK to work on rotation as a Foundation Year 2 doctor.  My neurosurgical residency training was done in the London North Thames rotation and I had the privilege of training in some of the United Kingdom’s top neuroscience centres. I am a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, England (FRCS SN) and a Fellow of the European Board of Neurosurgical Societies (FEBNS). On completion of my training, I obtained my Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT) in July 2016. The CCT confers the title of specialist Neurosurgeon at Consultant level, which gives permission to practise as one in the United Kingdom.

#AcademicWriting – Aims & Objectives Revisited

 

You have a writing task where you have been asked to state the aims and objectives. Can both words be used interchangeably? When is it appropriate to use them? In this article, Nadia Anwar revisits the debate around aims and objectives and sheds more clarity as to their appropriate use.

‘Aim’ and ‘objective’, the two ever confused words, terms, lexical items, research markers, or whatever you may prefer to call them, are as ambiguous conceptually as their tagging is. Being a novice in research (which I believe I will always be because of my aversion to being called an ‘expert’), I happen to have a very inquisitive nature about how words become a norm and attain an established status, especially in the alleyways of the academic world. This, rather annoying, and somewhat debilitating curiosity, as it constantly diverts my attention to academically most ignored or termed as worthless pursuits, led me to make a distinction between the overused and overly done words frequently employed in research thesis, proposals, dissertations, and projects etc.