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.

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#UniAdvice – 7 things successful students do

Exam season is now upon us. While third year undergraduates swot over their dissertations and final exams revision (good luck!); prospective undergraduate students are also preparing to start a new phase in their academic journey. Going to University elicits a range of emotions – excitement, anticipation and sometimes anxiety. In this article, we will be discussing tips that can help you adjust to your new learning environment. We believe some of this information is also relevant to current students to enhance their academic experience.

Seek advice – This should start even before you make a final decision on what University to choose.Open days are a great place to start as you have an opportunity to meet students already enrolled on the courses you are interested in applying for. Current students are best suited to provide information not just about the University but advice on accommodation, living costs and social activities you can get involved with. Furthermore, academics are usually available at these events and can provide valuable information about the course; helping you understand the opportunities and potential challenges you may face. Some pertinent questions you can ask have been covered in our previous article –‘Before you choose a course to study at University.’

Embrace the ‘change’ – University is different. There is a reason why it is called ‘Higher Education.’ If you expect it to be different, then you can begin to prepare for it. It is normal for new students to severely underestimate the amount of work that is required at Univer sity. For every hour you spend in a lecture, you may need to invest another 2-3 hours in independent study. Your teacher tells you something in class but expects you to delve even deeper and tell him/her things they do not know. You are expected to think criticially, write more professionally, read academic journals etc. Look out for your University’s Learning support unit – they provide a whole array of support services that will help you embrace the change.

Get mentored – In recent years, we have been lucky to mentor undergraduate and postgraduate students who have gone on to develop exciting careers. Many Universities now have mentoring schemes providing peer mentor support for first years provided by second and third year students. It is unfortunate that many students do not utilise these even though they are of great value. For second year students, contact your Careers service and see if they have an employability mentoring scheme, where you can be mentored by a professional in your field. We have both benefited greatly from having mentors who invested time and effort to shape our careers and support us through some parts of our university experience. Lecturers can also be a valuable source in developing professional relationships especially if they have worked in the field.

Volunteer – It is great to see more students are starting to value volunteering as a way not only to develop their transferable skills but also as a way to make friends and have a social network whilst at University. Remember that having a degree, even a good one, simply is not enough to keep you ahead. Your experience and skills are things that will set you apart from other candidates when you go for jobs. The idea for this website was born at a volunteering event and we have made a lot of friends through volunteering too. Apart from what you get out of it, just think about the significant contribution you are making to the organisation you are volunteering for.

Apply for an internship – View internships as a valuable contribution to your education. Final year students tell us how they view life outside University with some anxiety as they do not understand how the ‘world of work’ works. An internship can help with that. I (Emmanuel) employed an intern last summer and the experience of carrying out innovative projects with my intern has given me the desire to employ more interns this year. If you would like to go into research, why not ask a research active lecturer if s/he will be taking on any interns. See your Careers adviser for more information. Apart from honing your skills, internships provide the opportunity to develop valuable contacts in your area.

Sign up for a sandwich degree – Should I study for 3 or 4 years? We get this question often from students and parents alike. While it seems like a silly question as 3 is obviously shorter than 4 years, the 4 year sandwich degree is definitely worth considering – taking cost implications into consideration. The sandwich degree offers you the opportunity to be placed at a company or organisation working (mostly paid) for a year. Students who take up these placements usually return better equipped for their final years due to all the experiential learning taking place. In a good number of cases, students are offered jobs by their work placement companies after their degrees provided they attain good grades (a very good incentive we think!!)

Join a professional society – Most courses are affiliated with a professional body.  Majority of them offer student membership at significantly reduced rates or even for free. We benefitted greatly from our membership of the Society for Applied Microbiology and Voice of Young Scientists. Attend events organised by your Society and use them as networking opportunities to develop relationships within your discipline.

Earlier we mentioned going to your Careers department, this is important even if you do not know what you want from them, just go in, say hello and ask what they do! Careers consultants are usually friendly and supportive and will shape up your CVs and guide you through applying for internships, work placements etc.

We would advise you ‘not to give up any extracurricular talents or skills you have before going to University.” A lot is usually said about Universities and employability and less about entrepreneurship. Universities should be the building grounds for you to blossom and let your creativity shine. Please check out our Entrepreneur’s Corner for more inspiration.

 

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#MyUniStory – My experience of being an international student

8-studentsI attended a student conference recently where students shared their experiences of being in Higher Education. I was surprised at how inspiring and moving some stories were. ‘Reflections’ is our latest addition to the Hub, here we leave our aspiring professionals to just share their stories. Story telling remains one of our most effective communication tools and we hope you will take something away from each one. In the first article of the series, Ebu will be sharing her experience of being an international student in Canada.

My name is Ebubechi and I am an international student in the first year of a Psychology course at Fraser International College (FIC), Vancouver, Canada. I will be transferring to Simon Fraser University (SFU) this fall (September 2015) for my 2nd year. The programme at FIC has been designed to prepare international students for integration into the Canadian University system as well as preparing for life as a University student. I would recommend a similar pathway to any international students considering embarking on an undergraduate degree in Canada. There is no difference in subject course content between the 1st year at SFU and FIC. The difference lies in how teaching is delivered. My classes are taught in a tutorial style format with smaller classes, allowing more interaction between students and teachers.

My experience as an international student here may differ slightly from other students as my education up to this point has been across two continents! Having started out my primary education in Nigeria, my Year 6 – 6th Form (Primary school – A ‘Levels) was completed in the United Kingdom. I guess this means I could say that I am used to what can be described as a ‘Western Education System.’ This also meant that my whole education had been in English and there were no language barrier to overcome as such. Despite this, there were aspects of the Canadian Higher Education system that were alien to me such as their grading system. Here, your performance in every class contributes to your Grade Point Average or GPA and you have to achieve a certain number (3.0 for Psychology) at the end of the 4 year course to obtain your Bachelor’s degree.

My lowest point was my first week here. I suffered from homesickness and I was surprised by how much I missed my family. I felt so alone, as this was my first time of going to a different country on my own. However, with prayer and the support of my family (thanks Skype!), I was able to overcome homesickness. I am very reserved by nature and it usually takes me a while to develop relationships in a new setting. However, when going to a new school, especially University, you have to remember that everyone you meet is in the same boat as you, i.e. being away from home and not knowing anybody. When I realised this, it was easier for me to start making new friends both in and outside of classes.

I started making friends who shared the same experiences as I did such as moving away from home for the first time and getting used to my surroundings (trying not getting lost so many times), everything started to fall into place and I became more comfortable. I have got involved in my college as part of the Campaign team which means I have to give talks to students on different issues that affect them like study skills and promote the services available from the University. This has helped me learn a lot more about the University as well as develop my communication skills.

For the most part, I have not found much about living here too different. Thankfully the spelling remains the same e.g. ‘colour’ is ‘colour’ not ‘color’! Thankfully, I live in Vancouver where the weather is a lot milder than other places in Canada. The weather is also very similar to London, i.e. rain, rain and more rain. If you are planning on moving to Vancouver, NEVER go anywhere without an umbrella. Please. A surprising discovery was how much everything is taxed here which in my opinion makes things much more expensive. In the UK, VAT is included in the price on the tags so you don’t really notice it. In Canada, like the US, it is not included in the retail price so you have to make sure you have enough money as you do not want to be embarrassed at the till! Generally Canadians are friendly people, of course you will find the oddball here and there but most people are very approachable and accepting as it is a very diverse country with lots of different cultures.

Preparing for life at University is difficult as students have to come to grasp with a totally different way of learning (insert independent!). Doing this in unfamiliar surroundings sometimes feels like an additional hurdle to overcome on the path to succeeding. My advice to international students would be to ensure that you look out for the support available from your University. In today’s connected world it is much easier to stay in touch with family and friends. It is hard but what about life isn’t?

Overall, I would say that I’m happy here and this is for several reasons. Going abroad to study has increased my confidence and independence beyond my imagination. Here, I am responsible for the choices I make and how I choose to conduct myself both at school and socially. Therefore, I would recommend that if you have the opportunity to study abroad even if it’s just for a year, take it. You are going to discover new things about yourself that you didn’t realise before.  Also, not very many people get the opportunity to study abroad and for that I will always be grateful.

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#UniAdvice – So you didn’t get a Desmond? How to ‘fail forward’

Are you a Damien, Billy, Desmond or Thora? Although I’m a Damien, I have friends, family and students who didn’t quite make a Desmond.  Now before you think I may have lost my marbles, I recently found out that these names are used to describe degree classifications based on rhyming slang of the surnames of some famous people. Are you a Damien (Hirst – 1st), Billy (Gunn – 2:1), Desmond (Tutu – 2:2) or a Thora (Thora Hird – 3rd)?  While preparing our previous article on graduate employment, we touched on the point of degree classification and would like to go into further detail here.

7-failureSo you didn’t make a Desmond. You’ve spent 3, 4 or more years at University working towards a degree and now you’ve finished not even with a 2nd lower (Let my people go…lol) but with a third class degree. Before the doom and gloom sets in, be encouraged that there can be success after a third. Not that there will be but that there can be. Whether it happens or not is really up to you. I worked very hard for my degree and I make no apologies for it. I recognised early in my studies that it would be important for me to excel academically to achieve the career goals I had set for myself and that was my motivation. I am mighty proud I did because it was and still is a tremendous achievement. However, for a number of reasons, not everyone does. As a teacher, I am disappointed to see some of my students finish with a third but I realise this this is far from the end of their story.

This article isn’t about sugarcoating the issue in ‘motivational speak.’ If you have finished with a third, it means you have in essence failed at Higher Education. You have failed to meet most of the assessment criteria set in the subjects you have studied. You cannot prove to have a good knowledge of a discipline you have been studying for a number of years. If you have studied in the UK, more often than not you are in debt to the tune of some thousands of pounds. What this article is saying is that while you may have failed at University, you haven’t failed at life.

Lewis Carrol, most famously known for penning ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was an English writer, mathematician and Anglican cleric. Carol Vorderman is a maths whizz and is best known for co-hosting popular programme ‘Countdown.’ Gani Fawehinmi was a human and civil rights lawyer who was also a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). All three completed their first degrees with a 3rd. All three ‘failed forward’ from that and became very successful in their chosen careers.

Be honest with yourself – Why did you finish with a third? As University lecturers, we teach all types of students. We observe some students who genuinely struggle academically and may have made the wrong course choice. We note those who are just indifferent. University is just the next place to go after completing A Levels and it is sort of what is expected of them. These students just want to coast through the next few years until they have to make a decision on what to do with their lives. Some students have a life changing experience (death of a loved one, accident, mental health issue) occur during their studies that they never really recover from. Reflecting on your answer to the question of Why? can help you decide what to do next and will be useful for interview preparation because you may have to discuss this so be prepared. If you truly believe you have made the wrong course choice, spend time finding out what you are good at. Utilise the Careers Service in your University and if you don’t have one, find a professional in that area to discuss with.

How much does it matter? – It depends on what you want to do next. If you want to progress into a postgraduate degree, teach or get onto a graduate scheme at a top firm then yes it really does matter. If you want to write a best selling novel, work in art/design or create the next Facebook, then maybe not. What do you want to do next? Has University taught you that you don’t want to be an employee but an entrepreneur? Please read our article on identifying your skills and create a list of your skills and abilities. Compare your list with the skill set required in your preferred role(s) and identify where your skills come short. Identify the gaps and search for training opportunities to fill them e.g. professional exams. Remember that your transferable skills are marketable across sectors!

Be proactive – In today’s job market, a first or 2:1 is not an assurance of immediate employment. Beyond academic abilities, employers are looking for particular skills, competencies and attributes. While studies indicate that more employers now ask for a 2:1 as minimum, this is because more and more students are now finishing with 2:1’s. I have two friends who finished with firsts who could not get a graduate job for months after completing their degree. The first worked as a care assistant and the other as a waitress. They are both now in graduate employment. During her interview, my friend’s boss was so impressed that she hadn’t turned her nose down on waitressing because he too worked as a waiter when he finished Uni and was job hunting 30 years before! Do not be too proud to ‘stoop to conquer.’ In my experience, small and medium size companies are more willing to overlook degree classification than bigger companies.

It is always harder to climb the mountain when starting from the bottom but the view is the same when you get to the top, regardless of where you started.

A young friend of mine recently finished with a third and is now working in a small firm where he is getting hands on training and enjoying it. In two years time, he will be able to take professional exams and will be more marketable. A Financial Director of an asset management firm told me ‘When it comes down to it, I will always offer a job to the candidate who is most hungry for it.’ A third may start you off on the wrong foot but nothing stops you from re-balancing and putting your best foot forward. Failing forward means realising the difference between failing at something and being a failure. One is an event, the other is an attitude or way of life.

aa-headshotAbout our writer – After completing a PhD in Microbiology, Amara is building her career in academia, teaching and supporting a new generation of scientists as well as undertaking research. Amara believes in the combined power of education and developing productive relationships as essential tools for building successful careers. She tweets @amaratweets.

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