Methods courses lacking at Quinnipiac

All right, I’ve finally found a deficiency in Quinnipiac’s program. Methods courses are notoriously lacking,  not just from the Interactive Communications Masters, but also from every other program on campus.  I had to look to other universities in the area to find any hope of getting that preparation for the possibility of pursuing doctoral work.

From what I can gather, Methods coursework focuses on how to do research and how to collect, analyze and interpret (perhaps manipulate would be a better word?) statistical data. The meat and bones of research. Setting up experiments, focusing on data gathering methodologies, etc. In other words, the bread and butter of doctoral work. Great ideas are one thing, but methodology is how you put the science back into what is otherwise a wonderful bit of daydream philosophizing.

Now that I’m aware of  that, it adds another level for consideration before making a final decision to pursue the PhD at this time or not.

Why doesn’t QU offer research methods and statistical training?

Don’t get me wrong. I *love* the QU program. In fact, this is the first real academic failing I’ve been able to find in their program. I’m guessing that the reason that QU has decided not to offer much in the way of Methods coursework is because the program is aimed more at the professional/craft side of Interactive Communications. QU seems to be aiming to produce the best business leaders and those who will apply the knowledge gained in the Master’s program to raise the overall level of professional thinking and strategy within the field of Interactive Communications, however that applies to any of the various sub-disciplines that get covered by that umbrella.

I counter that consideration by pointing out that some of the highest paid professional positions within the realm of advertising (just one sub-field touched by ICM) are the marketing researchers, even those who haven’t earned more than a MS themselves. Offering at least one Methods class would do two very important things for the QU program: it would present students with a fundamental understanding of research and communicating with researchers intelligently (a very important skill for senior management), and it would also give the Master’s students a taste of the kind of discipline and work which seem to make up the foundation of doctoral-level  work.

A strange reversal

Interestingly enough, it feels to me at this point that the Master’s, such as I’m experiencing it at QU, is aimed more at the philosophy and theory of the field and less about the science of it. In fact, I’m ashamed to say that while I recall being lectured once in Anthro classes in my undergraduate coursework, I couldn’t delineate the steps in the scientific method to save my life right now. I also vaguely recall that there was an inordinate amount of class discussion that day about the difference between a theory and an hypothesis. (If I recall correctly, the theory is the overarching idea, the hypothesis is a statement derived from the theory which can be proven or disproven.)

So while the doctoral degree is a Doctor of Philosophy, it certainly feels more like the Master’s degree is where theories get bandied about quite a lot. Of course, we’re also just stepping up to study the dialog of the invisible college which is already in progress, so I’m sure that at the doctoral level there’s a -lot- more theorizing. Just that we’ve got to get through the research methods process first.

Undergraduate Statistics memories

I remember that I took statistics 101 in my second semester Freshman year. 1990. I was carrying 18 credit hours and pledging a fraternity, too. It was a 9 am class, the last one I took in my undergraduate career. (Not kidding. Earliest classes were 10am for me). I missed one class at the end of the week prior, and stumbled in after a pledge function with bleary eyes and a hangover for the following class the next week. I sat in the room and watched as the muffled-voice stoop-shouldered psych professor came in and started the lecture on Stats.  He picked up the chalk and checked his notes, then proceeded to begin filling up the blackboard with all sorts of arcane mathematical symbols. He spoke rapidly but quietly and talked directly into the blackboard without turning around.

I was lost. I was more than lost. I was hopelessly lost and didn’t know where to start. Shit! Guess I had picked the wrong day to miss classes the week prior. I started furiously copying the material on the board, material that never ended. On and on he droned, and all of the students just sat there copying as quickly as possible. All of us. Minute by minute, the boards filled up. One blackboard full. Two. Three. Erase the first one line by line and replace  them with more formulas. At various intervals, the professor’s arm would shoot out and he would stab pointedly at a formula somewhere else on the board, and he never paused for a breath.

Five minutes before the end of class, with pages of notes and absolutely NO CLUE what I had just sat through, the Professor turned around, smiled at one of the girls in class, and asked with surprise, “Darla, what are you doing in my Stats 400 class?”

He had mixed up his notebooks. We all just sat there, equally dumbfounded, then he just laughed and said, “Well, read the next chapter and show up to class on Thursday.”

I never went back. I just read along from time to time, did the work out of the textbook and showed up for the tests. I got a 2.5 for the class and counted it as a job well done.

Hopefully this time it’ll be with a better professor.

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6 responses to “Methods courses lacking at Quinnipiac

  1. As someone nearing the tail end of a PhD, it’s not necessarily expected that you have had methods courses during your Master’s work. I did, but many of my cohort did not, and the first year of the program was designed to put us all on more ore less equal theoretical and methodological footing.

    Granted I’m in a related though different field, but I’d be surprised to learn that most doctoral programs in communication don’t follow a similar itinerary. Also, you may need to learn qualitative as well as quantitative methods, so statistics aren’t all you’ll have to pick up.

    Regardless, I share your hope that whatever methods professors you have in the future are better than your last!

  2. In making my decision to at least leave myself the option of continuing on into doctoral research open, I was told of a recent graduate from my current program who was accepted by two doctoral programs. One, however, insisted that he would need to complete a second unfunded MS program to make up for the lack of methods-focused prep.

    At the same time, I keep hearing that the doctoral program is primarily meant for those who are interested in focusing narrowly and adding to the body of research in the field. Having no prep or real introduction to statistical analysis and research methods at my current level means, to me at any rate, that I’m not really able to make an informed decision about whether or not doctoral studies are the right step for me.

    I’m glad to hear that it’s not as big of an issue as I seem to have made it. Thanks for your input! And best of luck with completing your program of study.

    I suppose most doctoral programs have to deal with the lack of methods preparation far more often than they might like. Or is it more a case that each department favors slightly different philosophies of research methods, and therefore might -prefer- to train students that arrive without preconditioned habits?

    So many questions, not enough time. 🙂

  3. Adam – LOVE your absent-minded prof story. Should be a scene in a movie!

    Where did you go for undergrad?

  4. “I suppose most doctoral programs have to deal with the lack of methods preparation far more often than they might like. Or is it more a case that each department favors slightly different philosophies of research methods, and therefore might -prefer- to train students that arrive without preconditioned habits?”

    It can be a little of both. In communications fields, especially, people arrive from a wide range of backgrounds and with a great variety of research interests, so it can be easier to incorporate methods training into the first year of the program than demand everyone be on the same page at admittance.

    A lot will depend on the particular focus of the program you choose as well: research is always important, but some programs emphasize the cultural and contextual aspects, so they tend to admit people who need training in quantitative methods but are interested in broader questions. If you are aiming instead at programs that focus on specific types of empirical research projects, such as large multi-authored grants, then you probably are better off getting your training ahead of time.

  5. @E – SUNY Potsdam was that story (Spring 1990 was the year), although I did a stint in Dutchess Community College after I had my BA to get some Art Foundation courses out of the way, to allow me to go to SUNY New Paltz briefly as a Ceramics student, before falling into the Graphic Design field.

  6. @Plin : Good point. I’m feeling very drawn toward the subject matter of how the internet has changed the social discourse resulting in legal and judicial actions, either directly or indirectly.

    I was looking possibly at Northwestern U, but their PhD for Media, Tech, and Society in their school of Communications is not eligible for their combined JD/PhD program. :/ Still, they have a good Rhetoric PhD program…I’ll have to see if that’s available for the combo JD/PhD program. I’d just be focusing on the role of the internet in changing the legal rhetoric which defines Public Culture.

    Still thinking and investigating. I’m very drawn to a) the social impact of the internet, specifically b) how it affects and changes the dynamics of civil contest between conflicting social or political philosophies.

    Oddly enough, we just started the new semester (or will soon, I’m reading ahead) and I’m in a class called Communication, Media & Society, and the first assigned reading was by Benkler, and not only talks around this kind of material, but also lists off other authors noted in the field. My personal goal by the end of the semester is to narrow my research topic a bit and to get a real sense of specifically what areas, if any, I would be happy studying for 5 years more. 😉

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