Two weeks of residency are done. I’m back at home, and flipping back and forth in my mind between looking back on my experience in residency at Royal Roads, and looking ahead to the next 23 months with more courses, assignments… and research.
Last week, Bill gave us an introduction to research, going over both qualitative and quantitative methods. Quantitative research is what most people think of when they imagine graduate studies. It has the hypothesis, carefully-controlled experiments, objective data, and lots of statistical analysis. When I imagine what quantitative research must be like, I can almost see people running around with clipboards and lab coats. It has always felt like an unfamiliar world to me, though I am sure I could like it if I knew the rules.
Qualitative research, however, trades in the clipboard for careful listening and questioning. Qualitative research is all about the interview, probing the participant for rich layers on information, and getting to the core of the story. It’s what good journalists and storystellers do. Coming from the humanities end of things as I do, it feels like “home” to me.
I wasn’t expecting to feel this way about qualitative research; years back, a good friend of mine did qualitative research, interviewing seven divorced fathers on how they felt their divorce had affected their relationship with their children. My reaction at the time was, “Interesting stories – but surely it’s bad science.” Where was the hypothesis? The large sample size? What could you derive about cause and effect from this study ? I literally didn’t know what I didn’t know.
Now I know that depending on the question you ask (and it ALL depends upon your question – make sure you are asking what you mean to ask!), you can design your research in many ways. It’s not all about causation. Sometimes the question is, “What is it?” Sometimes it’s, “What is more effective?” Sometimes it’s, “Tell me about your experience.” These are all valid questions that research can answer – provided the methodology addresses the question.
Thanks, Bill, and thanks to Bickman and Rog (2009), for giving me a solid foundation on research methods!
Bickman, L. & Rog, D. Eds. (2009). The Sage handbook of applied social research methods, 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: 2009. pp. 3 – 44.