Academic Methodologies and Their Strengths and Limitations

Academic Methodologies and Their Strengths and Limitations

Graduate studies often, but not always, requires you write a dissertation a.k.a.  thesis.  Writing a dissertation is fun, and I’d highly recommend it over doing straight course work.  I know one guy who wrote a dissertation that cited some of the biggest names in finance globally.  That’s a thesis to get super stoked over while writing.

But if you write a thesis, you’ll likely want to enroll in a graduate course on methodology.  What is methodology? Well, it’s the underpinnings behind the “how do you find out” of your research.  GradCoach says methodology is “how a researcher systematically designs a study to ensure valid and reliable results that address the research aims and objectives.”

Most theses require a methodology.

In my department, methodology consisted of options such as feminist theory, content analysis, critical discourse analysis, ethnography, and many others.

Each methodology may have its own set of data collection methods.  These data collection methods could include surveys, interviews, focus groups  experiments, observations, case studies, and more.

One of these methodologies, called conversation analysis, required I read multiple books marking the evolution and underpinnings of this methodology.  This depth of reading involvement is common for most all methodologies.  If I could advise you early, I’d say, prior to graduate studies, look up all the methodologies in your department, and read four pages every night before bed of key books on the methodologies.  I wish I had done this beginning in my second year of Communications.

Some methodologies rely on courses external to your department.  As an example, a communications methodology called “discourse analysis” is best served if you take a graduate linguistics course.  My first supervisor told me to drop my multiple linear regression course (which is quantitative) and take, instead, linguistics (which is qualitative).

That was partly because my communications department was anti-quantitative.  Anything with numbers, the faculty seemed to deplore.  At that time, which was fifteen years ago, some university communications departments across North America embraced the quantitative; others rejected it.  I hope that’s changed by now whereby both the quantitative and qualitative are accepted.

One of the downfalls of my department’s “critical” methodologies was that some sort of victimization needed to be asserted.  I was hoping to find a more collaborative rather than “critical” methodology, but I couldn’t find any non-critical methodology that fit my research focus.  So I went with Classical Grounded Theory.

The Classical Grounded Theory methodology had me researching a topic until I saturated the literature, or, in other words, exhausted the literature.  That means, I uncovered every idea on the topic until I faced nothing new but repeated ideas.  The key is to take that research and create a “theory” out of it.  To me, it struck me as my only option for not pointing fingers.  Unfortunately, my thesis did just that: point fingers.

I did dream often, though, of creating a new, collaborative methodology.  I submitted a request for academic funding for my idea to uncover the “mechanics” of how methodologies were created across various departments.  I received a response from the administrator that said my idea was “too ambitious.”

But if you want to learn about how to create a methodology, you might want to study “epistemology.” Epistemology is the science behind “how we know” or the “theory of knowledge.” To study this exciting topic, you’d need to be a philosophy major or enroll in the philosophy department’s epistemology courses.

If I had to do it all over again, based on passion and not monetary outcome, I would have taken graduate level epistemology courses while writing a communications thesis proposing a new, collaborative communications methodology.  But it felt like “rebels” were quashed, especially at the master’s level.

My first supervisor said, “You need to be an expert to propose a new methodology.”

So, it seems to me that the safest move in grad studies at the time was to toe the line.  If you want to pass or get accepted into a PhD program, then when the department says, “Jump,” oblige.

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