So, just a little story to start.
I did my Master’s degree at the University of Oregon. I worked on my degree over the course of four summers. I was teaching in Alberta, and every summer I headed down to Eugene. Like many of you, I was a bit of a go-getter and had no intention of wasting any time. During the first summer, while taking classes, I learned that I had to do a thesis or project. I thought, “let’s get this done!” I started designing my project that summer. Second summer went by, classes as usual. During the third summer, I learned who my Advisor would be. Good enough I thought. I stopped into his office, introduced myself, and laid my written project, already bound, on his desk and said, “Here it is. I’m done!” I can’t forget the look on his face once I told him that this was my research project, complete. He looked at it, looked at me, as said in a rather perplexed sort of way, “usually students talk with us before they start their research. There’s a process. I’ll read it and have someone else look at it too.”
Now, the moral of the story is not to go ahead and do your research and hope it all passes. If I caught my advisor on a bad day he might have said, “We don’t do things that way. Start again.” But he didn’t. He was very good about it. I passed. So what is the moral of the story?
The real moral of the story is, it is a lot easier to move through university requirements by following the rules. I followed the rules during my Ph.D. and finished up quickly (as far as doctoral programs go). The stunt I pulled during my Master’s degree wouldn’t have worked for my Ph.D.
So let’s pause here for a moment and take note of where we are:
At this point, from what I have read in your responses, you are clear on the differences between quantitative and qualitative research. You are becoming quite comfortable narrowing down your research questions. You have a good sense of how to incorporate your literature review and have the literature inform your work. You are have knowledge of many different types of research with enough familiarity to know if one type of research would be more attractive to you than another. You are far enough along in Kumar’s text to be able to follow the relevant sections if you are planning to do quantitative or qualitative research. And you have reviewed enough additional chapters on other sorts of research types to know where to look if you plan to do research that Kumar doesn’t talk about in detail. You also know that there are numerous books that will go into great detail on doing literature reviews, or any other aspect of research. The resources are plentiful. You are familiar with ethical considerations when using human subjects. You have completed the required training to submit a proposal to the IRB if you so choose. And, you have looked at the University’s Graduate Web Site to get a sense of graduate requirements.
I would like to use today’s time to emphasize a few points — thus the initial story I shared with you. The moral, as I mentioned (and not something I was ever very good at) is see what the university expectations are and follow the rules. I know that hurts a bit for some of you. But I am speaking from experience.
Point Number One: As a graduate exit requirement, you do have the option of doing a thesis or a project. They are different. I have found that most of our graduate students do projects. Every student would have their own reasons as to the type of research they wish to do. It might have something to do with the IRB requirements now when using human subjects. It might be that many teachers find curricular projects more appealing because they will use their newly designed curriculum in their future teaching. Some of my students have wanted to become specialists rather than researchers. So rather than spending their time collecting and interpreting data they are able to consult research that has already been done. They are developing their knowledge expertise in an area. Some students are more interested in thinking about the broader context and implications rather than contributing a small piece to the big picture. I have had students write books, record music, and develop projects for their school. The project offers more variability.
Back to the football stadium
Let me explain this using my football stadium analogy. If you recall, much of the qualitative, and most of the quantitative research, collects data on a very narrow bit of human experience (think of the 5 of the 50 yard line). This data is then supportive in such a way that other researchers can use that data to help make sense of the broader context. Other teachers can read that data and see if your findings contribute to what they are thinking of doing. And, of course, you would also use your data and research to make sense of the broader context.
Now, many of us enjoy spending our time thinking about the broader context. We are less interested in contributing the small missing piece and more interested in big ideas so we can reasonably contribute to bigger, more significant changes to our practice, school, district, learning, etc. So, rather than spending our time doing our own data collecting and revealing the ‘5’ at the 50 yard line, we use the research of others to build our case. As our data we use Smith’s 4 year study that revealed the 40, and Jone’s 2 year study that revealed the mid field, and Richard’s 1 year study that revealed the end zone, and McDonald’s philosophy that revealed that this might be a place for human game playing, etc. etc.. We then analyze what these others have found and make our own hypotheses and develop our own practices. We are no longer focused on the small piece, but rather on the broader context.
The thesis, which is of course an option, has a more defined structure than the project. If you have a desire to become a researcher, or if you have a desire to get your doctorate in the future, you might find it useful to do a thesis.
Point 2: Better Understanding the Graduate Program requirements
If you go to the Graduate Programs Website (https://graduate.wou.edu/) you will notice a Student Resources tab at the top of the page.
From the Student Resources page (https://graduate.wou.edu/student-resources/) you will find a link called Exit Requirement Options (https://graduate.wou.edu/forms-exit-option-information/)
Here you will find some information regarding Comprehensive Exams, the Thesis, Action Research Projects, and Professional Projects.
Here is the first page of the WOU thesis manual. Let me highlight a few things.
The manual can be found at: https://graduate.wou.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/GradThesisManual.pdf
It is also worth taking a look at the different forms that you will be required to fill out depending on the type of research you do. You will find a link to the forms on the Exit Option Required Paperwork (https://graduate.wou.edu/forms-exit-requirements/).
The manual begins with the definition.
PART 1, SECTION A: WHAT IS A THESIS
A thesis is generally defined as:
. . . the written product of a systematic study of a significant problem. It identifies the problem, states the major assumptions, explains the significance of the undertaking, sets forth the sources for and methods of gathering information, analyzes the data, and offers a conclusion or recommendation. The finished project (product) evidences originality, critical and independent thinking, appropriate organization and format, and thorough documentation.
A thesis attempts to answer a general question or questions that are of interest to an entire field or profession. A thesis is distinguished by certain elements such as an introduction to the study, a review of the literature, a methodology section, results, summary, and recommendations for further research. A thesis is not the same as a professional project. If you are interested in a professional project, please talk to your advisor or program coordinator.
It might be worth mentioning that ‘general’ is referring to something of interest to the broader public rather than a broad concept.
Then the manual distinguishes between quantitative and qualitative research. This is something you are very familiar with already.
There is a distinction between a quantitative thesis (which involves the collection and statistical analyses of numerical data) and a qualitative thesis (which involves non-statistical applications, i.e. case studies, interviews, etc). It is important to discuss with your committee and committee Chair the most suitable approach for your thesis based on your goals, the content, and the research limitations.
This next section is important. Before you begin your thesis, and probably before you get too far into a project, it is important to consult an advisor or program director. This is stated explicitly in the thesis manual.
Each department has different prerequisites. Before beginning any thesis work, consult an advisor or program director. As it takes several terms to complete a thesis, it’s vital to speak to your advisor in after you have completed about 15-20 of your graduate credits. During this meeting, you both should try to answer the following questions:
Finally, and importantly, at the end of the first page of the manual it is clearly stated that the thesis is not required and should be attempted with a clear understanding of the commitments involved.
SHOULD I WRITE A THESIS?
Theses are not a required exit option for all graduate students. It is important to consider your short and long term educational and professional goals. While writing a thesis can be rewarding, it requires a significant time investments and a lot of you and your committee’s attention.
WHAT ARE THE TIMELINE AND THE MAJOR DEADLINES OF A THESIS?
Initial time investment requires selecting a Chair and committee members, focusing the research question, submitting a Research Proposal and, most likely, applying to the Institutional Review Board (IRB) for approval of your research methods. Each of these has their own deadlines. After you complete these initial stages, it will still take between two to three quarters to complete your thesis. Thus, if you plan to write a thesis, you need to be familiar with the deadlines and the overall timeline arc for your project.
The graduate office re-emphasized the time commitment on page two of the manual:
Remember there are specific Graduate Office deadlines regarding your thesis. An accurate yearly calendar containing important dates of each term is available on the Graduate Programs website at: http://www.wou.edu/graduate/student-resources/academic-calendar/
Finally, in an attempt to encourage you to consult with an advisor and to keep to a manageable topic the manual finished up page two with this advice:
WHAT ARE THE RULES IN MY CONCENTRATION?
Learn the citation and style guidelines for your field’s approach to academic writing. APA is generally the approved style, but verify with your committee Chair. Your thesis must follow one style guide throughout.
WHAT ARE THE LIMITS OF MY TOPIC? Not all ideas for theses are viable, especially with pressing deadlines. It is best to discuss your research questions and protocol with your research advisor (committee chair) early in the process. Best practice is to have IRB approval in hand at least two quarters before you plan to submit your thesis. Be sure to review the IRB section below and speak with your advisor or committee about IRB-related requirements.
WHO WILL BE AVAILABLE TO DIRECT AND ASSIST ME CONCERNING MY THESIS?
Your chair is your guide. She will help direct you during this process. The Writing Center offers additional writing, research, and citation support. Rather than seeking out multiple guides or resources, stay focused and follow your Chair’s directions.
It is worth reviewing the rest of the Thesis Manual. It is short — in comparison to the CITI training. And it will give you an idea as to the sort of schedule you should have established when doing research (you will find a sample timeline on page 9).
Another reason for looking at the thesis manual is because some advisors might have you incorporate some aspects of the thesis into the design of a project.
On to the Research Proposal But First A Syllabus Change
The Syllabus Change First
We have reached a point that you should really be on your own trajectory now. I know that some of you have started the research proposal, some have started your research, some are thinking about whether or not to do research. As I have been reflecting on this, and reading responses, it seems to me that it would be best in all of our interests to change up the course expectations a bit. As I have talked with some of you it is clear that some are ready to begin the research proposal, some are already nearing completion of their research, and some are still thinking about whether to do research at all.
Thus, beginning the research proposal will be important for some, and others not. It is no point doing a research proposal if you are taking the class because you simply want to learn more about research.
So I have moved the third set of questions to be submitted to Tuesday June 7th (the date I chose as your Rough Draft Proposal Submission). In your third (last) set of questions, you may submit the beginnings of your research proposal. When I say beginnings, your proposal might be in the form of a rough outline or a completed proposal. It depends where you are. I could at least have a look at it for you and offer some feedback.
Okay, to continue to the Research Proposal
Kumar has a few chapters from where we left off in our reading that might seem to be relevant to you. And, perhaps they are not. They are: Chapter 10: Collecting Data Using Attitudinal Scales; Chapter 11: Establishing the Validity and Reliability of a research instrument; and, Chapter 12: Selecting a Sample. You will know by now if you think these are chapters you should be reading.
The next part of our agenda that is important, I think, is the research proposal. Again, if you have already done this and had it approved with your advisor, then you will probably want to forego working on the proposal.
You will see in chapter 13 that Kumar does talk about the research proposal, and also includes a helpful template. This is actually one of my least favorite chapters by Dr. Kumar. If you feel as though you would like a bit more support, here are two chapters from Developing Effective Research Proposals that I think you will find helpful. They just seem a bit clearer to me.
The first, here, talks about what a research proposal is.
The second chapter I am sharing with you provides some, what I think are, helpful guidelines to consider when writing your proposal.
I hope these help.
No questions this week.
Please do not stress over your proposal or your research. It is important to enjoy what you are learning. It should be a fun challenge. Everybody seems to end up doing a pretty good job whether they are stressed about it your not.
Have a great week and I will talk with you soon 🙂