Sunday, April 01, 2007


I had a conversation the other day with a senior colleague about a grad program class. It seems no one wants to teach our introductory class in Research Strategies and Such. I've taught the RSS class before, and thought I did it reasonably well. The students who took the class with me, in exit interviews, seem to have thought the class was very helpful in their work here.

It's distressing that no one wants to teach this class because our students seriously need help learning to do research. But, my colleague told me, s/he doesn't feel qualified to teach the class, and most other faculty members don't feel qualified, either.

My brain is still reeling. Almost everyone who teaches for the program has a phud; a few have terminal MFAs. In English, a phud is considered a research degree; in order to get one, you basically have to convince several phuds that you have fulfilled a bunch of requirements, one of which is making a new contribution to your field. That contribution generally comes through research.

And yet, a phud in English sat in my office and said s/he isn't qualified to teach research in our field.

Every graduate seminar should involve some degree of teaching of research in the field. Every single seminar.

If people with phuds in English don't feel qualified to teach students how to do research in the field, what the dickens DO they feel qualified to teach?

Why do we have a graduate program? Heck, why do we have an undergraduate program, even?

We have a grad program for several reasons: the grad program gets some funding. We serve local people who want to get MAs, and giving people further education in our field serves our community broadly. It's a long drive to the next opportunity for MA study, and many people are geographically limited.

Those are reasonably good reasons to have a program. Of course, having an MA program also is a bit of a tiny ego booster for faculty folks, and means we get to teach the occasional graduate seminar in our field. Most people are eager to teach those.

But, seriously, if faculty members don't feel qualified to teach basic research, we aren't qualified to have a graduate program.

My brain is reeling. A senior person in my field sat in my office and told me s/he was unqualified to teach research in our field and it didn't seem to occur to him/her that what s/he said was even slightly problematic.


  1. I see your point, Bardiac, but I think that the issue is that the course is meant to provide a comprehensive overview - and at the graduate level there should be some depth in all of the methods. While I am sure your colleagues do teach research methods in their other courses, it's the ones that they themselves use. They feel qualified to teach those at the graduate level. In terms of the intro course, they feel like they would run roughshod over methods that aren't their own preferred methods (maybe - I'm speculating here - but I think this is an issue of the specialization of the discipline in large part).

    When I was in graduate school, I took two methods type intro courses - one in English (the area of my PhD), one in History (my work's interdisciplinary). The one in English was taught by one faculty member, a brilliant and well-respected scholar. All I can say is that I got less than nothing out of that course and I left that course feeling like he was unqualified to teach it. In the history methods course, there was one prof who ran the seminar, but the seminar was organized around bringing different profs from the department in to speak and moderate the seminar most weeks, so the person who was an expert in social history came in one week, women's history the next, military history the next, etc. I left that class feeling like I really understood the different methodologies and theoretical perspectives that drive historical research.

    A final thought is this: another reason professors wouldn't want to teach that course is because while they woul be "qualified" to do so (i.e., with hours and hours of preparation and research, they could put such a course together), to do so is ultimately a lot of work for what amounts to the one service course that doesn't relate to their own research. So perhaps they would be qualified, but the effort doesn't match the reward. (This last one is the reason I wouldn't take on such a course. I'm sure I *could* do it, but the amount of work to do it well would make me shy away from it.)

  2. Dr. C is probably right -- do you have a diverse enough faculty to make the course one that is co-taught by seveal faculty members? Each could take a week or two on their own research methods.

  3. I am surprised by the faculty folk who stop by and ask questions about research. I think the past decade of indexing journals electronically has significantly changed the way people approach research. Some people with degrees from awhile ago really don't know how to tell their students about current methods for basic research.
    I learn from the librarians.

  4. When you say 'research methods,' are you talking about theoretical approaches or the nuts-n-bolts of library research? Having an MLS, I'd be more than prepared to discuss the ins and outs of databases, the ways archives work, etc. As a PhD student in comp/rhet, I've been required to take research methods courses based on critical theory and rhetorical theory, as well as methods based in the social science aspects of my area. And outside methods courses from Women's Studies (led by an anthropologies) and Library and Info Science.

    I still wouldn't feel "qualified" to teach methods for an entire field such as comp/rhet, but I'd suck it up and do it. I don't expect my professors to be diety-like experts who know everything about everything in English. As long as they are comfortable admitting that (and most seem to be), I am more than happy to explore an area with them. I would expect that the grad students where you are would react the same way.

    And anyway, does anyone actually 'specialize' in methods? All methods within a discipline? I haven't heard of such a thing, but somehow these courses seem to be taught.

    Sorry about the longish cranky response - I just get a little peevish when I hear about smart people claiming they aren't qualified to do the things they are qualified to do.