Full course description
Academic research is a craft that is concerned with the production (construction) of scientific knowledge. Like a contractor building a house, a researcher needs to plan ahead with an encompassing architecture (design) that specifies an appropriate combination of the right foundations (theory and literature), procedures (methodologies) and their connected materials (data) and tools (methods) to construct a scientific argument. These individual components of design need to interlink and function together to create a sound building that will meet the user’s needs over time. When the user is a policy maker, or the results of research will inform policy processes, additional challenges confront the researcher. This course aims to familiarise students with the foundations of evaluating and designing academic yet policy-relevant social science research. It is grounded in discussions around the philosophy of science in order to critically assess how we come to know (scientifically) about the world. The course also enables students to assess existing research and review academic debates in order to identify areas where their own research can make a relevant contribution. The course then familiarises students with the process of designing their own research projects (such as their Master’s thesis), discussing the need for a balance between the components of research question, theory, data, and methods. The course will combine both theoretical knowledge and hands-on application, and it makes use of online materials, lectures, tutorial sessions and applied methodological workshops. Students will apply their knowledge in a range of tutorial assignments and to the development of a research design “portfolio”, a collection of different products related to different stages of research design.
By the end of this course, students should be able to:
- Define quality research and list the criteria that can be used to assess the quality of different research designs;
- Orient a topic of research within the larger literature and conduct a literature review that summarises a topic area while motivating key research design elements;
- Identify and formulate meaningful, feasible, and answerable research questions;
- Understand the advantages and disadvantages of qualitative or quantitative methodologies, and be able to motivate the selection of specific methodological approaches in a given research context;
- Evaluate the quality of policy-relevant research, and be able to formulate critique in a meaningful, productive way;
- Design (hypothetical) research that would contribute to solving a public policy dilemma.
There are no specific requirements for this course. However, students are encouraged to think early about a research area of interest, since the final assignment will ask them to write a research proposal on a topic of their choice (possibly leading to their Master’s thesis topic).