The Crash Course

Laurie Miller's Thoughts

The Crash Course

Developing High Level Research Skills

Here you will find links and ramblings about starting a research project in writing and rhetoric @ the Ph.D. level.



  • Advanced Information Research Skills – an on-line course from the Queensland University of Technology worth going through!

    • “a systematic introduction to high level research skills and knowledge within the context of students’ fields of research”
  • Same information as discussed in AIRS but on one page (nice for a quick read, but the AIRS is a good “walk through it” site with step-by-step guidance) from the Graduate School @ Eastern Michigan University

What the f*$# is my advisor talking about?

We all have various reasons to seek a Ph.D. but within the social sciences and humanities, you have to be honest and admit that your desire for the “terminal degree” is not driven by economic reward or even the reward of a job. You’re in this for the intellectual challenge, the chance to contribute to the collective of human knowledge or the opportunity to bring forth positive social change. People with these types of motivations are not usually well versed in the scientific method, so when faced with having to conduct research, many of us in the arts and humanities are left a little stunned.

I’m a bit if an odd bird in this regard as I have an undergraduate degree in biological sciences and a masters’ degree in linguistics. In biologyCranefly and linguistics, experiments are conducted, large quantities of  data is collected and analysed (usually by running it through some sort of statistical program like SPSS) and then you have to figure out what  it all means. But for some reason, this is easier to me than ethnographic studies or case studies…even results from interviews or surveys. This later type of data is not easily classified and sorted; it’s sticky with subjectivity and perspective. I know that ANY study is conducted from a particular viewpoint under specific circumstances and is, therefore, inherently subjective, but it’s a hellva lot easier to count the number and rate of cranefly deaths after direct contact with compound X and be confident that you have “real” numbers to work with than it is to figure out what, exactly, makes a piece of writing easier to read, easier to “get the writer’s idea from,” than other pieces of writing. So when my advisor talks about study design and research questions in composition studies, it kinda blows my mind.

I think another difference between higher level research work as a student in the arts/humanities and the sciences is that most of the time in the sciences as a graduate student you work in someone’s lab: you do small parts that eventually combine with the work of others in the lab to supply the information and ideas for a larger research project that was designed by the supervising faculty of the lab who long ago developed the research focus, question and hypothesis for your work. Here in the arts/humanities world, each new Ph.D. basically has to develop their own lab … without awesome government or corporate funding like they get over in the science buildings.

And thus this is part of An Educated Mule. Here I’ll leave a trail of my entry into and work in art and humanities higher level research on which I will be evaluated. The trail will be laid so that I can find my way back in (or out if need be!) … and anyone who wants to follow the path I’m trying out is welcome to join in. I will warn you, I will not ever (I think) sound like much of a brainiac along this path — I am annoyed by educators whose tone is high and mighty — even if they don’t mean to sound that way. I say this because this is seriously hard work to do and I do take it seriously, but I find it best to “bring the tablet down off the mountain” not cast in stone in an obscure language most people do not know, but presented as ideas, just ideas, in an accessible manner. So here you will find ideas, not jargon, not high handedness, transmitted in my regular, everyday words.

1 Comment

One Comment so far ↓

  • Colleen Reynolds

    There are all different ways of sounding high and mighty, too. What would/does it mean for someone to enroll in a PhD program [mostly] for the fun of it? It has been interesting to see people respond to me when I tell them that this was my primary driving factor. Most seem surprised. If you had plenty of available time and money to do what you wanted, what would you do? For me, the answer was to go and see what there is to discover beyond what I know in the place where I best understood how to learn: the academy. The more I understand about the current state of the academy, the more I want to provide other options for places where people can go out discover new ideas.

    Admittedly, this is far more selfish than any desire to “contribute to the collective of human knowledge.” I just want to have fun. Discovering is fun. You, dear writer, seem to have a solid sense of how fun discovering can be, whether from reading and discussing a great book or from measuring the results of a scientific experiment. I look forward to your future posts!

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