by Camille Gamboa, Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Director, SAGE Publishing
Dr. Janet Salmons is an all-around methods expert and – happily for her blog readers – not shy about sharing her expertise. She’s the research community manager for the free online community for social and behavioral research methods, MethodSpace, a qualitative methodologist and author of titles such as Doing Qualitative Research Online (2022), What Kind of Researcher Are You? (2021), Find the Theory in Your Research (2019), and Getting Data Online (2019).
I asked Janet (a dear colleague and a big library fan) to share a bit of her expertise on the undergraduate research experience and the role that librarians can play in support of it.
CG: First, tell us a little bit about yourself including your experience teaching research methodology courses and supporting the research process more broadly across the social and behavioral sciences.
JS: I had minimal guidance on research design in my own doctoral program, and that experience lit a fire! Whether teaching subject matter courses or supervising doctoral students at the dissertation stage, I wanted to demystify research and promote a “you can do it!” message. This included helping students learn how to read and understand literature, as well as to see how the pieces of research design fit together. I encouraged them to focus on the purpose and potential impact of their research – not just the step-by-step process of completing a project. I supervised 30 successful doctoral students through the dissertation process. When I write for MethodSpace, or in my own publications, I think of those perplexed students and try to speak plainly.
CG: When it comes to research methods, generally, what do students need to learn?
JS: There are some crucial steps to work on before students get to the point of designing their own projects. Briefly:
- Why conduct research? In our opinion-driven, misinformation-filled environment, valuing empirical research and being able to differentiate between research findings and other kinds of information are important places to start.
- Why is scholarly literature important? Students should understand the unique value of scholarly literature over other forms of information and be able to find, read, and critique relevant studies.
- How can I become a better communicator? Research is generally not a solo activity as evidenced by the fact that few articles have only one author. Scholars build on one another’s work and collaborate. At the same time, student researchers can feel isolated when doing research and writing about it. Making time and space for novice scholars to informally discuss ideas and approaches, ask for feedback, and solve problems can help to reduce attrition in doctoral programs. (See “Dealing with Social Isolation to Minimize Doctoral Attrition – A Four Stage Framework.”
Then, building research skills:
- How does research work? Students need to gain a broad understanding of the options for conducting social research. For example, what approaches involve human participants versus documents or datasets? Why would you choose one or the other?
- What merits inquiry? Students need to be able to find meaningful problems to study especially as attention to research impact becomes increasingly important. What questions can produce results that make a difference, either on advancing scholarship in the field or offering solutions to real-world problems?
- Where can I learn about the practice of research? Students should be provided with experiential activities to apply research concepts, build confidence and skills.
- How do I become a respected scholar? And importantly, before they begin their research, they need to commit to researching with integrity and ethical practices.
CG: In your opinion, what role can librarians play supporting students at these various stages?
JS: Librarians can offer the key to research success! At early stages, librarians can help students find their way through the maze of databases to locate sources and examples. While research is underway, librarians can offer journal article discussion groups, writing circles, or informative sessions about how to overcome common obstacles. As researchers get to the concluding stage, librarians can offer resources about scholarly writing and publishing.
Demonstrate search techniques. We often assume that digitally savvy students can navigate and use online libraries and databases. However, they can be quite intimidating to new researchers! And this should include any citation or referencing tools and available systems for organizing collections of articles.
Emphasize how, not just what. When sharing research examples, show students ways to de-code the methods section, so they don’t simply skip to the end to find results. This will pay dividends for them as they begin to conduct their own research.
Offer interdisciplinary options. Keep in mind that research methods are largely discipline-agnostic. Encourage students to look at journals and publications outside their own field of study. For example, ethnographic research was previously the domain of anthropologist, but is now commonly used in business research.
Showcase success stories. When faculty and students get published, share their stories and include discussion of their process for conducting research and writing about it.
CG: Where can librarians turn if they get a research methods-related question that they feel they aren’t equipped to answer?
Of course I have to mention the open-access MethodSpace, a research-focused blog. It offers video interviews with authors and editors, informative original posts, curated collections of articles, and webinars. Additionally, AuthorAid is an online community with open-access mini-courses, forums, and blog posts about research. The UK’s National Center for Research Methods and offers access to resources about methods and how to teach them.
CG: In your experience, how can librarians support faculty teaching research methods? How can faculty and librarians best work together?
JS: I have found that having librarians come into the virtual or face-to-face classroom to demonstrate available tools was extremely valuable. Librarians let students know how to get help, including contacting reference librarians or using how-to resources.
Many hands make light work. Look for opportunities to bring other campus resources, including the writing center and teaching and learning center, along with librarians and faculty members to identify needs and find ways to work together.
Here’s one example: collaborate on the development of information hubs that support specific areas of study and/or stages of the research process. See University of California Berkley’s library site for researchers, Cornell University’s site for those who teach research, and its site for researchers. Duke University’s library has a hub for information that includes one-click access to subject-matter research specialists.
About the Author: My name is Camille Gamboa (she/her) and I’ve joined The Charleston Hub’s blog to write about all things communications. I am the corporate communications and public affairs director at SAGE Publishing, where I employ various communication strategies to brand SAGE amongst the scholarly community, media, policymakers and public. I also work with groups in the US and across the trans-Atlantic to demonstrate the value of social and behavioral science to those outside of academia. I have a Master of Arts in communication from Pepperdine University and a certificate for women and leadership from Antioch University. I currently reside in the greater DC-area with my husband and two young daughters. @CamilleGamboa