Since I’ve started reading academic journals I’ve noticed a few things:
1. They are not targeted at normal people.
2. It’s handy to have a dictionary nearby.
3. I better brush up on my stats.
4. There are two different types of papers, those referred to as “theory” papers, and those that focus on “method”.
If theory is conceptual, qualitative, and open-ended, then method is more concrete, quantitative, and focused…sort of. Method certainly focuses more on math, data, stats, analysis, etc. whereas theory is more focused on putting forth new ideas and encouraging exploration, but there appears to be quite a bit of overlap, and no obvious point of delineation between the two. A helpful bit of writing, a journal piece itself (I think…maybe it’s not an actual paper but just an introduction to other papers as it seems to imply), which has helped me to understand more about these separate-yet-overlapping worlds, is THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN THEORY AND METHOD by VAN MAANEN, SØRENSEN, and MITCHELL (login/registration required for reading). I haven’t read all that many journal articles thus far, since this is all rather new to me, but this one has been especially helpful in that it has given me a better understanding of the research world in general. The paper is also somewhat more entertaining than most due to its use of words like “befuddlement”, “knotty”, and “hermeneutic”.
The question that then arises is do researches typically find themselves gravitating towards one sort of paper rather than another? And is this something to avoid, or embrace? If I’m more of a writing person than a math person, should I team up with someone who is more of the data type of guy and we can co-author great work together, or should I work to become a great data guy myself so as to avoid the potential mistrust that would accompany becoming known as “not so great with numbers”?Liked it? Share it!
Joshua, I’ve actually spent the last two semesters in a pre-PhD class myself at BYU (taught through the ISys department) and have noticed many of the same things you have. We actually had a discussion with our professor yesterday about the question you posed regarding whether researchers end up sticking more to theory or method. Here’s a summary of what he said.
There are researchers that tend to primarily work in one area or another because they have a preference for that area. In the information systems field for example, I know he mentioned several such researchers that enjoy working on theory more than experiments (David Whetten I believe is the primary name he mentioned, though I could be mistaken). Obviously, however, the two are extremely intertwined. If you don’t understand what the theoretical constructs are referring to, you will never be able to properly run experiments on them. If you don’t know how to read the stats, then you won’t be able to posit future theoretical extensions that are based on validated studies. I believe that going through a doctorate program, however, will ensure that you get the necessary stats. From what our professor said, theory is represented less in the instruction in doctoral programs, though it is just as necessary.
On a related vein, we also asked him if most researchers like to jump around from topic to topic, or if researchers are best served by going at one single topic and becoming the “expert” on that topic. He noted that the danger of becoming an expert on a single topic is that you risk researching something that in the end is unimportant to the scientific community and is discarded. Instead, selecting a few related but different areas of interest and doing cross-subject research in those areas will allow you to become specialized without being pigeon-holed. It was quite an interesting discussion.
Anyway, I’m spitting all of this out here really without authority since I’m not a PhD student yet, but thought I’d share anyway from someone in about the same boat. If you or anyone else is interested, I would highly suggest contacting Dr. Paul Lowry in the ISys department at BYU, he does a fantastic job at preparing students to pursue PhDs. Good luck!
Thanks Josh, that’s all good stuff, and yes, Paul Lowry is excellent, he’s actually the first professor I looked up when I was trying to decide what I should focus on. I guess I already had an inkling strategy was going to be my thing.
Your article aroused my memory as I studied physics in both my undergraduate and graduate school years. I had to choose between theoretical and experimental routes for my graduate studies. To make a really long story short, I faced the choice of staying in my comfort zone, which was theory or have a high learning curve to venture into the experimental arena. My final decision was to go into the experimental field of solid state physics. I never regretted it even though many classmates were able to finish their theoretical research in three-four years versus the lab rats who worked for five-seven years. On the contrary, I enjoyed my years having to learn how to set up low temperature environment, preparing samples, performing the actual experiments, writing up the reports, summarizing the results to the advisors, and defending the research papers. To see something I can actually gather evidence to support is gratifying to me. The buzz word here is realistic.
In the process, I had to travel through several other departments in collaboration with other people of different disciplines and depend on them to support my own work. The buzz phrase here is team work.
Even though I did cut it short by taking the master’s way out of physics and got into education, I always utilized the analytical part of my training on my entire career life.