The Case for Research Methodology as a Required Course

Getting a bachelor’s degree in any discipline requires students to take a set of basics.

Among these are U.S. History, College Algebra, Government, Freshman Comp, blah blah blah—you’ve all met with an advisor by now. I feel, however, like one critical class is missing from the list: research methodology. I don’t believe any student should be handed a degree from any accredited institution without first taking a course in scientific methods.

Some of you may be asking what methodology is (and that’s why I’m so pissed). Simply put, it’s the application of the Socratic method; it’s how research is conducted, how variables are defined and how to perform statistical analyses.

The Case for Research Methodology as a Required Course
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It’s the research that’s being cited any time an article or a newscaster says, “A new study has come out showing that the word ‘huh?’ is present in every single human language.” I pray the research you encounter is not quite so ridiculous.

Why is it important to take such a class? Recently I enrolled in an upper-division anthropology course. When I say upper division I mean upper division. 400 level. The auditorium was overwhelmingly populated by seniors. Seniors, despite what you may have read, can be divided into two types: The ones that are so over it that they attend class once a week and carry their one-hitter on campus to sneak tokes, and the ones who are already prepping themselves for grad school, sitting as far away as they can from their smoky cohort.

One thing they both have in common, however, is they carry with them some residue of their previous hundred hours of coursework. While most seniors might not be able to remember precisely what Hawthorne was symbolizing with Hester Prynne’s scarlet branding, they can at least remember that the “A” stood for “adultery.” They can still solve for x in a linear equation. They remember who preceded Eisenhauer.

In short, some shit sticks.

So with that in mind, I settled into my anthropology class that semester prepared for a daily discussion akin to the ones I’d been having in my psychology classes. My mentality was that some of these learned seniors would be applying their background in research methodology to their studies in this course. I was ready to discuss the flaws in a study on bone dating, the importance of qualitative measures in tribal evaluations and the difficulty in forging operational definitions of functional literacy.

Instead what I got was a deluge of nonsense.

There I sat surrounded by students who could not identify an independent variable or make sense of a two way analysis of variance. I heard students (your typical militant atheists) harp on scientific “proof,” seemingly unaware that—as any real scientist would tell you—the concept of “proof” does not exist in science. I had to do a double take when I heard a classmate posit that advanced architectural engineering in ancient Turkey was possible evidence of ancient aliens. Really?

Curious after a series of persistent headaches every Tuesday and Thursday, I decided to do a little investigating. I searched my university’s degree requirements for a B.A. in anthropology and discovered (to my immediate outrage) that methodology is not a requirement.

What?! How can a discipline that is by all definitions a science not require students to have at least a passive knowledge of research methods? Sure, in the 1800s you could get away with being an armchair anthropologist, but those days are long past.

I don’t want you to believe that I’m strictly slagging off Anthro majors here. It isn’t their fault but rather the institutions’. My frustration with this omission has since extended beyond the field of anthropology; I’m of the belief that every college student in America should be required to take a methodology course. I don’t care if you’re studying computer science, communications, visual art or black magic, research methods should be a required study.

I can already hear the objections: “Daniel,” you say, “not everyone is going to be a scientist. Not everyone is going to don a lab coat and do weird stuff to rabbits.”

I hear you. I do. But neither is everyone going to be a history scholar, an English linguist or political pundit. Yet introductory classes in those fields are required of everyone. Why not methodology? Would it not benefit the entire field of academia if all graduating students had at least cursory exposure to real science? At the very least it would spare students some embarrassment at the postgraduate level.

I have a friend who, three years ago, graduated with her degree in primary education, a certificate that, like anthropology, has no methodology component. Fed up with the physical and verbal abuse that middle schoolers heaped on her with impunity, she decided to quit teaching sixth-grade math and return to school to earn her master’s degree. Her passion for yoga and a healthy lifestyle informed her decision to pursue a master’s in kinesiology, a concentration that heavily incorporates (you guessed it) research methodology.

So what of my poor friend these days? Well she’s not getting called a bitch or being slapped by twelve-year olds anymore, so there’s that. At least once a week, though, I field a call from her where I have to employ my psychology pedigree to explain some matter of scholarship. One week it’ll be synthesizing a literature review, another week it’s APA formatting. As of this writing I’m waiting on the call concerning her human subjects application for the IRB. God help us both if she asks me to show her how to perform a chi-square analysis. I feel the issues my dear friend faces in her studies could have been circumvented had a methodology course been imposed on her as an undergrad.

Her dilemma is hardly unique, I’m sure, and it’s not one that any graduate student deserves. I can’t imagine how it would look if a student with a B.A. in English showed up to graduate school and couldn’t diagram a sentence. That would be in equal measures absurd and unfair.

If a background in scientific methods is requisite to constructing a graduate thesis, for the love of Pete, make that course mandatory at the undergraduate level first. Graduate school is hard enough without having the APA manual thrown at you on the first day.

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