Teach with your Strengths, part 1 of 2
by Dr. Kevin Nguyen
by Dr. Kevin Nguyen
All academics do research. Finding research topics is a part of the job. If you are in academia you will need to research. Whether you are working on a research paper, thesis, dissertation, field project, or a new book, you will need to research. Many times research topics come easily. They are dictated by someone else, by pressing circumstances or are a particular passion. However, almost every writer comes to a point in his or her career when he or she is required to write without a lead. The writer knows that something must be written, but what?
Six Steps to Choosing Your Research Topics
1. Work in an area of personal interest.
You will not want to research a topic that is dull to you. The larger the project, the more personal investment will be required to stay the course. So, from the beginning investigate topics that interest you. It is also likely to be the area where you already have some expertise.
2. Consider if your interest matters.
Just because you like a topic does not mean it is either important or interesting to others. Since writers presumably research in order to be read, consider if your interest matters. If it does not, select a new one. If it does, your are on the right track.
3. Identify what research already exists in your field of interest.
You do not want to expend a great deal of research effort only to find out that someone else has written your paper. Identity what topics are sufficiently covered and what topics have questions yet unanswered or conclusions yet unchallenged.
4. Brainstorm various possibilities.
Before researching, sit down and come up with as many ideas as you can concerning your interest. Among other things, brainstorming benefits you by leading you to something you never before considered, helping to establish the outline for when you begin writing, and by producing many future topics.
5. Narrow your topic to a manageable size.
It does no good to choose a topic of gargantuan scale. You must narrow your topic as soon as possible to a size that is appropriate for your project. Research papers must be very narrow in focus; theses, dissertations and books can be a bit broader, but be careful to not let them grow unwieldy.
6. Choose your topic.
Sometimes the enemy is not the lack of a topic, but it is that you cannot decide between equally compelling topics. There comes a time when you must simply choose. Choose your topic and begin your research. Put your remaining other good topic ideas in your mental vault for future research.
Finally, once you have chosen your topic, start writing.
by Dr. Sharon Short
During the past several decades, considerable debate has raged between those who favor empirical (generally termed “quantitative”) research and those who prefer interpretive (generally referred to as “qualitative”) inquiry. Those who draw the lines most dogmatically argue that, since these research methods and paradigms are based on fundamentally conflicting views about the nature of reality, the researcher must commit to the one approach that corresponds to his or her philosophical position. One cannot endorse both paradigms because they represent reality in essentially contradictory ways and are therefore incompatible and mutually exclusive.
Several thoughtful scholars, however, have argued for complementarity among research paradigms rather than exclusivity (Eisner, 1981; Salomon, 1991; Soltis, 1984). As I struggled with these issues in the preparation of my dissertation proposal, I eventually concluded that those who claim that reality is either objective and external or socially constructed are claiming to much, and that it makes more sense to recognize some aspects of reality as objectively real and stable and other aspects of the same comprehensive reality as socially constructed. Salomon explains it in these words:
The very logic that underlies the acceptance of reality as social and research paradigms as human-made, admitting therefore a variety of these, ought also to accept the notion that no single paradigm or set of assumptions is necessarily superior to others….Rather, paradigms are ways to study selected aspects of the world, and thus their selection must be a function of that aspect chosen for study. (p. 15)
I think it is fair to say that reality is both stable and consistent (in general) and idiosyncratic and individualistic (in particular). This claim is much more true for the social sciences than for the physical sciences, and that may be the source of the trouble. Social scientists began by imitating the scientific methods of physical science, and these methods worked for them up to a point. But then there was so much more unexplained information than one would find in physical science, so much more variation and inconsistency, that some theorists rejected the paradigm entirely in favor of a different one, when in fact both of them could helpfully tell a part of the whole story.
Different aspects of education may appropriately be researched from each perspective. There is enough consistency, for example, in the way children develop cognitively, linguistically, and so on for general “laws” to be discovered, but there is also enough variation and individuality for research into specific cases to be important. More so than in the physical sciences, educational research needs to be approached from both ends of the spectrum if the reality under investigation is to be represented comprehensively. The correct paradigm, then, is the one that corresponds to the particular aspect of reality that is being examined.
Eisner, E. W. (1981). On the differences between scientific and artistic approaches to qualitative research. Educational Researcher, 10(4), 5-9.
Salomon. G. (1991). Transcending the qualitative-quantitative debate: The analytic and systemic approaches to educational research. Educational Researcher, 20(6), 10-18.
Soltis, J. F. (1984). On the nature of educational research. Educational Researcher, 13(10), 5-10.
by Steve Huerd
Within the pages of Scripture, we find many saints who had to wait upon God to fulfill their life calling.
The Wonder of Waiting. Abraham had to wait for a son, Joseph had to wait to see how his dreams would be fulfilled, Moses required forty years of preparation, Caleb finally conquered Hebron after waiting forty years for an entire unbelieving generation to die in the wilderness, and the list goes on and on. Waiting is one of God’s primary tools he uses to shape us into the kind of men and women he desires us to be. God often gives us dreams, aspirations, and desires of what he wants to do through us to bless others. It is during these years of waiting where God builds Christ’s character in us (Rom. 8:29) through sifting and pruning us (John 15:1-5) that we might truly know him and become even more fruitful.
The world and many who wish us well continually tell us, “You must do this and that” to get to where you want to go. You need to complete your education, be published, attend the right types of academic communities, intentionally build strategic relationships, and so forth in order to make yourself the best candidate you can be possibly be. Granted, there must be a balance between the waiting and preparing oneself, and these two need not be separate entities (though often it seems that even with the best of human preparation, there remain long seasons of just waiting upon God)
Tony Stolzfus, who serves as a professional pastor’s ministry coach claims:
In God’s economy, the power of your ministry is a function of the depth of your processing. In other words, the more deeply Jesus’ character gets worked into you, the more you have to give. The more years God has to sift you and refine you and prune you for greater growth, the more potential you have for world-changing impact.”
The Divine Perspective About Our Academic Careers. The biblical examples mentioned above along with particular verses seem to affirm these truths. For example, the Psalmist declares, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1-2) David also claims “And in thy book, they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” Paul states that, “We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared beforehand” (Eph. 2:10). These and other verses surely affirm that God has prepared a specific place for us to accomplish the good works he has prepared for us. God sovereignly works on both ends, both for those seeking academic positions and for those seeking to fulfill them, to accomplish his agenda with the person of his choosing.
Often we fret and worry, becoming impatient with God and demanding for him to grant us the position we feel we deserve. Yet even in waiting, there is danger as Stoltzfus states, “It is so easy to end up resisting the very thing that will take us where we want to go! We are protesting and squirming and trying to get out from under the knife, while God in his mercy is saying, ‘If I let you go now, you will never become what you are capable of becoming.’ If we truly demand release, God will honor our request and let us go forward into a shallow shadow of our call, but He is in no hurry to release us from the wilderness.”
Pondering upon these thoughts causes me to rethink my perspective and relax knowing that a loving God is working behind the scenes in ways I can’t see. It causes me to read again Andrew Murray’s classic book entitled “Waiting Upon God,” while journaling my thoughts and prayers.I find that I have to continually remind myself of this perspective time and time again when I become anxious and insecure. When I do trust in him, I can take one day at a time, experiencing the peace he promises in Phil. 4:6-7. I want to yield myself fully to the Master Surgeon, giving him full access to all areas of my life letting him take the time he needs to shape me into the professor that I believe he is calling me to be.
by Timothy Howe
Student needs are important. Students bring a lot into the classroom other than books and ideas. They come into the classroom with a whole host of issues with which they are dealing. This is part of life. Each one of us approaches our job affected by a variety of factors – our mood, recent news we have received, physical illness or tiredness, concerns, etc. Students are the same way. Part of the maturation process requires them learning to deal with various struggles while performing at an acceptable level. Yet, as educators, we can help them in to learn this process to great degree. We do so through a combination of demonstrating compassion while holding them accountable to their work. A large part of the educator’s task is recognizing what are the real needs of the student versus plain old laziness or apathy.
Classroom: When students are first entering into the classroom is a good time to assess how they are doing. The look on their face, their body motions, their interactions with other students and their preoccupation with objects not associated with the class (such as cell phone) can all be good indicators as to whether or not there is something with the student beyond what meets the eye. Furthermore, interaction within the classroom with the professor or other students can give more clues. How a student responds to question – does she give quick, short answers when normally she is full of ideas, or is he hostile when normally he is pleasant – can reveal what is going on internally. Since, everyone has a bad day or feels “blah” from time to time, this might not set off alarm bells initially. However, the repetition of such behavior can communicate that a student is in need of assistance.
Silence Speaks Loudly: Most people do not want to communicate their problems. They hold them in and put a mask on for the world around them. One way that people communicate their difficulties is precisely when they do not speak out. When a student seems to shut out others and avoid communication, this is a good time to pay attention to what might be going on in his or her life.
Anxiety Affects Performance: A sure sign that a student has had a need develop is a drop in performance. Anxiety affects performance. When a normally well-performing student suddenly starts to perform poorly, this should be a hint that something is not right. It might be as simple as not understanding the assignments, an easy thing to fix. It is likely to be a lot more complex.
What concern is the student’s problem to the professor? So if a student is having a problem, is that a concern of the professor. People go into education to improve the lives of others. This is done primarily through helping others to grasp knew levels of understanding. It is also accomplished through experience. So, yes, it is a concern of the professor if the professor wants to be a real influence in the life of the student. Learning takes place in so much more than the imparting of factual data. Students learn much from professors they perceive as caring about them. Learning will be enhanced when these problem areas are no longer in the way.
So, how to help?
Face the problem head on: People often times will avoid a problem and hope that it goes away rather than deal with it. This strategy rarely works. If a professor suspects that a student is struggling with a need that is of direct bearing on the course, a good approach usually is to communicate directly with that student about the suspicion in a sensitive fashion. If the need is classroom related, the student might feel relieved to get the issue in the open. If the issue turns out to be non-classroom related, but it still affects the classroom, then the professor is able to get the student the best help available.
Over-communicate: The professor should not assume that one try to communicate about the problem will be sufficient. Neither should there be an expectation that once a problem is diagnosed that it is fixed. Intentional follow-up is necessary and this includes clearing up any missed assignments or completion of material agreed upon to get the student back on track. The professor will need to over-communicate to be sure that the student is back on the right track.
Encourage: Students can become overwhelmed and think that they are too far behind or incapable of doing the work. An encouraging word of a professor carries a lot of weight in such a situation. Professors can take on a mentoring role to not only help the student through the course, but also through life. Many students still refer to past professor’s as mentors in their lives years after the last course they took with him or her.
Resolve the Need: Where it is possible, help the student to resolve the need, not just become aware of it. Their seems to be a tendency to analyze a situation and not do much more than explain it. Real problems need real solutions. If a professor is able to help a student chart the course to solving a real problems, the professor has just passed along one of life’s most important skills.
The Missouri University state college system intersects at Columbia, Missouri– which is better known as Mizzou, home to the popular Mizzou Tigers and a host of associated college traditions.
But despite the tranquil campus and rolling lawns, Vimal Patel reports a growing unrest among its graduate students, including doctoral students, over their treatment and remuneration, among other issues.
A handful of students launched a type of movement through the agency of a graduate rights forum, resulting in two weeks of protests and administrative activism. The graduate students report the temporary loss of their university health-insurance subsidies, the lack of student housing for grad students, and incredibly modest stipends paid out for fellowships to grad assistants: a mere $12,000 annually.
These challenges echo similar situations faced by doctoral students everywhere. Because of the staggering lack of academic positions available compared to the volume of graduates, newly-minted doctors often take refuge in graduate fellowships such as those at Mizzou. The situation isn’t likely to change soon, as university funding issues, student debt, and challenges in higher education and the Department of Education indicate there is no end in sight.
As such, the best advice for doctoral students and graduates is to invest more heavily in themselves and the professional aspects of their career preparation. Doing so will provide better odds in identifying and landing the relatively small number of academic positions that do exist. What is happening at Mizzou is a microcosm of the broader crisis, and students are realizing it is up to them to become activists for their own plight. Included in these actions should be proactively preparing for their careers– and not only challenging budget-strapped administrations with little wiggle room. The solution is certainly both-and… not “either-or.”
If you’re a graduate student or one on a grad fellowship, take control by investing in yourself… not only raging at the machine.
Original Full Article by Vimal Patal
Image courtesy of Missouri Times