Thursday, August 7, 2008

Define -vs- Defend

I met with my thesis adviser today, bringing along a document that described my proposed research approach, as he'd requested. I thought he wanted me to define and describe my methodology, but it turns out what I really needed to do was defend and justify it. Looking back, that is probably what he asked for, but there was enough ambiguity in the request that I missed it.

As we talked, I discovered that logic is not authority, and reason is not validation. In order for my method to be accepted, it is not sufficient to show it makes sense. Instead, I need to show that the approach is not novel and has been done before, has been accepted by the academic community and constitutes a validated method (note: accepted and validated are not the same as valid).

A quick, albeit non-scientific, survey showed something I sort of knew already: the research community (not just the physical sciences) has a strong affinity for endless tables of statistics and calculations, preferably stretching out to three or four significant digits, however dubious looking they are to me. Give a big, quantifiable survey to a large group of people, crunch the numbers into columns and rows, and you’ve got a very impressive looking table. Never mind that for the type of question I'm working on, that questioning method would virtually guarantee the answers won't be particularly insightful or accurate. But the method, ah, that would be a validated method.

There's so much to learn about this academia thing.


dad said...

Hi Dan: I see you are receiving some 'additional' academia learning via the 'personal experience' route... and sadly, yes, thesis usually means: defend and justify.... and I see you are right back to the original debates of: form vs content; style vs quality; method vs substance .... hint: rather than get suckered into the 'neverending' debates (some psychologist and others get suckered into the same type of never-ending debate on: nurture vs nature) on those issues, look for balance.... good luck.... Dad

Kate Lord Brown said...

Balance. Always good. Academia ... this is why I haven't applied for my PhD yet.

The Dan Ward said...

Good point - balance seems to indeed be the key.

Fortunately, I seem to have found the necessary journal articles that demonstrate my method has been used before... I'm really enjoying the research and it's exciting to read what other people have done in this field.