The second year of the SIS B.A. curriculum, the “research experience,” is comprised of a two-semester methods and methodology course sequence designed to provide students with essential research skills and competencies and to empower them to conduct their own independent research. In this course sequence students embark on an intellectual journey that takes them from being receivers of information to critical consumers and producers of knowledge. In Introduction to International Studies Research (SISU-206) students explore what it means to do research, learn core skills and competencies for research, and investigate a topic of their choosing from several different methodological perspectives. This introduction to the methods and methodologies of research is the foundation for the second course, Advanced International Studies Research (SISU-306), in which students complete their original research project through the application of the research skills and one or more of the methodologies taught in SISU-206. Together these courses provide students with the foundational knowledge and competencies necessary for success in upper level courses, internships, careers, and graduate study. It is in this course sequence that students transition from being receivers of information to critical consumers and producers of knowledge.
Introduction to International Studies Research (SISU-206)
This course is designed to introduce students to the wide array of methodologies employed in the study of international affairs and to provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to design and conduct a scholarly research project. In doing so, the course introduces students to the puzzles and research questions that motivate scholars of international studies as well as the different methods used to collect and analyze evidence systematically and logically. Through reading and discussion students become familiar with the large philosophical questions associated with international studies research as well as with the range of specific research methods for data collection and analysis and the resources on campus and beyond available to support student researchers.
The course begins with an investigation of what it means to do research and what distinguishes the mindset of a researcher from other forms of inquiry. Students begin their investigation of a topic of their choice through an application of core research skills such as finding and analyzing primary and secondary sources, developing a research question, and writing a literature review. In the second portion of the course students explore different research methodologies by developing a research design for the same topic from three different methodological perspectives (large-n statistical research, small-n case study research, and nonpositivist relational analysis). In doing so, students examine the tradeoffs involved in making methodological choices in research.
SISU-206 culminates with a Final Narrative Paper that details and reflects on the methodological choices that students have made for future research on their topic. This paper provides a starting point for conducting research in SISU-306. Overall, students should leave the course understanding of the mindset of research—what it means to conduct systematic research as opposed to other forms of inquiry and argumentation—as well the ability to understand, evaluate, and conduct research from different methodological perspectives. Students will then put these skills into practice in Advanced International Studies Research (SISU-306).
Advanced International Studies Research (SISU-306)
After completing SISU-206, students select a section of SISU-306 based on the research methodology that they plan on utilizing as they complete the original research project first explored in SISU-206. SISU-306 offerings vary by semester. In general sections specializing in qualitative case-study analysis, large-n statistical analysis, game theory, discourse analysis, process tracing, and ethnography are offered. Some sections of SISU-306 offer a thematic focus as well as a methodological focus (e.g. Case Study Analysis in U.S. Foreign Policy) while others are open to topic area. Students should read the SISU-306 course descriptions carefully and consult with their SISU-206 professor as they select a section of SISU-306.
Each section of SISU-306 is designed to guide students through the design and execution of an original research project. Although SISU-206 and SISU-306 constitute a linked course sequence, it is also important to note that changes to a students’ research question or approach may well be required as the topic is explored in more detail through a more refined application of research methodology in SISU-306. Students are expected to retain and use the materials, concepts, and skills from SISU-206 in their SISU-306 course. Students begin SISU-306 with the SISU-206 Final Narrative Paper as a starting point, but revisions and redesigns (sometimes substantial) may be necessary as students engage more deeply with a given research methodology and with their topic. By design students will revisit and rewrite some core research elements from SISU-206 (e.g. specifying the research puzzle, writing a literature review) because reviewing, revising, and updating prior work is an essential (and expected!) part of the research process.
Students then delve into the research process in depth, applying the tools of data collection and data analysis appropriate to the methodology they are employing. SISU-306 culminates with the production of an original scholarly research project – a paper and a presentation – that is not only a stand-alone product, but may well serve as the basis for future research and fieldwork while studying abroad, pursuing national scholarship opportunities such as the Boren or Fulbright, or while conducting additional research for a Capstone course. Many SISU-306 students have also published their work or presented at external conferences after revising the SISU-306 paper to take into account course feedback.