Tuesday, August 21, 2007

And So It Begins (Again)

Preliminary thoughts on the first week, thus far:

Everyone writing a monograph should take a social science research methods course, especially if your project is interdisciplinary. I wish the law school offered something like this. This is probably why a lot of student notes suck (and more than a few articles). Taking a methods course helps you go from general research interest to specific research question--and one that can be adequately addressed in your monograph.

The course description:

This is an introductory course focusing on how to conceptualize and execute research projects in the social sciences. We will briefly examine the philosophical issues that undergird such research, along with the nuts and bolts of actual research methods. At the end of this course, students should have a good sense of a range of research methods (both qualitative and quantitative) as well as a sense of how to think about the kinds of research problems that will provide the core of a Ph.D. thesis.The main intellectual agenda will be to develop a sophisticated and rigorous sense of how to ask and answer a scholarly research question concerning the workings of law and society, using social science and related data. Students should note that this course includes a practicum, where they will be asked to write a research proposal and to execute a small pilot study of their proposed research.

Doesn't that sound awesome?! The professor is amazing. A Ph.D., she knows how to do research in the social sciences. Moreover, she wants to teach us about the professionalization of research: Bourdieu doxa, giving us a toolkit of vocabulary and tactics to be able to talk about our research and defend it at conferences and job talks. I really wonder how law professors become teachers without learning how to teach or conduct research. And how useful it would be to us all to have such a course and on the ground training for academia.

Take research methods. Seriously. Audit if you have to at another department, but aspiring professors should take this course, at an early phase in their dissertation project--and even again, if you think it would be useful. Another classmate is taking it at the mid-stage of her dissertation to refine her question and get feedback.

Also, Employee Benefits is more interesting than I thought it would be. The professor is a practioner, but she's an excellent lecturer and teacher, and that's another pleasant surprise. It's listed under the "Business Law" offerings. The professor is employee-friendly, but we are approaching the course from the perspective of a lawyer/planner. We are to design retirement/benefits plans for businesses. This is the most practical course I've ever taken. We will see how I do. For now I am very interested at this novel, non-theoretical approach to my education, and the subject is surprisingly rich and interesting. I am happy to find that I am no longer the shy wallflower I was/can be. The class was broken up into sections, and I was put into the "Employer" group for coming up with reasons why businesses might want to give their employees benefits plans rather than salary increases. I was the team leader and spoke for the group! This is awesome. I can actually work with other people and be assertive and confident even if I don't have a podium to stand behind.

Still up in the air: finding a course on Organizational Theory from either the Business School or the Sociology Department that will fit into my schedule and give me enough graded units. But that's next week. For now, I have other stresses. My registration status was just cleared up today, and my financial aid status is a mess (but fortunately my fellowship will cover most of my tuition--but not my rent or bourgie eating habits). Le sigh.