Wednesday, February 22, 2006

ALM Program: Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research

A few months ago another ALM candidate emailed me some questions about quantitative vs. qualitative research at the Extension School. My answers are below:

Q. from the knowledge you've gathered about the thesis process, does the thesis have to be quantitative?

A: No. In fact, almost every government and history proposal I have read or heard about has been qualitative in nature. During my proseminar, the two professors (the Bond brothers, both very serious scholars of quantitative content analysis techniques used to understand current events) asked the class who intended to do a quantitative study for their thesis. Only one person raised her hand. (I didn't, at the time I thought I was [still] going to take the qualitative route).

Later on I found out that historical quantitative studies are rare -- when I did a test run using my quantitative methodology during my class last spring, my professor -- who has been at Harvard for decades -- said he'd never seen something like this. Prof. Ostrowski [the research advisor for government and history concentrators] is very used to getting qualitative proposals; at the thesis discussion sessions almost everyone seems to have plans for a qualitative methodology.

Q. I will have finished six classes by next May and hope to join the thesis discussion group next fall. So far, you've mentioned that 6 people were at the November meeting and all were history concentrators. I was told that the government concentration was the largest one so I'm wondering - are there any govt. students in your thesis group this fall?

A: The makeup of the group changes from session to session. The first one I attended had about half history, half government, and there were about 10 people in all. The last one just had six, only a few of them who I knew from past sessions, and all were history.

Q. Have you applied for 'special student status' to take classes outside Extension? Do you know anyone who has? If so, can you offer any tips on it?

A. When I still worked at Harvard I had the option of taking classes at GSAS without applying for special student status, and almost did (a class on Chinese nationalism) but left my job at Harvard before I had the opportunity to take this class. I don't think I will be able to do it for my remaining classes, because I work during the day in Framingham and most GSAS classes are during the day. I wish I had taken a GSAS or KSG class when I was still there -- there were some great topics that go beyond the offerings of the Extension School.

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