Whether you are a current student or a doctoral graduate, conducting research is an integral part of being a scholar-practitioner with the skills and credibility to effect social change. Fortunately, many of the research challenges you will face—from choosing a topic, to finding study participants, to staying sane throughout the process, and every step in between—have already been addressed by members of the Walden community. Here, they share their insights on how to overcome seven top research challenges.
7 Research ChallengesChallenge: Choosing the Right Topic
Your research topic is the foundation on which everything else rests, so it’s crucial to choose carefully.
“You can’t do anything else until you figure out the basic focus of your topic,” says Dr. Susann V. Getsch ’08, who earned her PhD in Psychology from Walden. The topic of her dissertation, Educating Students With Pervasive Developmental Disorders: An Exploration of Government Mandates and Teachers’ Perspectives, was close to her heart—Getsch has a child on the autism spectrum. After first attempting to “take on the entire world” with her research, Getsch chose to focus on how special education teachers select the protocols for classrooms with students with autism in the context of No Child Left Behind and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She shares her recommendations for choosing an effective research topic.
Develop a doable topic. Determine what resources you have available—time, money, people—and choose a topic that you can do justice. Getsch scrapped an initial study idea of replicating another researcher’s study because it would be too resource-intensive.
Read everything you can on the topic. Getsch “stumbled across” systems theory, an interdisciplinary framework for understanding systems in science and society. The topic was outside her required class reading, but ultimately provided Getsch’s theoretical framework.
Find a theoretical basis to support your topic. The key is having an overarching theoretical context for your results. “I was really thrilled when I found these theories that fit my study like a glove,” Getsch says.
Make sure the topic will hold your interest. You’ll be spending at least a year on a dissertation or any large research project, so it has to be compelling enough that you’ll go the distance.
Look for a niche in which you can make a difference … My view is that you really should be offering something new to the field,” says Getsch.
… but remember you can’t change the world with one dissertation. Getsch’s dissertation committee chair, Dr. Stephanie Cawthon, helped her focus on the crux of what she wanted to explore. “She gently pointed out that I couldn’t change the whole world with my dissertation, but I could add to the body of knowledge,” says Getsch.
Let yourself shift gears. Getsch admits that the topic she started out with was “in no way” what she ended up with.
Fine-tune your topic based on input from others. “Take every opportunity you can to pick the brains” of experts, Getsch recommends. “I went across disciplines. I drove people crazy. And each time, I would revise slightly based on what the last person taught me.”
Challenge: Choosing the Right Methodology
Once you’ve chosen a topic, you’ll need a methodology—a procedure for conducting your research—in order to move forward.
Dr. Linda Crawford, a faculty member in Walden’s PhD program, has received the Bernard L. Turner award two times for chairing outstanding dissertation recipients. She offers several techniques for getting on the right path when it comes to choosing the appropriate methodology for your study.
“The best way to choose it is not to choose.” In other words, Crawford says, “the methodology that’s used comes from the research question, not from your personal preferences for one design or another.” She recommends refraining from choosing between a qualitative or quantitative methodology until you:
Complete the sentence: “The problem is …”
Complete the sentence: “The purpose of this study is …”
Formulate your research questions.