A simple experiment highlighting why I’m more of an applied than theoretical researcher.

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Due to scheduling challenges and lack of telecom-specific electives in my program (note to all prospective graduate students: if you’re interested in specific courses within a program, check to see they are actually offered), I ended up taking two research methods courses for my program. I’d originally taken Applied Research Methods: Policy & Regulatory Studies last Winter. Based out of York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, it was taught by Liora Salter, who specializes these days in public and environmental law but cut her research teeth in communications policy.

While many of my classmates were novice researchers from the environmental studies area, Liora was a fantastic instructor and the material was so practical that more advanced students like myself still really benefitted. From the first class, Liora focused on the process of policy studies. This allowed her to equip students with the tools needed to move forward with their own research projects, regardless of what the area was (international or domestic, federal or municipal, education or spectrum governance, etc).

Assignments centred on conducting your own research and discussing, not the results but, challenges and successes with the research process itself, where gaps could start to be identified, and solutions proposed on how to fill them or compensate within the analysis. A side benefit was the assignment write ups becoming much more conversational in writing style — if no less critical and analytical — which was an unexpectedly pleasurable experience after the more academic writing requirements for most of the other courses.

The feedback and guidance from Liora was great, the material practical and useful for both my Masters and any future employment — industry, government or academia, and I was well along the way for my own spectrum policy research.

During the recently concluded term, I took the program’s required Masters-level foundational course in Research Methods. I’d been hoping to replace it with Applied Research Methods (which, being in the Politics & Policy Stream, I am able to do) and then have another elective. But wanting to finish up my coursework as quickly as possible, and not having any really appealing elective choices for Fall 2013, I decided to continue to enhance my research skills and have the Applied course be one of my electives.

Fred Fletcher taught the Research Methods course and his background in political and mass media research (polling) allowed for some interesting anecdotes. But the nature of the course demanded much more of a survey approach of various quantitative and qualitative research methods, providing some useful insight into when and why you might want to use different methods for different projects but a lack of depth to anything specific. Discussions took place around the theoretical basis for different approaches, along with the paradigmatic arguments that qualitative and quantitative researchers often found themselves in — debates that I (and, clearly, Fred) find unproductive. Also, as the class is geared towards helping students write their program thesis/major research paper/major research project proposal (it’s generally one of the last courses students take), it very much felt like I was going through the motions and made engagement, at times, challenging.

Putting together a similar proposal for Liora’s class, I’d sketched out a timeline for completing my project that had me doing foundational research until the end of 2013, finishing up any specific gaps in research at the start of this year while the auction is underway, and writing by the spring. Her guidance was that I was ready to write last April, and that was likely the only way I’d be able to identify areas that needed further research, since I already commanded such a strong understanding of the issues in play. While other commitments kept me from actually writing, her analysis was pretty accurate.

In the end, taking a second research methods class helped me round out some skills in areas outside of policy studies and a much more formal MRP proposal for submission to the program. And while some of Fred’s assignments required more effort than I’d wished, having Applied Methods under my belt definitely made other parts of the course more manageable.

Which was very welcomed in a term where I ran a marathon, crossing that item (ex post facto) off my bucket list!