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Paul Spicer
Center for Applied Social Research
Department of Anthropology
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There are broad similarities across most social
science disciplines
There is a continuum of approaches
ranging from the more humanistic and
interpretive
to the experimental
There is also a sizable body of observational
research
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There is growing recognition that the human
dimensions of most problems are among the
most intractable
Indexed in a huge popular social science
literature (and TED talks!)
Increasing interest in social science research,
even from within science and technology
Longstanding opportunities within medicine
And stand-alone opportunities to advance
social science itself (primarily at NSF)
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Many of you can do your dissertation research
with no extra money
In many social science disciplines your research
can be embedded in faculty research
The University provides nominal research
support through various mechanisms
Experiments can be run with undergraduates
fairly easily
Or you can run up some debt
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But much of the most interesting work will cost
money
The ability to secure external resources may
help win jobs
Applications of your work engendered in grant
writing will open new possibilities
Funding provides some autonomy
Grant writing is a useful skill
Projects can be a lot of fun
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The NSF provides basic funding in most social
science disciplines
Unfortunately it does not generally fund your
salary
The NIH funds your salary
But it generally assumes you are working on
faculty-funded research
Foundations may be more or less relevant
depending on your discipline
Faculty can submit proposals (or supplements) to
support your work (if it overlaps with theirs)
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Apply for an NSF fellowship as soon as you get
here
These are very competitive, but are designed to
support new graduate students
And are available across the broad set of social
sciences that NSF funds
They free you up from working for three years!
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There are new pressures to get through
graduate school
The waiver limits assistantships for those who
have them
And a lack of assistantships adds pressure to
finish for those who don’t
Please do not extend your education just to
keep taking student loans!
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Sure there are lots of interesting books to read and
ideas to try out
And many of us are drawn to academic work precisely
because we like to do this
But we can’t get paid for it until we have done original
research
All graduate seminars provide opportunity to refine
thesis and dissertation research
Everything you do should be connected to your
research
It cannot be something you do only under thesis or
dissertation hours
You’ve had your liberal education, now’s the time to
get real
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The dissertation or thesis is a beginning, not an end
The most deadly faculty members are the ones who
stopped learning in graduate school
We all should be professional learners
A thesis or dissertation provides us with an
opportunity to learn skills that you can apply in
multiple new ways once you’re done
The road is littered with ABDs
A long-term perspective is crucial to maintaining your
focus now
And moving on in a productive way once you’re done
here
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You need a problem
You need to be the one(s) to do this
You need an approach
You need a budget
You need an opportunity
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I need an opportunity
I need a budget
I need an approach
I need to be the one(s) to do this
I need a problem
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And for students it really should
There are few funds for dissertation research
that require a specific problem
Most dissertation funding is designed to
support investigator-initiated research
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In all cases, the most important question is
why?
For NIH, the review criteria of significance and
innovation speak to this question directly
At NSF, both intellectual merit and broader
impact are crucially concerned with this
You have to begin with why your research
matters
And it does not matter just because it’s never
been done!
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They emphasize innovation and transformation
precisely because they don’t know what it is or
how to support it
Successful grant getters recognize the incremental
nature of science
Reviewers know BS (they are often experts
themselves)
What you propose has to be attainable
And the logical next step for you, your sponsor,
and the field
But this means your grant could be uninspiring
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Your research should be exciting
Not to most of your friends, probably, but certainly to
your “peers”
Your grant needs to convey this enthusiasm
And show how your approach provides an important
advance
If you’re not excited about your grant, nobody is going
to be
The trick is to share that enthusiasm in a measured
way
Do not promise too much or too little!
If you err, err on the side of promising a bit too much
Then, when they cut your budget you can get real
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People are funding you
Grants are never reviewed blindly
The investigator is inevitably a focus in any review
Especially for students, your funding is an
investment in you
For fellowships, the near exclusive attention is on
you
You need to be able to demonstrate why you can
do this research
And why it fits the work of your faculty sponsor
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You need to know the strengths of your
program and University
You need to recognize the opportunities we
have
And you need to be cognizant of our
limitations
Graduate school is not the time to strike out
completely on your own
You need to build on what we have
which is presumably why you came here
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If your research matters at all, it matters in a
specific literature
You need to take every opportunity to master this
literature
And you need to be able to position your research
within that literature
This can be done quickly, however, so don’t use
this as an excuse to delay
Broad overviews of most areas exist
Big questions tend to emerge early and often as
you read
And please don’t strain to rewrite high theory!
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Your approach is the heart of the matter
Are there methods available to you that can
answer your question?
All social research is multi-method
But most is not cognized as such
Even the most careful surveys and
experimental designs are grounded in some
rather limited inductive work
which is often why they work less well in other
people’s lives!
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Certainly in my own discipline of
anthropology truth claims are very suspect
They often are imperialist
But people will not fund you to only tell them
what they cannot know
You need to have a question that can be
answered with methods you command
Even if your methods are primarily qualitative
and certainly if your methods are primarily
quantitative
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In qualitative research we often seek to
improve conceptualizations
We sample purposively
We code inductively
But this is also science!
We just need to be wary of causal language
and guard against overgeneralizing
Anthropologists can be quite lazy about
sampling
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These can be experimental or observational
Here the goal is often explicitly to examine
cause
And to provide generalizable results
But we need to recognize how tricky
determining cause is
And how generalizable such tightly controlled
work can ever be
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This is not boring
This is where you get real about what you can actually
accomplish
Budgeting is an invaluable skill
At the heart of strategic planning in any organization
For me, beginning with the budget provides me with
an opportunity to see what is possible before I get too
far down the road of dreaming stuff up
And in the real world of professional research, these
activities consume much of our time
So you should learn to embrace it
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Working with CRPDE and your faculty is key
I couldn’t pretend to know all of the
opportunities that are relevant to your work
This kind of match making is probably one of
the more enjoyable parts of Alicia, Todd, and
Nancy’s jobs
But certainly you should all seek funding from
NSF
And you should all explore the possibilities of
leveraging your advisor’s research (or other
opportunities) to support your work
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You are all here to train in a discipline
Unless, of course, you are in an interdisciplinary
degree
But once you leave graduate school most of the
funding is available to solve complex problems
which require respect and tolerance for other
approaches
I would encourage all of you to think not only
about how your work advances your field, but also
how it may ultimately matter
And how you can take advantage of the
opportunity your research presents to learn to play
well with others