Social Science Research: What to Expect
Research isn't always test tubes and chemicals! A Social Science student shares her story.
Article written by Western University political science graduate and incoming Western Law student, Maddie Hill.
In 2019, I was accepted to the Scholar's Electives program at Western University. The program allows select undergraduate students to conduct supervised research, for-credit. Coming from a small, rural high school, I had never been exposed to any form of academic research. All I knew about research was what I saw in movies: lab experiments with smoking chemicals and intense dissections. Naturally, I was excited about getting involved in a new experience.
As a political science student, however, I had no idea what my research was going to look like. I'd only ever seen images of STEM-related research — I truly didn't know what I'd signed up for.
After my own experience, here are five things that I think all social science students should know about research:
1. It's interdisciplinary
It's important to look beyond the scope of your program when conducting social science research — research stretches across more than one branch of knowledge. I learned this through my second-year research project when my supervisor was from the Department of Geography.
Initially, I was hesitant: I hadn't taken a geography class since my freshman year of high school! However, due to the interdisciplinary nature of research, the experience broadened my horizons to the field of geopolitics. During this same project, I also read journals that published findings from biochemistry, environmental engineering, and economics studies to investigate my research topic.
2. You'll read... a lot
In the two major research projects I have conducted, I've spent a lot of time reading to understand major trends, findings, and events.
I've always found it beneficial to have an organizational system to keep track of all the documents and articles I've consulted. I would highly recommend creating a spreadsheet to keep track of the major themes and main ideas that you encounter throughout your readings. Trust me, when you're swimming in such a large pool of literature, it tends to blend together!
3. Numbers aren't always scary
One of the main reasons I was averse to pursuing a STEM degree was because I am not a "numbers" person! I've come to realize that quantitative data (numbers!) can be an important tool for making certain conclusions within your social science research. It is important to back up your claims with empirical data. You should expect numbers and not be afraid of them!
4. It takes many forms
There are many different types of research in social sciences. These can range from a media analysis to a social psychology experiment. There is no "one size fits all" model for social science research, which gives you some flexibility to pursue an area of study you're interested in.
5. You'll make mistakes
I learned this quickly — nobody has a flawless research experience. Sometimes, your data doesn't work, or your findings don't add up... that's okay; it's part of the process! Research can test your resolve and it is important to stay dedicated. So, pursue a topic you are passionate about!
My undergraduate research was an academic highlight during my degree. Even though I had no idea what social science research looked like before, I had great mentors who helped me navigate the process. If you have the opportunity to get involved with social science research, you'll be bettering yourself not only as a student, but also as a person!
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