Lisa Becksford is the Online and Graduate Engagement Librarian at Virginia Tech. She’s passionate about empowering students to achieve their educational goals and facilitates learning experiences that help students grow as researchers and scholars. She serves as the liaison for Education and Engineering Education and collaborates with others in the library on online learning and instructional design initiatives, including the Odyssey learning object repository. She tweets occasionally (mostly while at conferences) at @liblisa42.
When I finished my last required math class during my sophomore year of college, I was thrilled. It was a statistics class, and I’d shed more than a few tears over my homework each night. With that requirement behind me, I hoped that I was free from math forever. However, a few years later, I found myself in my first semester of library school, in a research methods class, getting a lightning-fast introduction to quantitative research methods. In my mind, quantitative research methods meant statistics, and statistics meant tears. As I struggled to run t-tests on sample data, I decided that I would never do any research that required quantitative research methods. If I couldn’t use qualitative methods and the most basic descriptive statistics, I just wouldn’t research it.
Stepping Out of My Research Methods Bubble
I continued more or less happily in this qualitative research methods bubble for about six years, until I found myself interested in a research question that seemed to demand a quantitative approach. As I dove deeper into the literature on instruction librarians’ teacher identity, I realized that the topic had already been examined numerous times through qualitative methods. While there was a chance that another qualitative research project could contribute something new to the conversation, there was very little quantitative research on the topic, so taking that approach would allow me to contribute something new to the conversation. In addition, it seemed like my particular area of interest within the topic – the factors contributing to the development of a teacher identity – would be well-suited for a survey, with the results analyzed with more than just descriptive statistics. After running from quantitative methods for six years, I found them staring me in the face.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit to being afraid of quantitative research methods. In a world where there are so many real things to be afraid of, being afraid of statistics seems ridiculous. And yet, when you tackle something that you’ve always told yourself you’re not good at, self-doubt can sabotage your potential success. For me, quantitative research symbolized a possibility for professional failure. Since there will be many opportunities to fail throughout my career, tackling this one is good practice for handling all the others yet to come.
How I’m Tackling Quantitative Research Methods
I’m still in the thick of this research, so I can’t say for certain that I’ve fully conquered my fears of quantitative methods. But I have learned a few things on this journey so far that might help others.
Seek help and guidance from those who know more than you.
“I felt my fear of quantitative research methods shrinking. Statistics and data analysis were no longer unconquerable enemies; they were my allies, the tools I would use to figure out the answer to my research questions.”
This one is tough for me. I tend to think that I can always figure it out on my own, and it’s only gotten worse since I became a librarian and can now indulge my tendency to try to research my way out of a problem. But there comes a point when the best thing to do is to ask for help. Knowing that I needed help in developing my quantitative research skills, I applied for and was accepted to the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL). At IRDL, I was surrounded by experts, including my fellow participants and the IRDL faculty members. As part of my application, I’d created a project proposal that included a draft survey, and at the Institute, I worked on revising and strengthening this proposal based on their feedback. As I rewrote nearly every question on my survey and thought about how I would analyze the data from it, I felt my fear of quantitative research methods shrinking. Statistics and data analysis were no longer unconquerable enemies; they were my allies, the tools I would use to figure out the answer to my research questions.
This guidance seeking has continued post-IRDL. I’ve been paired up with a mentor who participated in IRDL a few years ago, and her support will help me stay the course. I’ve also had several consultations with my library’s social science data consultant, who helped me finish up my survey design and plan for data analysis.
Take charge of your own learning.
While the help I’ve received from others has been incredibly valuable, it’s important to me that I understand quantitative research methods instead of outsourcing them to others. So I’m also teaching myself what I need to know, building on what others have taught me and developing my own skills so that I am an informed partner in the work we’re doing together. We received several textbooks as part of IRDL, and I’ve found myself turning to them often (see reading list below!). I’ve also explored the resources available at my own institution, including books and research methods databases. For a quick answer, I’ve often Googled the topic I was trying to learn, finding a wealth of high-quality resources.
“I’ve looked ahead enough to know where I need to be, but now I’m focusing on the baby steps that will take me there.”
As I’m learning these things on my own, I’m focusing on learning the next thing I need to know and trying not to focus on how many “next things” are in the process. I’ve looked ahead enough to know where I need to be, but now I’m focusing on the baby steps that will take me there.
As I get ready to start the process of data collection and data analysis, I feel far more confident in my abilities than I did when I initially realized that the way forward lay in quantitative research methods. If I had tried to forge ahead on my own, I would not have gotten very far. Asking for guidance and learning on my own have been key. My fear of quantitative research methods was really a fear of failure, and while I can’t say that I’ve conquered that particular fear forever, I didn’t let it stop me from trying something new or being honest when I just didn’t know.
Here are some of the resources that have been most helpful to me. The two books listed were given to me as part of IRDL, and the database is one that my institution subscribes to.
- Bernard, H.R. (2012). Social Research Methods: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Fink, A. (2016). How to Conduct Surveys: A Step-by-Step Guide (6th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Sage Research Methods Database
Featured image taken by the author.
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The expressions of the writer do not reflect anyone’s views but their own