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Explore Your Intellectual Curiosity as an Academic Researcher

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By Dr. Nicole Drumhiller, Program Director, Intelligence Studies at American Military University
Dr. Kate Brannum, Program Director, International Relations at American Public University

Academic culture, at its core, is based on intellectual curiosity and pursuit of the unknown. In a university setting, such curiosity is fulfilled by conducting academic research. While many people often think of faculty members as being primary researchers, it is often the contributions of students that make research projects possible.

Student Research
For many graduate students, research projects are a useful and important extension of what is accomplished in the classroom and the majority of graduate students carry out research in some capacity. Such research largely occurs as a result of classroom assignments where students work to apply freshly learned methods and frameworks.

[Related Article: Student Research Helps Identify Potential Threats to Critical Infrastructure]

At this academic level, the goal is to develop new knowledge. By new knowledge we’re not talking about researching something that you personally don’t know and want more insight on, rather new knowledge in the form of filling in a gap in the literature—knowledge that is new to everyone. (If you want to sound impressive, you can call that gap a lacuna).

In some cases, graduate students may want to further enhance their scholarship by presenting work at regional or national professional conferences that are discipline specific such as the Pacific Northwest Political Science Association, Midwest Political Science Association, International Studies Association, Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, International Society of Political Psychology, and International Association for Intelligence Education.

Presenting at such conferences furthers a student’s personal exposure as a researcher and provides valuable feedback on one’s work from peers who are both practitioners and academics. While that may sound intimidating, it’s actually not. Many conferences—particularly regional ones—encourage graduate students to participate. Another advantage of presenting research at this level is that doctoral programs and potential employers often like to see such efforts on applications.

Faculty Research
As the stewards of the university, faculty members are charged with not only staying current in the field, but also in helping to advance the discipline. To do this, faculty members conduct experimental, longitudinal, case study, and comparative research, to name a few.

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There are numerous grants out there that faculty can apply for to help support their research. Depending on the granting organization, the money can be used to support field research travel and help offset software costs, book purchases, and other research costs.

Faculty members engage the academy by presenting their research at professional conferences, solicit feedback from colleagues, and eventually forward their work to editors of peer-reviewed journals for a chance at publication. This research also gives faculty the opportunity to bring their experiences into the classroom. Faculty who incorporate their own research into the classroom offer new ways to inform and educate students.

Faculty-Student Collaborative Research
Participating in faculty research offers students a unique opportunity to work closely with discipline experts in a collaborative setting. Unlike the mentorship that occurs in the classroom, collaborative research affords faculty members a rewarding opportunity to put classroom concepts into practice and work directly with students towards a common goal.

Faculty and student collaborating on researchStudents benefit from this experience in a numbers of ways including the development of project management and collaboration skills, further development of analysis skills, and improved writing and communication skills. They also have the benefit of developing lasting relationships with faculty members, who often are willing to write letters of recommendation, as well as the coveted chance to have research published.

[Related Article: The Path to Strengthening Your Academic Writing Skills]

Another major benefit of participating in research is the ability to expand one’s network and develop additional clarity on professional career aspirations. Junior scholars can be introduced to other researchers and faculty in the discipline. In fact, faculty members might know someone at another university where students hope to complete a Ph.D. or perhaps someone at an agency where a student wishes to work.

Collaborative research has many benefits for both students and faculty alike. If you’re an APUS student and interested in participating in a collaborative research project, reach out to faculty members and program directors to see if there are any relevant projects. Currently, the School of Security and Global Studies has a number of research opportunities for both students and faculty members and will soon be announcing a new initiative to promote collaborative research.

About the Authors:

Nicole Drumhiller_SMDr. Nicole Drumhiller graduated with a Ph.D. in Political Science from Washington State University. She is currently the Program Director of the Intelligence Studies Program at American Public University System. Nicole teaches courses in analysis, profiling, deception, and propaganda. Her research interests include cognition, group and leadership psychology, and extremist studies.

Kate Brannum2In 2011 and 2013, Dr. Kate Brannum was awarded the Excellence in Teaching Award for the School of Security and Global Studies. Kate received her bachelor’s degree with a concentration in international relations from James Madison College of Michigan State University. She earned her Ph.D. in political science from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her research focused on international compliance with norms against torture. Dr. Brannum has been working as an instructor and administrator for the last 20 years. Her current interest is international norms and human rights.

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