Government Department Offers New Research-Oriented Courses

Following a recent review of undergraduate curriculum, the government department introduced two new research-oriented courses this spring to improve the quality of its thesis program.

The two courses, Government 61: Research Practice in Quantitative Methods and Government 62: Research Practice in Qualitative Methods, aim to equip students with skills necessary to better conduct research in political science.

Associate professor of social sciences Arthur P. Spirling, who teaches Government 61, said the course deals “primarily in how to model statistical data that the students have in their personal projects or as pertains to their theses.”

Visiting associate professor Frances Hagopian, who teaches Government 62, said that the class aims both to enhance students’ familiarity with research design and to equip them with methodological techniques.

Hagopian’s new course, which enrolls 19 students, most of whom are junior government concentrators, combines theoretical readings with the study of explanatory works.

Aaron E. Watanabe ’14 said that Government 62 focuses on “research design, [on] how to ask a question, [on] how to trace out causal links.”

Government professor Steven R. Levitsky said the motivation for the introduction of these two courses lies in the perennial struggles of government thesis writers.

“Your average honor student did not know how to write a thesis,” said Levitsky, who chaired the committee that reviewed the undergraduate government curriculum. “They started their junior year with zero training on how to do research.”

The government department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies Cheryl B. Welch said that student demand drove the push for more research-oriented classes.

“One of the things that the students told us is that they wanted both more practice and more opportunity to do research in political science,” said Welch.

According to Levitsky, while undergraduates certainly expressed their concerns, many faculty members were also critical.

“The old situation, prior to this class existing, of students being in this very awkward position of having to learn statistics [quickly] while they’re trying to write their thesis was not really good for their thesis writing,” said Spirling.

Four weeks into the semester, students and faculty members have expressed satisfaction at the course’s progress.

“It sort of filled a really important gap in the curricula they had before,” Cody R. Dean ’14, a student in Government 61. “It’s a great class...I hope they continue and grow it.”

The department’s effort to offer more research opportunities began last semester when assistant government professor Ryan D. Enos and other faculty members pioneered the course Government 92r: Faculty Research Assistant. The course, which is offered again this spring, allows students to participate in research projects with faculty members.

“Students do a lot of consumption of research design in government class, but they never really get to see how it comes about,” said Janet I. Lewis, a post-doctorate fellow who is assisted by two students for her comparative study of insurgent groups.

“I think [Government 92r is] a fantastic window for students into the world of research, to see how the research process actually works behind the scenes,” she added.

—Staff writer Francesca Annicchiarico can be reached at fannicchiarico01@collge.harvard.edu. Follow her on Twitter @FRAnnicchiarico.

—Staff writer John P. Finnegan can be reached at johnfinnegan@college.harvard.edu. Follow him on Twitter @finneganspake.

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