Know your Methods


I have the good fortune to be serving a Fulbright fellowship in India this spring, and have recently enjoyed participating in the final dissertation oral defense for several Indian students. It’s very interesting to see how this process is conducted in different universities, and also different countries. My limited observation of the final oral process in India is that it is far more critical and somewhat adversarial than the average oral defense in US universities. However one one major element seems similar – the need to know your methods and be able to explain the process of data collection and analysis to the committee.

Many doctoral students seek help from methodologists and statisticians when developing and executing their research. I strongly encourage my students to seek the help of methodological or statistical experts when they need help. It’s far better to get help than to try to conduct an analysis where you don’t really understand the mechanics and how to interpret the results.

However, when the time comes for you to defend your work in the oral defense, it is critical that you have a good understanding of the method and design and why they were chosen, how the analysis was conducted, and what the results really mean. I have seen situations in orals where the student could not explain what they did or why the results turned out as they did. Not only did this hurt their credibility, in a few cases, a second oral or major revisions was required. When you reach this point in the process, be sure to know your methods, and be prepared to explain them.

We have posted several short guides to method and design selection in the “guides, tools, and worksheets” section of this website, and a full and detailed discussion of different method and design options can be found in the 2013 edition of Recipes for Success.