Seminar in Qualitative Communication Research

Com 473--BaldwinCommunicationIllinois State University

 

JOURNAL ABSTRACT:  Assignment Sheet (50points)

Updated 9/12/08

 

Overview: Summarize an assigned article from the bibliography or required readings in a two-page single-spaced abstract (see sample abstracts in class). Turn in abstract, along with a copy of the article (which will be returned to you) and an electronic copy via e-mail. Be prepared to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the article informally when we cover relevant concepts in class.  Copies of all abstracts will be made available to class.

 

Objectives: The primary objectives of the abstract are as follows. Through doing abstract, students should be able to:

·         Demonstrate the ability to choose appropriate detail—that is, balancing coverage as necessary and focusing on key points—to summarize key points of a qualitative, empirical journal article (that is, one that is a primary study of a text or of human participants).

·         Summarize these key points in their own words, yet maintaining precision of original ideas

·         Develop and demonstrate ability to evaluate the strengths and limitations of the study, especially as these pertain to the collecting and writing up of qualitative data.

An additional, immeasurable objective is for students to see what they like and do not like in the doing and writing of qualitative research in order to improve their own final data-driven projects.

 

Format

At the top right hand corner, type your Student Identification Number (not your name), COM 473, and the date.  Center the word "ABSTRACT" as the title of your paper.  Below that, type the reference information from your article using APA format (5th edition).   Your abstract should include the following, with appropriate headings.

 

Background Literature:  Provide a context for the research article.  That is, what led the author(s) to write this article?  What key concepts from or weaknesses in past research led to the current hypotheses or research questions. If the author uses a specific theoretical background, key terms central to the study, or pivotal prior studies that serve as impetus for this specific study (e.g., if this study is addressing limitations of one or two specific prior studies), the abstract should mention these.

 

Sensitizing Constructs:  If the authors provide key definitions or a framework for analysis, this should be covered either separately or in the methods section (a combination of choice of original author and you as a summarizer). For example, if the article is grounded in phenomenology or semiotics, and the author has a section on the philosophical or methodological roots, include this with brief summary.

 

Research Question(s):  Indicate clearly the research statement or primary questions(s) the researcher was attempting to answer. If they are not clearly stated, distill them the best you can from the article. Make sure you clearly label if they are research questions or hypotheses.  If there are many, choose only the "key" ones.

 

Methods:  Give a description of how data was gathered and analyzed.  This section should typically include something about the participants or texts (number, type, manner of selection), data collection (be as specific as possible, perhaps with key details, e.g., "elements of Strauss and Corbin’s grounded theory"), and data analysis (method of unitizing or categorizing, any specific elements of method that are appropriate.).  Because the focus of the article is to evaluate the method of the study, this section might be a bit longer than it would be for abstracts in other courses. Again, stick to key details. Do not abstract theory articles or surveys of literature.

 

Primary Results:  Give the major findings from the study.  Clarity is important here.  Make sure you understand the findings before trying to explain them.  Look first to the results section and then to the discussion section (note: these do not always agree!).  Often findings are very dense and you must make choices about what is most important to the reader (since you are “translating” the article for the rest of the class, who has not read the article, and for your own memory). Use your discretion to choose the ones that seem central to your interests or to the class.

 

Evaluation:  Evaluate the article in terms of its significance, research methods, readability, and the implications of the results.  Do not merely include the authors' limitations, though you may mention these if you want.  Most important here, and what makes this abstract specific to COM 473, is to focus on the strengths and limitations of the method and write-up. Try to critique from within the paradigm the article is written (for example, if it is critical, do you think it promotes social change or empowerment? If it is a case study, do not criticize it for “lack of generalizability”! In fact, if the researchers use a small, specific sample and make generalizing claims, this would, in fact, be a limitation! Do your own thinking here about the strengths and limitations of the article.  Your "critique" can be from a theoretical and/or and applied perspective.


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SOME EXAMPLES

Each of these examples has some strengths and limitations. I’m providing several here for you to get an idea of the general format and to see what some students have done with the assignment.

 

 

Watts, E.K. & Orbe, M.P. (2002). The spectacular consumption of “True” African American culture: “Whassup” with the Budweiser guys? Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 19, 1-20.

 

Introduction

The now famous Budweiser commercial, which features three African American males greeting each other with the phrase, “whassup,” as they watch sports and drink Budweiser beer, is a take-off from a home video.  Charles Stone, III caught his friends giving each other their traditional greeting on tape and turned it into a video resume.  From there, it sky-rocketed, and not only received the Grand Prix and Golden Lion at the Cannes Film Festival in 2000, but also became the new Budweiser commercial, gaining recognition as the Superbowl’s most popular commercial.  Watts and Orbe (2002) state the appeal of the commercial is due to a dialectical tension between its familiarity and unfamiliarity.  Male bonding and affection has a reputation for taking place in the presence of sports and alcohol, which is the familiar aspect of the scene.  However, the black “authenticism” is unfamiliar, especially to many non-African Americans.  Further, Watts and Orbe (2002) contend that, “as the market economy seeks to regulate and integrate ‘authentic’ difference, white American ambivalence toward blackness is paradoxically both assuaged by its ‘universality’ and heightened by its distinctiveness” (p. 3).  First, Watts and Orbe (2002) link the “Whassup” commercial to the concept of spectacular consumption.  Second, a look at the commercial reveals the conflicting feelings of non-African Americans.  Finally, an analysis of focus groups brings to light the views and opinions of the consumer.

 

Spectacular consumption

Drawing from Proctor’s (1990) interpretation of spectacle, Watts and Orbe (2002) agree that it is a mediated experience that changes an individual’s conception of reality.  However, they contend it is a condition.  Rather, it is a result of one’s ontological perspective that, “mass consumption [is] a way of life” (p. 4).  DeBord (1983) states, “[the] moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life” (p. 4) is when the spectacle has achieved meaning.  Spectacular consumption explains the manner in “which the material and symbolic relations among the culture industry, the life worlds of persons, and the ontological status of cultural forms are transformed in terms generated by public consumption” (p. 5).  The intersection of our experiences, mass consumption as a way of life, and cultural icons and artifacts results in spectacular consumption.  It is of vital significance to note, “The pleasure of consuming otherness is advanced by the Other’s uniqueness” (p. 4).  The tension between familiarity and unfamiliarity rises.  As demonstrated by the commercial, it is the cultural diversity in this case that advances spectacular consumption.  On one hand, the universality of male bonding attracts various audiences, marketing the commercial as colorless.  On the other hand, the African American culture is set apart by its uniqueness.

 

The commercial’s effect on white ambivalence

First, the commercial is described in detail, mimicking a real life experience of telephone conversations between guys sitting at home, “watchin’ the game, havin’ a Bud” (p. 9).  However, Watts and Orbe (2002) note that the sports is not the focal point, but rather the relationship of “‘being there for one another’ during the game” (p. 9) is the underlying theme of the commercial.  Although black male affection is observed, which promotes a universal feeling, it is noted that this African American unity is perceived as a danger to white power.  In addition, the now-familiar greeting, “whassup,” may have lost its distinctive taste of culture and instead becomes spectacular consumption, due to its value lying in the market.  Therefore, white ambivalence is maintained and further developed.

 

Focus group perspectives

Participants

Thirty-seven participants were taken from an upper-level communication class at a large, Midwestern university.  The majority fell between the ages of 18-24 and mostly represented African Americans and white Americans, with a small number of Asian, Latino and biracial Americans. Two-thirds of the population were female, and one-third was male.

Procedures

Following the viewing of 4 “whassup?!” commercials, participants individually recorded written responses to questions.  Questions explored original reactions and perceptions of who composed the target audience of the commercials.   Next, the participants verbalized their individual responses in small groups before entering into a discussion that included all 37 participants.  

Methods 

The researchers used Owens’ (1984) criteria: “repetition, recurrence, and forcefulness” (p. 12) in order to critically analyze both written and oral responses.  Three themes were revealed: the universality of the experience, black authenticity, and the oblivious nature of commodification.

Results

            Relating to the “experience.”  Nearly all participants found the commercials to be humorous.  However, divergence occurred between racial/ethnic groups when considering the target audience.  The majority of African Americans felt young African American men were the target audience whereas the majority of the other groups felt young men in general, regardless of race or ethnicity, was the target audience.

            (Re-) Emphasizing cultural authenticity.  After watching spoof commercials of white males with African American voices, participants simply felt their opinions of the original commercial were made more resilient.  Non-African Americans’ perspectives concerning the universality of the ads were enforced.  African Americans felt the authenticity of the ads was enforced as well.  The ludicrousness of the spoof ads simply reinforces spectacular consumption’s idea that “consuming otherness is advanced by the Other’s uniqueness” (p. 15) as well as the uniqueness resulting in the commodification of the “whassup” phenomenon.

            An unconsciousness of commodification.  Many participants noted the appeal to a diverse audience by its portrayal of black culture while using humor to universalize its message.  In addition, it was also noted that the beer was hardly the selling point.  Rather, the “‘authenticity’ of the ‘Whassup?!’ guys” (p. 15) was the focus, and “were seen as pawns strategically deployed by corporate culture” (p. 16).  Finally, the contradiction of spectacular consumption is revealed.  Although this example of real life experience is not authentic in the sense that it was altered for the purpose of a commercial, Watts and Orbe (2002) point out that real life experiences “are themselves always already mediated in the spectacle” (p. 16).

 

Limitations

An obvious limitation of the study is the use of a convenience sample.  Clearly, a single undergraduate, upper-level communication course was used.  Not only were the majority of the students represented by one small generational gap, but also the majority was most likely composed of communication majors.  Also, the spoof ad was not clearly described.  It was understood that white males with African American voices made up the ad, but its content was unknown. 

 

Conclusion

Further research exploring the discursive tensions that exist between cultures is needed.  The challenge of achieving a balance between maintaining diversity while overcoming it in order to attain unity continues to exist.  The universality of the “whassup” ads appeals to many audiences yet carries a distinctive cultural flavor.  Another issue, which demonstrates the importance of intercultural communication, is the concept of spectacular consumption.  The value placed on cultural images and how they are consumed should continue to be examined.  Commodification as a way of life relates to lived experiences and the cultures represented within those experiences.  This analysis proves to be essential to understanding other cultures, which will ultimately lead to the primary goal of communicating more effectively.

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ID

Com. 473

Abstract #1

October 9, 2001

 

ABSTRACT

 

            Hecht, M. L., & Faulkner, S. L.  (2000).  Sometimes Jewish, sometimes not:  The closeting of Jewish American identity.  Communication Studies, 51, 372-387.

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Hecht and Faulkner recognize that Jewish identity is a combination of religious and ethnic practices, but that Jews choose whether or not to reveal their Jewish identity depending on social situations and personal salience with the religion.  While criticized as a “cafeteria religion,” where believers can pick and choose which aspects of the religion to identify with, it is clear that Jews have varying levels of pride with their religion.  Thus, Hecht and Faulkner quote Medding (1987) when they suggest that Jewish American identity has moved from a “community of belief to a community of shared identity” (Medding, p. 14; Hecht & Faulkner, p. 373).  However, because Jewishness is not easily recognized simply by looking at a person, it is a form of identity (like homosexuality) that is often closeted.  Revealing one’s Jewish identity involves boundary maintenance on the part of the individual.  Hecht and Faulkner’s study examines this maintenance through in-depth interviews. 

 

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK

 

The choice to reveal one’s Jewish identity is examined through the lenses of two theoretical positions—the Communication Theory of Identity and the Communication Boundary Management (CBM) perspective.  The Communication Theory of Identity states that identity is formed through interaction with others.  There are four layers which help to form identity:  the personal, enacted, relational and communal frames.  The personal frame is concerned with an individual’s self cognition and spiritual well-being.  The enacted frame focuses on the type of message, whether direct or indirect, that people use to reveal their identity.  The third frame, the relational frame, shows how identity is formed through relationships with other people.  Finally, the communal frame suggests that a group of people share an identity with each other.  These frames can work together to create cooperation or dialectical tension between aspects of one’s identity (p.373-374). 

 

Hecht and Faulkner also use the CBM to examine how Jewish Americans reveal their identity to others.  This theory suggests that because there is a potential risk to self-concept and personal relationships involved with the disclosure of identity, people tend to balance disclosure with privacy.  Therefore, boundaries serve as structures that allow or disallow access to information.  There are four aspects of boundaries:  ownership, control, permeability and levels.  First, the ownership and control aspects are similar in that they refer to the individual’s ability to own and control their boundaries and information.  Permeability refers to the fact that other people are allowed access to an individual’s information.  Finally, the level of access given to others is governed by rules that help individuals decide who, when, where, how much and under what circumstances they will reveal information (p. 374).  Given the two theoretical perspectives, Hecht and Faulkner offer the following research question:  How do Jewish Americans decide whether to disclose or conceal their identity (p. 375).

 

METHOD

 

This study was part of another study that examined Jewish American identity in the television show Northern Exposure.  The research was conducted because it is commonly held that television helps to shape one’s identity (Cohen, 1991).  In the study, participants were shown one of three series of videos of the show and were asked to offer their interpretations of it.  Then, the researchers asked questions regarding the participants’ Jewish identity.  This was the part of the study reported in this article. 

 

The participants were 26 Jewish Americans who were selected from “among the researchers’ acquaintances and through a snowball method” (p. 375).  Most of the participants were had attained high levels of education, where almost 30 percent had taken at least some graduate school and only one had no college at all.  The mean age of the participants was 64.  Most of the participants reported that they did participate in Jewish high holidays, but that for the most part, they did not attend synagogue regularly.  But, a majority of the participants also knew how to read both Hebrew and Yiddish. 

 

Interviewers used an interview guide in order to ensure that the interviews were conducted in a conversational manner.  Questions were asked in order to identify how participants knew other people were Jewish as well as how one reveals or conceals their Jewish identity.  The interview transcripts revealed that themes of closeting, centrality of identity and potential consequences emerged as determining factors for revealing one’s identity. 

 

FINDINGS

 

The Communication Theory of Identity was used to organize the findings.  First, the personal layer shows whether an individual wants to disclose their Jewish identity.  There were three types of people under this layer.  The first type of person was completely open with disclosing that they were Jewish.  There were also closeted Jews, that is, Jews who preferred to pass as white/Christians for fear of embarrassing individuals who made anti-Semitic remarks, for fear of retaliation and in order to ensure their own privacy.  Finally, there were individuals who did not lie at either extreme.  For these individuals, revealing one’s Jewishness would happen “if it came up” in conversation. 

 

The enacted layer reveals how people choose to reveal their identity.  In order to reveal one’s identity and manage one’s boundaries, participants said that they tried to find out if the other person was also Jewish by using direct and indirect messages.  However, the most common method for revealing one’s Jewish identity was, if it came up, through the implicit hints to Jewish customs.  Also, hearing anti-Semitic remarks caused Jews to express their identity more explicitly.

 

On the relational level, disclosure is based on the relationship between individuals.  Participants in this study stated that they revealed their identity to other Jews in order to create a relational bond between them.  However, Hecht and Faulkner admit that Jewish individuals did not reveal “rich . . . descriptions of the relational aspects of Jewish American identity negotiation at the interpersonal level (p. 379). 

 

Finally, on the communal level, some interesting findings suggest that Jews often felt like “the other” when interacting in non-Jewish communities.  Some felt like they were the “token Jew” in certain organizations and were treated as such.  Participants observed that they felt more or less Jewish based on whether or not they lived in a highly Jewish area.  Those who lived in Jewish communities felt less isolated than those who lived in non-Jewish areas.  Participants also noted that they felt "other” when their non-Jewish friends did not understand what being Jewish means, particularly since they had a good understanding of what it means to be Christian. 

 

Some of these layers combined to create interaction effects such as the centrality of identity and potential consequences.  The study found that the centrality of one’s Jewish identity was important in boundary management.  Those who saw their Jewishness as peripheral to their identity did not think it was necessary to reveal their identity to others.  Therefore, these individuals tended to use subtle references to their religion rather than explicit statements.  However, those individuals who felt that being Jewish was central to their identity revealed their identity through more explicit messages such as wearing Jewish symbols.  Some individuals admitted that their Jewishness was central to their identity but that they did not easily reveal it.  These individuals were assessed as having boundaries that were not permeable. 

 

Participants also revealed that they look at potential consequences in order to determine whether they will reveal their identity or not.  If there was a possibility for severe anti-Semitic comments or action or if there was a perceived consequence of a strained relationship, Jews did not reveal their identity.  However, if there were only minor or no consequences, Jews felt as though they could reveal their identity freely. 

 

CRITIQUE/CONCLUSION

 

Hecht and Faulkner’s study was excellent.  I feel that it is written well using very responsible theories to ground their interviews and their findings.  I have been fascinated with this very same topic for years and was delighted when I found it to be included in my quarterly Communication Studies publication.  Still there are some areas where I feel the study could be improved.  First, after a long introduction to the CBM, I was disappointed to see little focus on it in the findings.  More of a focus was placed on the Communication Theory of Identity when reporting the findings.  I feel the findings section would be stronger if a more complex discussion of CBM were included in the findings section.

 

Further, I feel the largest weakness in this study is the lack of generalizability.  The mean age of the participants was 64.  That means that very few and middle aged individuals were interviewed in the study.  Though I do not have the research to back it up, it seems like boundary management and revealing one’s identity varies across generations.  Thus, this research would need to be furthered in order to see how Jews of all ages reveal their identities.  Additionally, most of the participants were educated.  These individuals would also have different ways of revealing their identities than those who are not educated.  Finally, the participants were friends of the researchers and acquaintances of those first participants.  The results may be skewed in that some of the participants knew their interviewers.  It was not reported whether interviewers actually talked to those individuals they knew.

 

Despite these limitations, valuable information is gained about how Jewish Americans reveal their identities to others.  Hecht and Faulkner’s study should serve as a template for future studies that examine how other groups reveal their identities, including homosexuals. 

 

MCDD01724_0000[1]

I’ve provided this “draft” of an abstract as it also contains some of my suggestions for strengthening the abstract.

ID#

COM 473

11/06/01

 

Citation

 

Meehan, E. (1998).  Not your parents’ FBI:  The x-files and “Jose Chung’s from outer space.”  In A. A. Berger (Ed.), The Postmodern presence: Readings on postmodernism in American culture and society (pp. 125-156). Walnut Creek, CA:  Sage.

 

Introduction

 

The purpose of this essay is to provide a critique of an article, written by Eileen Meehan, focusing on the television series, The X-files.  This article examines the postmodernist versus modernist viewpoints that emerged from a specific episode of The X-Files, entitled “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space.   The article provides a detailed description of the episode’s plot, characters, and themes as well as explains how each of these items has been intertwined with either the postmodern and/or modern approaches.  Throughout this essay, the themes, assumptions, and conclusions that Meehan has denoted in her article will first be summarized.  A critique of these findings will conclude this essay.

 

If at all possible—from the article itself, provide a brief explanation of what you mean by modern and postmodern. If the article does not provide any definition, I guess you can’t add it! It may be assumed that, by this point in the reader, the average audience member has a good understanding of the terms.

 

Summary of Findings

 

            This article provides a creative method of analyzing the differing theoretical frameworks of postmodernism and modernism as well as the current debate that surrounds these positions.  Meehan uses The X-Files as a backdrop for examining each of these approaches.  The rationale for examining this specific television series was due to the fact that The X-Files, with its complex nature, actually incorporates both viewpoints into the thematic purpose of the show. This is accomplished through the use of the episode’s plot line, characters, setting, and filming techniques.  The series episode “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is a perfect example of this incorporation.  This leads to the most dominant theme of this episode that Meehan focuses on, which is The X-Files producer, Chris Carter’s ability to simultaneously incorporate both aspects of postmodernism and modernism into the series.

Insert a heading

            This first theme is examined through the characters Jose Chung and Dana Scully and their interaction, which is the starting point for this episode.  Chung, who is a famous author of books focusing on alien abductions, takes the postmodernist approach in this episode, while Scully, a skeptical, science-focused FBI agent, initially provides a modernist approach to her experience. Their differing positions become evident through stories that they tell each other about the same alien abduction report.  Chung initially believes that there are several different interpretations of the “truth” surrounding this incident, which brings out his postmodern views.  Scully, on the other hand, is out to find the “true” truth about the incident and feels that there is a scientific explanation that will effectively answer her remaining questions.  She believes that there is a single, natural force that establishes reality for all individuals and this will explain the outcome of the current incident.

However, what is interesting about this episode is that their viewpoints will shift throughout the episode.  Chung, after hearing Scully’s story, becomes very upset because he needs to have a final ending that finishes his book about this “true story” incident.  So in effect, he goes from believing that people can have different interpretations of the same event, to wanting a conclusive answer about a situation so that he can have a more attractive conclusion to his book and hopefully make it more popular.  At the end of the episode, the book that he does publish, in effect states that what he tells in his story is the only truth about this situation.  Scully, however, after hearing Chung’s story, now has several different “truths” to decide upon.  One is a scientific explanation, that the U.S. Air Force is actually behind the abductions, but also there are eyewitnesses and testimony that states that an actual spaceship performed the abductions.  She has several conclusions to consider, but not enough information to determine the truth.  Unlike Chung, Scully does not need closure about this incident.  This shows her shift to the postmodernist approach. 

Insert a 2nd heading

A second theme of this episode focuses on individual’s perception of the truth.  There are several characters in this episode that all claim to have in some way experienced the same alien abduction.  Some actually claim to have been abducted, other claim to have witnessed it happen.  However, when the individuals retell their experiences, no two stories about the incident are alike.  There are portions that are similar, but then key moments are noticeably different.  Meehan discusses in her article the fact there may be multiple “truths” to a story.  Because people’s perceptions are different, their interpretations of a similar incident may also be different.  So there may not be an actual “truth” about the incident, but rather several different “truths” that each person feels is accurate.  Meehan claims that the problem with this is that we can never tell how far a person’s recollection of the “truth” has been altered or skewed by his or her own perceptions.  This theory leads Meehan to conclude that the reliability of such things as an individual’s memories, narration of experiences, and people’s storytelling ability must always be questioned because memories will always be unreliable.

 

Critique

 

            I feel this article was a very good vehicle to help explain the debate surrounding postmodernist and modernist viewpoints.  These positions were well connected to the different characters, scenes, and plot lines of the episode.  Typically, for many people, these approaches are somewhat complex and at times can be very difficult to fully understand unless specific examples of each position are provided.  This X-Files episode provides a perfect example of both approaches.  As a fan of the X-Files, I feel that Meehan did an excellent job of setting up the background situation for the series, which only helped to simplify the understanding of her conclusions at the end of the article.  The postmodernist and modernist approaches are clearly evident in this episode and have been extensively detailed so that even people who are not fans of the show can still relate to the characters, their beliefs and feelings.  Meehan also did a nice job of supporting her arguments by providing excerpts from the episode itself. [Good—this addresses one of the questions I wanted to ask below] This episode seemed to be very complex and detailed and Meehan did an admirable job of describing the action of the episode in her article.

            One topic, which was neither a benefit nor a limitation, but needs to be briefly addressed, is the feminist tones that emerged from Meehan’s article.  At one point, Scully is speaking with Chung[comma] and Chung makes a comment about Scully’s being smart and attractive.  Meehan comments on this interaction by stating that “Chung responds in the old fashion manner that people of his generation often believe to be complimentary – a manner that often makes independent women uncomfortable.  His remark (‘not just a brainy beauty…she also has good taste’) clearly discomforts Scully, but does not alienate her” (Meehan, 132). [hah! I get it. “alien”ate! :) ] It is difficult to say if this interpretation of this interaction alludes to Meehan’s own personal position.  Also, if this does reveal her own position, does that make her analysis biased in any way?  Again, no judgment is being made about this insight, but it does need to be considered when discussing the analysis of this article.

            Overall, this was a very entertaining and informative look at some of the themes and assumptions that are evident within a very popular television show and what the creator of this show is attempting to say about these themes and assumptions.  The next time I watch The X-Files, I will definitely have new and different perspective to help me interpret and understand the show’s meaning. 

            One question I might ask, though you would probably want to tighten up somewhere else if you chose to address it—what does the article tell you in terms of method, etc. For example, did you feel Meehan was just in the way she chose the episode? Was she clear in the framework she used to analyze it? Were her claims well supported? Say more about the merits of how she did the research, beyond the fact that she overviewed well. Still, even without this, the abstract seems to be “excellent” in its coverage. See more in e-mail note.

 

MCDD01724_0000[1]

ID

COM 473

10/09/01

 

            Schroeder, D. S. & Mynatt, C. R. (1999).  Graduate students’ relationships with their male and female major professors.  A Journal of Research, 40 (5), 393-420.

 

Rationale

The purpose of the study was to determine whether graduate students with same-gender major professors have more positive professional and personal relationships with their major professors than do those graduate students with other gender major professors. Standardized interviews consisting of open-ended questions were used to investigate both the professional and psychosocial aspects of the graduate students’ relationships with their major professors.

Research Questions

1. Are female graduate students disadvantaged in their relationships with their professors?

2. Are female graduate students disadvantaged in comparison to their male counterparts?

 

Methods

Participants: 40 subjects (20 female – majors: 11 psychology, 9 biology; 20 male – majors: 11 psychology, 9 biology) were selected from a pool of second year graduate students in psychology and biology at a large Midwestern university. The resulting sample consisted of ten female students with male major professors, ten female students with female major professors, ten male students with male major professors, and ten male students with female major professors.  The ages of the subjects ranged from 23-51.  Each subject was personally approached in their laboratories or offices by the researchers and asked to participate in an interview study lasting one and a half hours.

 

Procedures: Upon arrival for the individual interviews, potential participants (after reading and signing informed consent forms) were interviewed and recorded in a private interviewing room by the researcher.  Each participant was asked to read and sign a form granting permission to audiotape the interview and to use quotes from the interview.

 

The student interviews consisted of five sections of standardized questions that were presented to the participants.  The five sections included:  Demographic Information, Professional Relationship, Psychosocial Relationship, Other Professors, and Gender Issues.  Demographic Information consisted of questions about age, race, religious affiliation, and marital status of both the graduate student and major professor.  Professional Relationship questions addressed the number of projects presented and published with their major professors, reasons for choosing their major professors structure of their professional interactions, functions a good major professor should perform, and positive and negative aspects of the professional relationship. The Psychosocial Relationship questions focused on assessing students' interpersonal relationships with their major professors (relationship structure and negative aspects of the interpersonal relationship) The Other Professors questions looked at the impact (either positive or negative) any professors, excluding the major professors, had on the graduate students’ lives during their graduate career.  Finally, the Gender Issues questions assessed the interactions the graduate students had with professors of the other gender to uncover any differences.  These questions also looked at whether sexuality was an issue in their relationships with faculty members in their department, and whether they had ever experienced incidents with faculty members that they would identify as being sexual harassment.

 

Results

After examining the interview transcripts, using both quantitative and qualitative content analyses, no differences in professional relationships were indicated. However, an inspection of the psychosocial relationships showed that there were some advantages to male students and disadvantages to female students associated with having male major professors. An example of this was that females with male major professors made the greatest number of negative psychosocial comments and met with their major professors in the fewest number of nonacademic environments while males with male major professors met in the greatest number of nonacademic environments and placed their major professors on their lists of supportive people most often.

 

Evaluation

I believe that this study does adequately address the issue the researchers attempted to initially analyze. The researchers focused their examination specifically on graduate students’ professional and personal relationships with same-gender and other gender major professors. Because they focused this study to only focus on this limited area, the study gives a very thorough analysis of the issue in this particular context.  Additionally, I feel that due to the study’s exploratory nature, one strength of the design was that it incorporated both quantitative and qualitative research methods.  This combination, I feel, helps to utilize the strengths of both method types by tapping into the “personal feelings” of the participant’s during their experiences while still keeping the results somewhat generalizable to other contexts. The study’s design also provided the opportunity to examine the issues from the participants' perspectives as well as test  whether the hypothesized relationships were real in a statistical sense.  This is typically very challenging to accomplish in one single study.

 

However, others who believe primarily in quantitative research may see this combination as a limitation of the design.  This is because the study’s generalizations to other graduate students may be viewed as faulty due to the small sample size, the limited number of departments sampled, as well as student characteristics they may not be indicative of the actual population.  Additionally, the study’s design may not satisfy researchers who believe primarily in qualitative research because the study’s analyses lack a certain depth that is typically more apparent in “pure” qualitative research. Another limitation of the study occurs through the self-reporting nature of the data.  It is difficult to absolutely confirm that what the participants said in the interviews are their true feelings about the issue.  Finally, because the students selected their own major professors it is difficult to rule out alternative explanations for the findings.

 

Improvements to the current may include using a much larger and more diverse sample of students and major professors.  I believe that further examinations of the effects different departments, degrees, ages, personalities, races, etc. have on the students’ responses would be very beneficial as well as insightful and should be pursued in future studies.  Additionally, more in-depth qualitative and quantitative studies exploring the male and female graduate students’ experiences with their male and female major professors need to be undertaken in order to fortify the foundation of research so that a full understanding of the significance of these relationships can be determined.