Have you heard the story about the faculty member who wanted to do research, but couldn’t, because he/she did not have a grant. She/he also wanted to get a grant, but couldn’t because he/she didn’t have any research.
In this issue of Thinking About Research I want to talk about how you can do research, even if you don’t have a grant. Specifically, I’ll give some examples of work in which I have been involved that used Qualtrics Survey Software to conduct web-based surveys and some additional work that involved secondary data analysis using national data sets. Survey research and secondary data analysis are types of research that you can do; and you don’t need funding to do it.
First, let me make it clear that when I use the term “research” I do not mean, “let’s collect lots of data, because if we have a lot, surely it will tell us something.” I do mean a thoughtful, systematic investigation to address a specific research question and add to our body of knowledge.
Many research projects can be conducted with little or no funding. For example, surveys can be conducted with little or no cost, but still address important research questions. Our College has a Qualtrics license that gives every faculty member, every staff member, and every student in the College the opportunity to have his/her own account and conduct web-based surveys. For those of you who haven’t tried Qualtrics, it is about time for you to open your account and give it a try. This survey software is similar in some ways to Survey Monkey, only it is more like Survey Monkey on steroids. It allows survey researchers to do some pretty amazing things and although it clearly enhances your performance as a researcher, you won’t have to worry about a 200+ game suspension for using performance enhancing research tools.
We recently completed a three-university study concerned with religiosity and the health behavior of college students. We used Qualtrics. Several papers have been presented at professional meetings. One manuscript is in review and a second manuscript is in development. Part of the project was the development of a new measure of religiosity that taps into the intellectual dimension of religiosity – an aspect of religiosity that is rarely measured. Members of the research team have spent a considerable amount of time on the project, but it has been doable, without external funding. We have had several conversations with an NIH program officer about our work. NIH has a program announcement concerned with the impact of religiosity on the health behavior of young children. When the project was just an idea, the NIH project manager suggested we submit a proposal to NIH. We did. It was scored, but not funded. When we received reviewers’ comments concerning our proposal we had already progressed from the idea to an actual study. Again we visited with our program officer. She indicated that once we publish a few articles from the study we will be well positioned to submit a proposal for a longitudinal study.
We also completed a survey of school counselors along the U.S.-Mexico border region. The purpose of the study was to gain feedback from counselors regarding the cultural appropriateness of our Keep A Clear Mind drug education program for use with Hispanic children and their parents. Qualtrics allowed us to copy and paste actual portions of the Keep A Clear Mind program into the questionnaire. This allowed us to actually show counselors the program rather than just tell them about it. We have presented two conference papers based on the survey, a journal manuscript is in the works, and the survey results will be used in the revision of an NIH proposal to address, in part, reviewers’ concerns about the cultural appropriateness of the program.
If you want to do research, but aren’t interested in conducting your own survey, you can access data sets from thousands of national studies to conduct a secondary data analysis. UTA is a member of the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. This gives faculty access to over 500,000 different data sets, a number of them directly concerned with nursing or health care issues. Do the research, without collecting the data – what could be easier? Ok – so it’s not easy, but you can do some pretty cool things with secondary data analysis, and it’s a lot easier than if you had to go out and collect all of the data yourself.
A number of years ago I was part of a secondary analysis of a wave of data from the National Survey of Family Growth. Our paper was titled “Correlates of adolescent sexual behavior, contraceptive use and pregnancy: Results from Cycle III survey of family growth.” I presented the paper at a conference on a Saturday. On the following Monday a story about our study was on the front page of USA Today. We have also used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Education to use eighth grade variables to predict later teen pregnancy, and data from the National Planned Parenthood Poll, to make a strong case for the benefits of sexuality education.
The point of all of this is to convince you that even if you don’t have a grant you can still conduct research, publish some interesting research articles that may make a substantial contribution to the literature, potentially attract national media attention, even impact public policy, and set the stage for securing external funding. What more could you ask?
But isn’t funded research better than research that is not funded? Sometimes it is; sometimes it isn’t. External funding can allow the researcher to take on projects and do things that simply would not be possible without the funding. This does not necessarily mean better or more important projects. Funding does allow the researcher the freedom to develop and test interventions and in many ways to go beyond the limitations of web-based surveys and national data sets. In the rating of research universities and our quest for tier one status, external funding is extremely important. Publications are an important research product. Strong publications make a contribution to the literature and can garner substantial citations, help faculty to achieve national recognition, and convince funding agencies that the researcher is a good investment. It is, however, the actual research expenditures that count in moving an institution to tier one status.
Here’s the take home message. Be an active researcher. Of course we want you to secure external grant funding, but it is also possible to do research, publish your results in scholarly journals, and make important contributions without funding. Instead of saying, “I want to do research, but I don’t have a grant,” say “I will do important research even without a grant, and establish a research track record that will increase my chances of securing research grants.”
I’ll talk more about funded research and the grant process in future issues of “Thinking About Research.” In the meantime, if you decide you want to get started on Qualtrics or in doing a secondary data analysis, but need a little help, let me know. As always, please feel free to add comments or questions.