“Come to us with an idea — say, ‘I’m really interested in creativity’ — we’ll talk through that. Then, we’ll teach you how to write a grant proposal. Or maybe you’ve formulated a research question or even collected some data, but now you want to know ‘How do I best prove or refute my hypothesis?’ Perhaps your research is done, and you’d like to reach an audience outside academia: we can help you use all kinds of media to do that.”
When Greg Scott, associate professor of sociology, describes the A-to-Z services he and a handful of staff — a program administrator, a senior research methodologist, a research associate, a senior technician for information services, and a few graduate student assistants — offer faculty and graduate students through the Social Science Research Center (SSRC), his conclusion is not surprising:
“Every day is a new puzzle. We often don't know ‘the answer’ straight away, but we work hard and fast to find one — or at least to find a path to an answer. This is the part of the job I love the best — stretching my intellectual boundaries and learning new things every week.”
Launched in 2008, the SSRC promotes, enhances, and advances the scholarly activity of behavioral and social scientists at DePaul. In imagining the center, Scott and Rachel Lovell, senior research methodologist responsible for designing, developing, implementing, and analyzing empirical research studies, surveyed faculty and visited well-run centers at other universities.“We are modeled after the best of what we’ve seen, modified to fit our local context,” Lovell says.
The center’s services include (but are not limited to) technical support, such as data collection, processing, conversion, and analysis, as well as survey design and analysis; training, seminars, and workshops with recognized experts in a field; and media relations. This “something for everyone” scope means that both inexperienced and seasoned researchers benefit from the center.
For example, the staff at the center can ask the “So what? Who cares?” questions that guide the researcher in developing a relevant, theoretical perspective. Academic experts are brought in, such as Howard Becker, the renowned sociologist, who recently conducted a master class that offered three researchers a forum to present their ideas in various stages of development before an audience of faculty and graduate students; he then facilitated a critical discussion of the concepts. “Listening to Becker opened my eyes about how fixed my thinking had become,” says Scott.
In one-on-one consultations or small-class groups, the center helps the researcher learn how to write a grant proposal; construct, revise, and implement a survey instrument; or figure out the best quantitative and qualitative analysis methods for a project. Jill Murray, assistant professor in the Master of Social Work program, has depended on the center’s resources to nurture her research ideas and find funding.
“Rachel and all the staff went above and beyond my expectations,” she recalls. “I was awarded an internal grant to chair a conference — “Social Justice, Social Welfare and the Economy” — largely because of my work with the SSRC. I also attended a two-day workshop of Elizabeth Pisani — she’s well-known in my area of interest, which is social justice and access to health care — and even met with her one-on-one a few times. She got me focused on my agenda and research questions. Now, I’m looking for funding, and the SSRC is helping me again.”
One important aspect of the center’s work is making the research being done at DePaul accessible to a larger community. “Sometimes, even the most talented researcher won’t know how to make his or her work relevant to the public,” says Scott. “So, we’re always looking for new ways to package research in the social sciences to make it useful, interesting, compelling, and thought-provoking to lay people. The work of our faculty and students contributes to improving life in the public sphere. The center is here to help fulfill that mission.”