Siyuan CHAI (Peter CHAI)
Fourth-year student in the Economics Major
English-Based Degree Program
Graduate of Dalian. No. 24 High School International Department, China
Hands-on Research Experience at SPSE
As an important component of our studies at SPSE, Advanced Seminars provide us the platform to apply the knowledge we have learned from lecture courses to intellectual dialogues and interactions with other seminar members, and a friendly environment to conduct independent research projects with constant guidance and feedback from the professor. If lecture courses are channels for us undergraduate students to absorb and input information, Advanced Seminars are occasions for us to implement and output our knowledge in a more professional manner. The activities in my Advanced Seminars at SPSE let me get in touch with how research works in reality: how to stand on the shoulders of giants in academia and to put my own research initiatives into practice. I have acquired hands-on research experiences that are important for me to become a future researcher in political science, including literature review, model building, survey design and distribution, and quantitative analysis, as well as practical skills such as problem-solving and communication and cooperation with others.
Standing on the Shoulders of Giants
Taking part in Prof. Willy’s Advanced Seminars I, II, and III consecutively since my second year at SPSE has provided me the opportunity to appreciate the significance of reading classical works written by academic luminaries and to consider the potential for further research that builds upon previous conclusions. One key element of his seminars is to read the assigned papers in the fields of political science surrounding political attitudes and participation, including political culture, social capital, and value change by prominent scholars such as Almond and Verba (1963), Putnam (1993), and Inglehart (1997). Students read extensively before each class session, prepare and make pair presentations that summarize and critique the papers, and discuss the contents with our fellow seminar members led by the professor. We are able not only to comprehend the classical theories in political science but also to compare them with theories from the more recent political scientists who have up-to-date information in the modern context. These exercises have intensively trained our logical thinking capacity.
I believe that my work for this seminar has prepared me to conduct efficient literature reviews and identify possibilities for my own research, to present and defend my thoughts and findings in an objective and clear way, and to welcome diverse viewpoints and opinions of others from various academic backgrounds with an open mind. I have understood that standing on the shoulders of giants not only means showing our respect and appreciation for the theoretical foundations and frameworks which previous political scientists and sociologists have laid down, it also means, at the same time, objectively critiquing their theories’ applicability with convincing updated evidence and approaches so that fruitful and continuous future discussions can always be drawn upon them and complement them.
Putting Our Own Insights into Practice
During the latter half of Advanced Seminar III last semester, Prof. Willy assigned us a “mini-research” task to design and distribute an online survey based on our own hypotheses. Firstly, we individually formulated our hypotheses and designed a set of questions to test the hypotheses. Our hypotheses covered a wide array of topics such as political participation, social media, consumer purchasing behavior, generational value change, and patriotism. My questionnaire was about mental health, education, social life, and workload. We received advice from the professor regarding the identification, clarification, and measurability of certain independent and dependent variables, as well as the phrasing and the length of the questions. Secondly, after adjusting our questions, we aggregated our independent question sets into one whole Google Form, decided on the order and layout of the questions, and translated the questionnaire from English to both Chinese and Japanese for the distribution. Thirdly, we spent two weeks collecting the responses from our subject group who is undergraduate students. We reached a sample size of around 200 respondents. Finally, we ran regressions in software according to our proposed hypotheses, found out the associated statistical significances and correlation coefficients, etc., and formalized our findings in term papers.
Prof. Willy allowed us to freely choose and propose our own research models and told us not to be afraid of the collected data proving our hypotheses wrong. According to him, the key of this whole task is the process of testing our academic inquiries and curiosities. Through this first-time experience, we have had a taste of the actual planning procedures associated with a real survey project and became more aware of the problems that might arise in the various stages in survey planning and implementation. I have realized that while joint efforts can be hard to coordinate, individual ability is limited, and cooperation is inevitable for a research project such as a survey. For example, for researchers in political science, we not only need trustworthy agencies and individuals to distribute questionnaires to a large sample size, but we probably also need to consult with experts in other fields including statistics, mathematics, and computer science for appropriate model building, sampling procedure, and statistical analysis and representation of data utilizing the suitable computer software and programming languages. I learned that effective cooperation can smoothly turn our proposals and initiatives into reality. This insight is hardly obtainable by solely taking lecture courses and reading papers.
What’s Next in Our Quest for Knowledge?
Although it can be easy to critique other scholars’ work in history, it is much harder to conduct our own research from setting up a model in the beginning to response collection and quantitative analysis to self-evaluations of our research drawbacks at the end. Although we have critiqued some thinkers regarding their limitations in the Advanced Seminars, it is only after we have undertaken similar research on our own, we have comprehensively realized the difficulties that lie in original research.
The current limitation in our knowledge base and research capability urges us to learn more and always reflect on ourselves. Luckily for us, we have those giants in academia to rely upon and we also have our experienced professors and the school to guide us through possible research difficulties and barriers. With their guidance, what we can do is to humbly and confidently move forward to explore our research interests and passions, and there is still a lot to be made out of economics and political science. In conclusion, Advanced Seminars at SPSE is a solid starting point for those who wish to become eligible and skillful researchers in the foreseeable future.