International Relations program acquires first departmental class

The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy draws many students to Tufts' well renowned international relations program. Nicholas Pfosi / The Tufts Daily

The International Relations (IR) program at Tufts is one of the most respected in the country.  Until recently, however, one thing that the interdisciplinary IR program lacked were classes of its own. That changed this semester with the introduction of INTR-92, Quantitative Research Methods.

The class is one of many that can be used to satisfy the new research methodology requirement that must be fulfilled by IR majors in the class of 2018 and onward. It will be co-taught by IR Department Director Drusilla Brown and Professor of Political Science Elizabeth Remick.

According to Brown, the new requirement is part of a wider effort to give students a better understanding of methodology. Brown said that this shift began in the 1980s when economics departments began to require statistics and econometrics.

“The fear was that students would leave economics in droves because they wouldn’t be able to deal with the classes,” she said.

However, the discipline’s popularity improved.

“Not only did students actually pour into economics, [but] they were able to use econometric skills to do real, genuine, original research,” Brown said.

According to Brown, quantitative and qualitative methodology courses also began to be required in sociology, history and political science departments.

“The more apparent it was that students could actually get to the frontiers of knowledge as undergraduates, the more motivated faculty were to give them the skills that they needed to be there; IR is simply following in that tradition,” Brown said.

Brown proposed a new research methodology requirement to the executive committee when she became director of the IR department four and a half years ago. A few years later, it passed an initial committee decision.

“Two years ago, I brought a proposal to the curriculum committee describing what the requirement would look like, and what the courses would be and how it would be fulfilled, and it passed unanimously in the curriculum committee of the IR program,” she said.

There has been a lengthy approval process, however, for the course to pass through to become a reality.

“We then took it to the IR executive committee where it again passed unanimously, and from there it had to go to the [Arts & Sciences] curriculum committee, which also approved it. Finally it had to go through the Arts & Sciences faculty, which approved it. That happened last spring,” she said.

According to Professor Remick,  the reason behind creating an IR-specific research methodology class is that the program’s interdisciplinary nature requires students to have a broader skill set.

“Very frequently, a field will have its own methods that it uses exclusively, but IR is different because it is an interdisciplinary major … IR majors take economics classes and political science classes and other social science and humanities classes, so the idea here is to give students a grounding in a number of different methodologies so that they can do cross-disciplinary work,” Remick said.

According to Brown, INTR-92 will be taught by two professors from different departments. This semester, the professors are from the economics and political science departments, but professors from other departments will teach it in the future. The potential departments could include sociology, anthropology and history.

Brown believes that making an IR-specific methodology class has become more feasible since she first arrived at the school, as different disciplines within the social sciences have begun to communicate more in the last 30 years.

“Thirty years ago, I think that the disciplines were very siloed; economists did things this way and they were completely intolerant of anyone else’s way of thinking about the world,” she said. “Historians thought the same thing, except they thought that about history,”

She believes that today, the social sciences have benefited from a multidisciplinary approach.

“Now within the social sciences we … have found ways of incorporating each others’ concerns and ways of thinking, so that even though each discipline has its own distinctive flavor, I think that we are hearing each other and allowing each others’ lenses to even affect how we think about our own analytical framework,” Brown said.

INTR-92 continues the focus on research possibilities by organizing the curriculum around research questions that the students develop for themselves, Brown said.

She explained that every student has to identify a research question that they want to spend the semester analyzing, and that all students are exposed to methodologies including random control trials, case study methodology, textual analysis and statistical analysis.

“We are going to teach students a half-dozen different methodologies,” Brown said. “It is so that students actually see that there are many different ways to get evidence for a question and you can use these many different ways to see the questions through different disciplinary lenses.”

The class is team-taught to expose students to more of those disciplinary lenses, according to Remick.

“[Professor] Brown is an economist and I’m a political scientist … I am using qualitative data while she is mostly talking about working with quantitative data,” Remick said.

A main focus of the class is the analysis of empirical data using these differing approaches.

“We want to show how those are complementary kinds of methodology, and so they should be part of the toolkit for everybody to use,” Remick said.

Brown hopes that exposing students to research methodology will help encourage undergraduates to do more research.

“It has been a focus of the university for over a decade to really increasingly integrate undergraduates into the part of the university that is the creation of knowledge, not just the transmission of knowledge,” she said.

She noted that undergraduates often stay away from research because they believe it’s the realm of post-grads.

“Undergraduate students usually think they come here to learn — undergraduate students are here to learn, graduate students are here to learn and create, and faculty are here to teach and create — but we actually are at the point where [undergraduate] students are here not just to learn but they are also here to create,” Brown said.

Students appear to have a positive response to how the new requirement can enhance the study of international relations.

“Research is a big part of IR, and if students aren’t properly instructed on how to do it then they will mess it up when they are provided with opportunities to do it,” first-year Ariel Barbieri-Aghib, who is planning on majoring in IR, said.

One criticism, however, is that the department has not been proactive enough in informing students about the new requirement.

“I feel like I was not made aware of the fact that this is a requirement, it was not made clear why the requirement was introduced, and it was not made clear which classes fulfilled the requirement,” first-year Madison Taylor said.

Although the requirement only applies to students graduating in 2018 or later, Brown feels that all IR students should consider taking the class.

“I hope that all IR students realize that methodology is a very valuable skill and that they will all be motivated to take it,” she said. “We have merely suggested the class and they will realize this is a good thing to do and they will go out and acquire some methodology. It will help students not only academically, but with their future job prospects as well.”


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