Sheri Kunovich: Credentials and the American Campaign
Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to work with several undergraduate students in collecting, coding, and analyzing political candidates’ online biographies from their official campaign webpages. We now have all the biographies for the candidates running in the 2008 and 2010 elections for the US House of Representatives. In addition to collecting the data, several students received extensive training in content analysis and coded the data for the 2008 election. The findings from these data have already been presented at two academic conferences. In addition, several undergraduate students have been able to pursue their own research interests or work collaboratively with me using these data which have facilitated undergraduate awards such as: Rebecca Elrod, 2009-2010 Ann Early Award; Madeline Shulman, 2010-2011 Betty Maynard Award; and Melissa Boyle, 2010-2011 Hamilton Scholars Award. Currently students are being employed to generate research questions, engage in literature reviews, and analyze the data in order to pursue common research interests with the professor.
The Student's Perspective:
As a double-major in sociology and political science with a minor in women and gender studies this research project allowed me to combine my interests in all my fields of study. As part of this research project I was able to read relevant literature about gender and political campaigns and gain research skills. I enjoyed learning how to identify the population of websites and archive the internet materials for analysis. I also spent a lot of time reading and coding the biographies. Working with another student and the professor I came to appreciate how difficult and necessary it is to have multiple persons coding social science data.
Having majored in sociology and minored in women and gender studies, I was considering going to graduate school. My professor recommended that I get more experience with the social science research process. We met weekly to discuss readings and to develop a specific research question using the data on political biographies. We decided to examine gender differences in the use of military credentials. Through this research process, I learned how to identify and evaluate secondary data sources and how to use content analysis methods. I had an opportunity to analyze the data and write a research paper based on my findings. Working with the professor I now understand that how much time and attention to detail goes into research projects. Through this process I realized that I was not ready to go to graduate school but that I did want to pursue a career as a social science researcher after graduation.