Putting Together a Speakers Series: The Center for Interpretive and Qualitative Research (CIQR)

As part of the APA Blog’s focus on service related posts, we solicited the following account to provide an example of how one can go about beginning and maintaining a speakers series. While the post’s content is specific to CIQR, Duquesne University, and the Pittsburgh area, the method by which CIQR was established can be applied elsewhere.

By Fred Evans

The Center for Interpretive and Qualitative Research (CIQR, pronounced “seeker”) at Duquesne University is special both for how it began and for what it does. Its immediate roots were in an interdisciplinary reading group of faculty and graduate students. From this group emerged a Women’s and Gender Studies program and CIQR. In the case of CIQR, a number of us inside and outside the reading group recognized that a large percentage of the scholars in the liberal arts, health sciences, education, and other schools at Duquesne used interpretive and qualitative methods in their research. Moreover, two of our departments provided a unique combination of resources for phenomenology and other forms of qualitative research. The philosophy PhD program was devoted to continental philosophy and thus provided a theoretical basis for phenomenological, psychoanalytic, discursive, and other qualitative methods. Moreover, the university’s psychology department had an international reputation for its American Psychological Association accredited PhD program in phenomenological psychology and other innovative qualitative approaches. Our originating group therefore decided that a Center devoted to qualitative methods would facilitate communication among these faculty and their students. This communication would fulfill a need for intellectual community as well as expose us to a variety of qualitative research methods.

In the summer of 1999, our group wrote a proposal for the Center. This process involved weeks of debate about the meaning of “qualitative” and how much latitude we should attribute to the term. As a result, we included “interpretive” in our title. This addition would allow us to emphasize that qualitative methods used in literature, philosophy, and other departments in the humanities would be equal in importance to those undertaken in the social and behavioral sciences. Our grassroots effort was aided by the Dean of the College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts at the time. After winning approval from the relevant graduate and deans’ committees, we were granted “Center” status. CIQR was therefore special for both its content and its origins: it included the qualitative methods of both the social sciences and the humanities, and it began as a spontaneous movement of faculty that joined forces with the administration in order to institutionalize the Center.

The work of the Center revolves around several programs. The first of these is a monthly meeting in which faculty and graduate students from Duquesne and other universities in the Pittsburgh area present their work, focusing on their methods as well as the phenomena they are investigating. Typically, a half-hour presentation is followed by an hour of lively discussion in these well-attended meetings. The inclusion of presentations by scholars from the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University, and other Pittsburgh academic institutions helps ensure the diversity necessary for being innovative in our use of qualitative methods. Indeed, our emphasis is not on producing a universal method for qualitative research; rather, the exposure to these different researchers and their approaches is intended to enrich the plurality of methods already at hand and to allow new ones to emerge. We also find that in qualitative research a particular method is not so much imposed on but rather suggested by the phenomenon under investigation.

As an indication of the range of methods we entertain, we have invited people in the non-academic community to discuss how their fields at least implicitly involve qualitative approaches. For example, we invited a political cartoonist from Pittsburgh’s leading newspaper to talk about how he framed society (his audience and source of inspiration) when creating the images for his cartoons. We’ve had similar sessions with artists from the community. We also sometimes initiate a yearlong theme as our basis for selecting presentations during that period. A recent theme was qualitative research concerning migrancy. We are also in the process of considering presentations on research that is simultaneously linked to the presenter’s involvement in outreach to the non-academic community. In the future, this may involve collaborating with a university center focused on community engaged teaching and research. A similar collaboration may occur with a group that is forming a special master’s program in psychoanalysis.

The second program of the Center’s work is an invitation each semester to an internationally known scholar from outside the Pittsburgh area. The “external” scholar gives a public talk and then a smaller symposium that concentrates on methodology. We also have visiting research scholars attached to our center. They are financed by their home institution or themselves. This new effort has thus far included a scholar from Brazil and another from Nigeria.

A third program of our center is the CIQR Certificate Program: a certificate is offered to those graduate students or faculty who take specified method-oriented courses from the general curriculum at the university and then a special pro-seminar. The pro-seminar requires that the participants engage in and jointly discuss research projects that they are undertaking. They then present their work to CIQR members at a meeting for that purpose. This program has been operating for several years and has already granted the certificate to over two dozen graduate students and faculty members.

The fourth and final program of the Center concerns the administration of CIQR. It involves a Coordinator (director), a CIQR Fellow drawn each year from the graduate students of various departments, a coordinator for the certificate program, and a Steering Committee. We have had one Coordinator since CIQR’s inception, the author of this piece, but I serve at the behest and recall power of the Steering Committee, which includes many of the faculty who participated in the originating group of the Center. Part of my qualification for the coordinator role is my field of philosophy, but also an advanced degree in a social science (psychology) and community development experience overseas. This mixed background is helpful to me but not necessary for the coordinator’s role. My full-time job is as a professor in the philosophy department, but my university service with CIQR grants me a one course reduction annually and a small yearly bonus in salary. The Steering Committee advises me on all major decisions concerning CIQR operations; suggests monthly presentations; and forms rotating four-person committees (one for the humanities, the other for the social and behavioral sciences) to choose the two external speakers for each academic year. The committee also ensures ethnic, gender, and field diversity in guiding CIQR and in the content of its presentations. The CIQR Fellow is in charge of our webpage, announcing presentations, setting up for the latter (which includes wine and finger foods at the late-afternoon monthly events), and similar indispensable duties. The stipend for the Fellow comes from the university and is about two thirds of that received by PhD students. The finances for running the program comes from the College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts at the University. Although the center is based in the College, it is recognized as a campus-wide institution. The total costs for the Center come to less than ten-thousand dollars annually, not counting the CIQR Fellow’s stipend. The Center, then, is a realistic possibility for other institutions to emulate. Evidence for the effectiveness of the Center is its more than fifteen years of continuous service, the comments of Duquesne and other faculty members in the Pittsburgh area, and the number of prospective new faculty who bring up the subject of CIQR in their hiring interviews with the Dean. The Center also has an entry in The SAGE Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods (2008).

For further information see the CIQR Website. It includes a description of the Center, the original proposals for the Center and for its Certificate program, a list of all the CIQR external speakers and their topics, a description of all the monthly presentations to date, announcements of coming events, and a list of the subcommittees, their members and functions, as well as a sign up procedure for those wishing to become CIQR members. It also includes accessible audio-visual recordings of the presentations since 2014.

Fred Evans is Professor of Philosophy and CIQR Coordinator at Duquesne University.  He is author most recently of The Multivoiced Body: Society and Communication in the Age of Diversity.


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