Methodology is the study of tools and techniques for research design, measurement, and data analysis.
We are a free-standing, interdisciplinary research center within the College of Health and Human Development. We are not part of any single academic department.
We are different from most statistics departments in several ways.
First, we are interdisciplinary. Statistics has an important presence in the Center, but there are other disciplines, too, such as applied mathematics, biostatistics, communication, computing science, education, epidemiology, human development, and psychology. If you look at our people and news, you will see that there is a great deal of cross-disciplinary collaboration. We meet nearly 30 times per year to discuss research, so even scientists who are not directly collaborating influence each other’s work.
Second, our methodological work is always responsive to and directly informed by methodological problems faced by social, behavioral, and health scientists. We frequently collaborate with these scientists on methodological and substantive research. Note that this applies even to more theoretical work done by Center scientists.
Third, we focus on methodology for applications in the social, behavioral, and health sciences. In most Statistics departments, other application areas are represented, such as environmental, spatial, and engineering statistics. We frequently borrow from these other areas within statistics but we do not work on applications for these domains.
Fourth, although we publish in Statistics journals such as the Journal of the American Statistical Association and Annals of Statistics, we also publish our work in methodological journals aimed at social, behavioral, and health sciences audiences (e.g., Psyhological Methods and Statistics in Medicine) and in more content-oriented journals (e.g., Prevention Science, Drug and Alcohol Dependence, and AIDS Care).
The Methodology Center does not offer ad hoc statistical consulting, but excellent statistical consultation is available from two sources at Penn State: The College of Health and Human Development’s Methodology Consulting Group and the Statistical Consulting Center operated by the Statistics Department.
We welcome substantive scientists who are facing unusual methodological issues to make an informal presentation in our weekly brown bag seminar, particularly if they are open to possible collaboration with a methodologist in our Center. These are held most Thursdays during the academic year from noon–1:30 pm in the Center’s conference room (see current calendar), and are open to the public. Any other members of your research team would be welcome to attend and take part in the discussion. In the past, fruitful collaborations have emerged from similar presentations. If you would like to present in the brown bag, contact Dr. Donna Coffman to discuss the topic you have in mind.
The Methodology Center does not confer degrees because we are a research center, not an academic department. However, students from a variety of academic departments and numerous post-docs have obtained valuable training in the Center. For more information, see the next question.
There are several different levels of training.
Graduate Students If you are thinking about applying to graduate school, take a look at the People and Research Areas sections of the web site to see if your interests are a good fit with any of the scientists in the Center. If so, contact the scientist directly to get more information. We value graduate students in the Center and are always looking for up-and-coming scientists interested in methodology. As mentioned in the previous question, the Methodology Center does not confer degrees. If you decide to come to Penn State to work with a scientist in the Center as a graduate student, you will need to apply and be accepted in an academic department like Human Development and Family Studies, Statistics, Health Policy and Administration, or Biobehavioral Health. The scientist that you talk with can help you decide on a department that best fits your research interests and career goals, and we encourage you to investigate your opportunities for a graduate career here at Penn State.
Weekly Talks If you are a graduate student at Penn State or the University of Michigan, contact a Center scientist at your institution to discuss training opportunities. Also, any student at Penn State is welcome to attend our weekly brown bag seminar. These are held most Thursdays during the academic year from noon–1:30 pm in the Center’s conference room (see current calendar). Attending these sessions is a great way to learn more about the research going on in The Methodology Center and meet the scientists. In addition, The Methodology Center and the Prevention Research Center at Penn State offer several PAMT pre-doctoral fellowships each year (funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse) for Penn State students with interests in both prevention and methodology. More information about the PAMT program is available here.
Post-docs If you are finishing graduate school and are interested in a post-doc focused on methodological research, please contact any of our scientists to discuss the possibility of working with them. We are very committed to training future methodologists, and are always happy to meet potential candidates. In addition, The Methodology Center and the Prevention Research Center at Penn State offer several PAMT post-doctoral fellowships funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. These positions offer the opportunity for joint training in prevention and methodology. More information about the PAMT program is available here.
The Center does offer support to qualified graduate students and post-docs. To be eligible, a student or post-doc must currently be involved in the research of a Center scientist, or have made arrangements to become involved in the research of a Center scientist. (Please see the question above for additional details if you are a prospective graduate student.)
In addition, the National Institute on Drug Abuse has awarded Penn State an interdisciplinary training program for scientists seeking to integrate statistical methodology and prevention. The Prevention and Methodology Training (PAMT) program is a partnership between The Methodology Center and the Prevention Research Center. PAMT funds several post-docs and graduate students from various departments.
See our Training page for further information.
The Methodology Center offers both courses for credit toward an academic degree and non-credit workshops and continuing education courses. The Center partners with academic departments such as Human Development & Family Studies, Health Policy & Administration, and Biobehavioral Health to offer courses for credit. We offer three, one-credit, graduate methodology courses every year. More information about our one-credit courses is here.
We also offer a yearly Institute on Innovative Methods funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This is a two-day hands-on workshop. More information on the institute is available here. We also have two podcasts on prior institutes and a set of videos from the 2010 institute.
Additionally, for faculty we offer A Taste of Methodology every semester. These brief workshops aim to provide busy faculty with an efficient way to assess the potential of a methodological approach for their research. Workshops are FREE and open to all Ph.D.-level scientists at Penn State. A Taste of Methodology is co-sponsored by the Social Science Research Institute and the Methodology Center, and is part of SSRI's Innovative Methods Initiative.
See our Workshops page for upcoming trainings opportunities.
For over ten years, the Center has engaged in public goal setting as a means of understanding each other's work and holding each other accountable. At our monthly business meeting, all Center faculty, research associates, post-docs, graduate students, and staff participate in goal setting. The atmosphere is positive and upbeat, and this exercise is meant to help scientists prioritize and advance their research. Each goal typically is a concrete milestone that the scientist anticipates completing by the next meeting. An example might be to draft the introduction section of a manuscript that is being prepared for submission to a scientific journal.