Factors Influencing Interest in Research among Criminal Justice Students, a study presented by Fang Mei Law and Gwo Jen Guo, takes a look at the factors that influence college student’s interest in research projects. As several studies, such as that done by Baer and Jewell, have shown a connection between social science students and a lack of interest in research, Law and Guo felt it to be necessary to analyze possible causes for this lack of interest (Law & Guo, 2011). At the time of publication, Law and Guo wee unaware of any other research approaching the topic.
The purpose of the Law and Guo’s study was to establish some of those reasons that criminal justice students shy away from quantitative research studies, as well as exploring the various levels of interest in research (Law & Guo, 2011). In order to test this, Law and Guo created a list of factors they believed influenced the decisions of college students concerning research. In particular, they were interested in the effects stress and anxieties have on the student’s self-confidence as it concerns research studies. By gathering information reported on questionnaires by criminal justice students, Law and Guo wished to determine causal factors for a lack of interest in research.
In order to determine stress levels, Law and Guo defined several factors that they believed influenced the student’s attitude towards research. Among these are statistics anxiety, statistics self-efficacy, research self-efficacy, and research interest. For the purposes of this research, statistical anxiety refers to feelings of stress when confronted with statistics, while statistic self-efficacy refers to the student’s belief that they can perform well in the area of statistics. Similarly, research self-efficacy is defined as a student’s belief that they can perform well in the area of research, while the definition of research interest is evident (Law & Guo, 2011). With these definitions established, Law and Guo use inductive reasoning to determine that a student’s belief that they can successfully complete the research will have a positive effect on the student’s research interest. Deductively, Law and Guo have asserted that because social science majors prefer qualitative studies, and criminal justice is a social science, that the criminal justice student prefers qualitative research (Law & Guo, 2011). Regardless of the validity of this reasoning, the trend towards quantitative data in criminal justice research continues to thrive.
With this in mind, Law and Guo created a sample group of 328 students from the School of Criminal Justice in a Midwestern university with an age range from 18 to 59 years. Ethnic backgrounds were diverse, but had a majority of Caucasian students by a large margin. The gender of students was also lopsided as female criminal justice students in the sample outnumbered their counterparts by 132 students (Law & Guo, 2011). Regardless of this demographic setup, all students were required to fill out a background questionnaire. This questionnaire includes questions that help to determine the student’s level of statistical anxiety, statistic self-efficacy, research self-efficacy, and research interest. Statistical anxiety in measured on a Likert-type scale devised by the researchers which assigns a level of anxiety to each response. The same type of scale is used for statistical self-efficacy. For research self-efficacy, Law and Guo used a 33 item scale to assess the student’s belief that they could finish research tasks or research properly. Finally, for research interest, the researchers returned to the use of the Likert-type scale (Law & Guo, 2011).
With the research design in mind, it is evident that data collected is qualitative, while the population is criminal justice students. Because of the narrow choice of sample group, it can said to be stratified as the dependent variable is closely tied to students of this particular subgroup (Hagan, 2010). The results found that there was a small correlation between the student’s confidence in his or her writing and computer skills and his or her interest in research. In addition to this, there was a positive correlation between statistics anxiety and statistics self-efficacy. These same results were mirrored in the relationship between research self-efficacy and research interests. Overall, the study showed that when students felt anxiety and lack of confidence they were less likely to be interested in research (Law & Guo, 2011).
Based on these findings, Law and Guo have offered several suggestions and recommendations. They start by acknowledging the trend in the criminal justice field to look towards more quantitative measures of statistics. Indeed, it seems to be slightly ironic that a research study primarily interested in determining the lack of interest in quantitative research decided to not utilize quantitative research. Despite this, both Law and Guo feel that more emphasis should be placed on developing computer and writing skills for criminal justice students. It seems that the primary concern should be developing confidence in both research practices and statistics skills (Law & Guo, 2011). With the correlation between the confidence in these skills and the student’s interest in research, it seems to be self-evident that this would build confidence and be beneficial to both the students and the criminal justice system.
With all this said, there are several ways in which Law and Guo’s research could have been improved. The sample group leaves much to be desired concerning diversity. Because of this, it fails to address those elements that may be gender or racially related. If elements of confidence were related specifically to this type of variable it would change the way the results were applied. For example, according to a study done by Victor Thiessen, females are more likely to self-report their math skills to be inferior to those of their male counterparts even though they may actually meet or exceed their skill level. Thiessen found that because females often had higher language skills than their male counterparts, they would undervalue numeric skills (Thiessen, 2007). If this were the case, developing the skills is not the issue; it is the perception of the skills. With the majority of Law and Guo’s sample group being female, the certainty of the findings can be called into question.
The scope of the study is also an issue as it focuses on one college in a Midwestern city. There is no real indication that these results can be generalized to the rest of criminal justice college students. Future studies would benefit from having sample groups from several colleges and universities, ideally located in different parts of the nation.
In addition to this, Law and Guo’s data collection method of the questionnaire leaves little room for explanation or factors not specifically determined in the questionnaire. While anxiety and self-efficacy are a part of what influences the criminal justice student’s interest in research, there could be a number of other valid reasons for a lack of interest. This seems to be short-sighted if one wants to definitively determine what piques the student’s interest, or lack thereof, in the research process.
Finally, quantitative data concerning the student’s actual performance would be beneficial to the study. This would include grades for tests and quizzes as well as feedback from instructors. This would help to establish what other factors may be at play. For example, a student may have confidence and adequate skills, but has been jaded about the process from a denuding instructor. Beyond this, it would determine what skills truly need further honing. A lack of confidence may be from low self-efficacy, but it may also be from a true lack of skill. Without determining skill level, the certainty of the reason cannot be ascertained. By adding quantitative measures to the research design, Law and Guo could have strengthened the validity of their results.
Law and Guo have made an admirable attempt at discerning the causes for criminal justice student’s lack in interest in research. By examining this divide between students of social sciences and a desire for research, Law and Guo have opened the door to further studies about those factors, such as anxiety and self-efficacy, which provide barriers to strong criminal justice research.
Hagan, F. E. (2010). Research methods in criminal justice and criminology (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Law, F. M., & Guo, G. J. (2011, Sept). Factors influencing interest in research among criminal justice students. Journal of Criminal Justice Education, 22(3), 377-391.
Thiessen, V. (2007, Spring). Performace and perception: Exploring gender gaps in human capital skills. Canadian Journal of Sociology, 32(2), 145 – VI.