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Methodological Debates in Environmental Research
Graduate Program (& Advanced Certificate) Status
Course Description
Methodological Debates in Environmental Research is a core course in the doctoral curriculum designed to help PhD students clarify and justify their own research assumptions and methodologies. This course engages with several concepts that are fundamental to carrying out research including ontology and epistemology.  The course engages some fundamental questions about what and how you can know anything about the world. A key aspect of becoming a doctorate (and an academic in general) is to be clear about the assumptions held with respect to what constitutes sound knowledge with the highest degree of certainty based ontological, epistemological and methodological approaches.

We aim, first, to explore some of the fundamental conceptual areas and debates in environmental research (and research in general) and, second, to broaden our horizons by familiarizing ourselves with a range of assumptions and approaches across select researchers in the department associated with your own emerging doctoral dissertation research.  In this process, we will engage questions such as: 

  • Is there a universal and absolute truth out there that is attainable through research? In other words, does an objective reality exist “out there” that can tell us how things “really are ”?  
  • Is reality made up of multiple “truths” that rely on human and social perceptions/perspectives (or scientific consensus) that are contextual and temporal?
  • Can a researcher be objective? If so, what does it mean to be objective? Are there fundamental principles that should guide all scientific research?  If so, what are they? 
  • How are ontological and epistemological assumptions manifested in different research designs? How will you design your research and what are your assumptions?
Learning Outcomes

Purpose of this Course and Anticipated Learning Outcomes

In order to design a solid research proposal as well as assess other research efforts, it is important to be able to understand the assumptions and arguments that underpin a given methodological approach. In academic and intellectual development, it is crucial to discern the value of a given research effort, finding(s), or conclusion(s). This course provides students with an overview of some of the key concepts and debates that characterize scientific research and allows students to explore and develop (and, ultimately, argue convincingly for) their own research, while also being able to assess others’ research assumptions. 

After successfully completing the course you will be able to:

  • comprehend a selection of relevant epistemological and methodological concepts and debates in environmental research;
  • assess the strengths and limitations inherent in different research assumptions; and
  • articulate and justify your own research assumptions and approach.


Learning in this class will be assessed through the following components:

  1. Participation in class discussions (15%)
  2. Online reflection blog and forum (25%) 
  3. Discussion facilitation associated with identified readings related to your research design and approach (25%)
  4. Overview and justification of your proposed dissertation research (35%)
Course Level
Course Open to
Students on-site
Remote students
Academic Year
US Credits
ECTS Credits
Course Code