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Dr. Melissa Powell-Williams, a professor of sociology in the Department of Social Sciences and director of the Qualitative Research Lab, with Dr. Dr. Dustin Avent-Holt, an associate professor of sociology and director of the Center for Social Science Research.

Need help with your social sciences research? Augusta University’s new Qualitative Research Lab is now open

Augusta University’s research community now has a hub for qualitative research available for faculty, graduate students and administrators of all colleges on campus.

The Qualitative Research Lab, which opened this month in the Center for Social Science Research at Augusta University, offers consultation and support for qualitative social scientific research.

Some of the lab’s services include consultation on research design, conducting interviews and focus groups, ethnographic fieldwork and participant observation and data analysis, said Dr. Melissa Powell-Williams, a professor of sociology in the Department of Social Sciences and the new director of the Qualitative Research Lab.

“We see ourselves as a resource to help connect individuals who are engaging in research or who are new to research, but who are not exactly sure how to get started, with other people who are skilled in the different methodologies that would apply to what they want to do. Namely, qualitative research,” Powell-Williams said. “For qualitative research, what we really mean is conducting interviews and focus groups as well as participant observation and analysis of existing documents and content through a qualitative, or meaning-driven, lens.”

Dr. Dustin Avent-Holt, an associate professor of sociology and director of the Center for Social Science Research within Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, said he and Powell-Williams decided to form the Qualitative Research Lab because several faculty members had contacted them seeking help with their research projects.

“They were wanting help with their qualitative work because they had ideas about a project, but they didn’t know how to go about it, so they were coming to Dr. Powell-Williams because she is the qualitative expert on campus, asking, ‘What do I do? How do I go about this?’” Avent-Holt said. “Therefore, we thought it would be a good idea to formalize this lab and create a real space for qualitative researchers to get together, network and build relationships with others who need qualitative work done. So, we decided to put this as a priority within the Center for Social Science Research and develop this lab as a research hub.”

Over the past year, Avent-Holt and Powell-Williams have worked to establish the structure of the Qualitative Research Lab to offer researchers the services needed.

“The first task we had was to go beyond a specific position or role and look for others who would be involved as affiliates,” Powell-Williams said. “These are individuals, who are the experts in their subject area and do qualitative research, that would be connected with others who would need their expertise. Because there are a lot of individuals coming from the Health Sciences Campus and the different colleges there who wanted to engage in this kind of research, but their training is elsewhere. They need someone who is trained in qualitative social scientific research, so there is an interdisciplinary approach with this hub.”

The Qualitative Research Lab already has affiliates who can assist with this kind of research within the College of Education and Human Development, College of Nursing, College of Allied Health Sciences and Pamplin College, Powell-Williams said. The lab also hopes to begin working with the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship to potentially recruit qualified graduate students to help with some of the research projects.

The first person to request assistance from the Qualitative Research Lab was Dr. Neil J. MacKinnon, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Augusta University.

Powell-Williams said she is working with MacKinnon’s research team on a project that stemmed from the multidisciplinary conference, Converge International Rural Health Symposium. The symposium was created by MacKinnon to encourage joint research focused on rural health between four universities: Robert Gordon University, University of Aberdeen, University of Georgia College of Pharmacy and Augusta University.

“I’ve been working on his project this year, researching the state of and the future of his collaborative efforts through interviews and focus groups,” Powell-Williams said. “Dr. MacKinnon has been extremely supportive of this lab and I’m very thankful for that support.”

This new lab will help strengthen research projects across the entire university, Avent-Holt said.

“I’ve reached out to the different research groups around the university to let them know about this new lab and I’ve been struck by the number of emails I’ve received saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got this project idea. What do you think? Is this viable? How would we go about doing this?’” Avent-Holt said. “We are building something very exciting here.”

The Qualitative Research Lab offers all Augusta University investigators an initial hour-long consultation, free of charge, to discuss projects and the scope of work. After the initial consultation, a cost estimate is provided. For more information, visit the Qualitative Research Lab’s webpage.

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Written by
Stacey Eidson

Stacey Eidson is Senior News & Communications Coordinator at Augusta University. Contact her to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at 706-522-3023 or

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Written by Stacey Eidson

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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