All 5 entries tagged Methodologies

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April 08, 2013

Methodology Giant Must Come Down

methodology.jpgWhen I was swimming in literature, theories and counter-thepries, I longed for the day I would get my head above board and into much calmer waters like the methodology chapter. I was mistaken. Every phase (not necessarily in a chronological order) is ridden with its own bucket of challenges - make that a truckload.

I underestimated writing the methodology chapter... I am still working on it.

My first step was to look through published theses, and scrutinise how they wrote theirs. That was really helpful to me.

Also, I dug into the cache of numerous blogging academics who were willing to share nuggets on how to tackle this aspect of the research.

Here are what I found:

13 Reasons Researchers Get Asked to Write Their Methods Chapter Again- by Pat Thompson

Both Pat Thompson and the Thesis Whisperer are very dear to my research-heart - you have no idea how much. They have this uncanny way of blogging about the exact issues I am facing, as though they were in my head.

In this piece, Pat explains the Achilles heel of most theses, when it comes to writing the methodology chapter.

Top on the list is, not knowing the difference between methodology and methods. Did you know there was a difference? Well, she certainly had to explain it in a separate post.

Another weakness in methodology chapter writing is, where the methods don't fit with the theoretical framework. This is one reason why my research objectives are ever before me. No matter has grand a method seems, if it doesn't tackle your research question(s) in a manner that helps you meet your objectives, it is not likely to be a great method for your thesis.

There are eleven more common faults that Pat pinpoints about the methodology chapter. I do suggest you click that link and familiarise yourself with them. Let's spare one another the pain of re-writing.

This is a bit general, but you may find How Not to Write a PhD Thesis a useful read also...it tackles many failures of a thesis beyond the methodology chapter.

There are some brilliant (26) slidesright hereon writing a methodology chapter. According to this author, methods are the "means by which information and data are gathered", while "methodology combines methods with the philosophy underlying the methods. It has to do with the epistemological/ideological basis of the study...". Does that make sense? It kind of does to me... kind of.

I dug into the archive of this PhD Life blog to find other posts other PhD-ers have written on methodology, here are some I enjoyed reading:

PhD TimeLine Fun - by Bernie (March 2012)...She is a great contributor on the PhD Life blog.

I am glad Bernie also refers to methodology as "issues" in this February 2012 post.

You would almost always need to justify and defend your chosen methodology - It is in our favour to build strong rationale backed up with evidence from other (published) research (this is what I am learning). Bernie mentions this briefly in her post on Completion Reviews & a Happy Conclusion (December 2011).

This other post is literally two-sentences, but it contains Ana's frustration with writing the methodology (err i'm not mad after all) - A new Gadget... (June 2011).

Lastly, there is a brave story by Will on Running Away to Join the Circus (July 2011), that is, letting the PhD go. This is the bit that caught my eye,

My dissertation had been through about three separate reboots, a grant of extension and a change in methodology yet, still, I wasn't really knuckling down to the work. I simply wasn't enjoying the reading and I was barely giving myself the opportunity to write]

Writing the methodology chapter is no mean fit, as I still battle with it. IF you've written yours or you're writing yours at the moment - please drop a comment, let's learn from and support one another.

How are you with the methodology? Please share.


Photo Credit: Myself. Don't laugh at my sketch depicting exaperation :) - just laugh a little.


July 19, 2011

Organizing your Phd data – by Faisal

Hi , I have often wondered what is the best way to organize your Phd data so that you may recall it easily when required. I assume making folders with respect to work methods, or author names or year of publications would work. Although i have tried to make such folders but still as my data increases, sometimes I am lost where to find a particular article. Sometimes i think maybe I can use the search option within windows to locate an article or folder by a name, but it is time consuming and may not be useful sometimes esp when you do not remember the name exactly.

I think my fellow colleagues or experienced researchers may have gone through this phase and could advise me on this matter. I think this is an important matter and every PhD student should document his/her work properly so that it can be accessed easily.


May 18, 2011

Interview etiquette – by Nic

Frost Nixon

I was really pleased at the start of this week. In connection with a journal proposal, I'd contacted two writers I admire, hoping to interview them. To my delight, they both agreed.

Then I started worrying. While I've done journalism-style interviews, I've never used the process in my academic work. So I thought I'd throw my doubts and concerns open to the PhD Life blog - guys, rally round!

  1. Am I compromizing my critical distance by talking to practitioners? (This might seem like a stupid question, but it's a genuine concern in the humanities.)
  2. How open should I make my questions? Do I guide the interview, or do I let it run where the interviewee wants to go?
  3. How much of my interviewee's time should I be taking up? They're busy people - do I try to limit myself to a certain amount of questions?

For those of you who've done lots of interviews for your doctoral work, these probably seem like silly concerns. I'd really like your advice, and any do's and don't's you might have picked up along the way.

[tap, tap] Er...is this thing on?


March 13, 2011

Learning to be interdisciplinary – by Pete

"Interdisciplinary" is one of the key buzzwords of the moment, and I've been starting to find it quite oppressive. It's EVERYWHERE. Every funding bid, every job application, every workshop, we're being told that we need to be interdisciplinary, to have impact across multiple departments and be utilising transferable methodologies.

I'm luckier than some, in that my research is rooted in literature and theatre but is inextricably interwoven with elements of theology, statistics, history and linguistics, so I have something to talk about when the question comes up. However, there's a part of me which reacts on principle against the relentless imposition of interdisciplinarity; while it is unquestionably important, I am concerned that it might lead to us neglecting specialist training and niche exploration. The valuation of research on quantifiable grounds, the number of people who can benefit from it, is understandable; but some scholarship is necessarily specialist, specific and low-impact, yet necessary to people working in the field - for example, the detailed bibliographic examination of early modern dramatic texts, in my field. It would be a shame to see this kind of scholarship fading away because it fails to hit interdisciplinary targets, or because it is diluting its purpose by attempting to broaden its target audience.

My own feeling is that interdisciplinarity should be context-specific, rather than a universal goal. Most of us have enough to do becoming experts in our own immediate research area, without trying to find connections with other faculties. Inevitably, the majority of PhD students will find some point in their work that intersects with other departments, and some of those links may be worth pursuing, but this should be seen as a research-driven advantage rather than an external pressure.

With that said, one of the things I've most enjoyed this year is engaging much more with researchers from different departments. The most important advantage of aiming for interdisciplinarity is that it can broaden your own research and knowledge horizons, which is surely no bad thing in terms of pursuing a liberal education. Even though I'm in my final year and, theoretically, knuckling down with nothing else but my thesis, I'm finding that pursuing my other academic interests is really helping. Without wanting to sound evangelistic, the Research Exchange has done a great deal this year to help me feel like a much more rounded scholar - whether I'm chatting to film PhDs about movies, learning aspects of legal theory or reading philosophy, I'm very much feeling the benefit of being a more well-rounded scholar and picking up stuff from my friends that I would never have thought about otherwise.

Perhaps that's the most important thing about interdisciplinarity. It's not about trying to pervert your own research into a mass form. It's about the opportunity to expand your niggling interests into the kinds of discussion and education that benefit you rather than your work. It occurs to me that I don't know when, in the future, I'll be lucky enough to have the luxury of casual conversation with people working in such disparate areas, and it's certainly something I want to pursue while I still can.


March 11, 2011

Mixing the Methodologies – by Wei–chang

One funny thing about physicists, according to my years of observation, is that we often categorise ourselves into three divisions, theory, simulation and experiment, just as natural as breathing air. In each group they build up different expertise and perform their own practices. As a result of that, this categorisation actually makes much of sense. It basically represents the fundamental difference of methodologies followed by researchers in physics and, on a broader view, all other physical sciences.

Despite making such divisions, there is hardly any reason to believe this is THE way to conduct research. In the early days, a physicist would develop mathematics and theories and perform experiments altogether. As our knowledge having advanced, more and more physicists spend much time to ponder in a very narrow field of research over their lifetime. In the end, the specialisation turns every new physicist into one of the three categories in all but exclusive ways.

My question is, what would happen if you put the characteristics of all three methodologies on a single person? Imagine that a physicist can build a new theory, turn it into a simple mathematical model, test this model through numerical methods and prove all of them works nicely with the reality through experiments. Is it possible to train such a physicist in the modern world under our current infrastructure of higher education?

And an even more interesting question is, what would happen if this very person were under supervision of a professional physicist who had been trained only in context of one of the categories, say, a theoretic physicist? If the student's knowledge and skills were still far from mature in any direction, what could this supervisor do to achieve the goal, to make a new all-rounder physicist?

This is exactly what I and my supervisor have tried to achieve in the past two and half years. At the beginning, the reason behind this for me was just to do some brilliant research and to make my CV impressive. The academic jobs in physics, no matter a post-doctoral research associate or a lecturer position, are usually subject to in which category you are. Obviously, expanding my expertise to cover as many disciplines as possible would possibly add some more options when I look for a job.

It is not easy, though. Even I already had had a mixed background before starting my PhD, I usually fell into a biased thinking (mostly favouring theoretic explanations) against the problem in hands. For example, I would feel all right with some uncertainties about my experiment set up, as I knew the theory A predicted everything would go as I'd expected. But this is a wrong practice of scientific research which is explained by Richard Feynman's “cargo cult science”.

On the other hand, it is sometimes problematic to explain to my supervisor why his idea won't work. As a theoretic physicist, my supervisor expects something to happen as the theory A predicts. In such cases, I can't just tell him the negative result I saw but I also need to tell him where the complication arose and how that “broke the theory prediction” and so on.

Nevertheless, the whole experience is very positive, even though frustration takes a significant part of it. The greatest benefit of doing this is that it forces me to think problems from many different angles; sometimes the difference is big enough to make you think you're like speaking an exotic language to others. It is very intense to compress so many things, reading piles of mathematics textbook and journal papers, doing calculation, programming, long time working in laboratory, frequent travelling, etc., within a three-year PhD project, but I already feel the taste of what we have hoped to achieve. So I suppose that makes everything, good and bad, worth the effort I have made.


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