All entries for Thursday 28 May 2015

May 28, 2015

My First Research Conference Presentation!

I have had the absolute pleasure and delight recently in being given the opportunity to attend and present at the third Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference at Warwick University. I was rather concerned about this and a little nervous, because it had been the first time in a couple of years since I had presented my own ideas but regardless of the time span, any event that involves a person presenting an aspect of their own work that they have been thinking about for a while always brings on a set of nerves.

I found the research conference very encouraging and inspiring because of the positive feedback that I had regarding the research methodology that I’m planning and designing, and also what took me by surprise is that people who have been on their Ph.D. projects for longer than I have been on mine said that they found the poster presentation and my own discussions of my methodology to be uplifting and inspiring. This I found particularly encouraging and surprising given that I’m in my first year and given that formal planning and designing of the methodology are in their very early stages. Not sure if I’m going to upload the poster to an online avenue, but I might create some sort of online version of aspects of the poster at a later time.  I have also found the discussions following other Ph.D. presentations and the debates that I was involved with were also quite encouraging and inspiring and made me think about my own research particularly the further directions I could go with my literature review.

This was a very important day for many reasons: to receive feedback on my work so far, to find out if I could inspire others, to find further inspiration, and to show willingness to be involved with academic discussion and debates at conferences. It delivered far beyond my own expectations and assumptions and, most importantly for my own research that, despite the very early stages of the methodological planning and designing, that I’m on the right track with the methodology.

Encouraging, inspiring, networking, humbleness, being willing to get involved with various aspects of a conference are all important characteristics of a conference and of being involved. It would have been very easy to have refused to have taken part in anything if the nerves were too consuming, but despite the nerves I fell back into the role of presenter and, if you like, teacher, without even thinking about it. Sometimes you need to attend these conferences to remind yourself of exactly who you are and where you are going, so not only are conferences important to engage on an academic, social setting, but also on a personal level.

I do encourage all Ph.D. researchers to engage, attend, and present at conferences whenever they can. I remember attending a conference a few years ago and the result of that conference was a near total dismantle of my research proposal to the core of my research, and a rebuilding of ideas and directions to what it is now. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have attended that conference several years ago and to the Professor who said to me that in time, I would understand the importance of being able to dismantle your own research, or aspects of that research, and rebuild it from a particular position. It is very important therefore to never attend conferences with a set agenda or a set mindset that you are correct and that your ideas are unchangeable: they are changeable, I experienced that a few years ago! Attend conferences with an open mind and a mindset to listen and accept new ideas and perspectives, and decide if whether or not what has been presented is suitable, in some way, to the research that you are developing.

Be open minded about everything: being closed minded is never recommended or beneficial for anything except the pretence that what you believe to be true is true in reality and that every person should follow what you believe is true. Having such closed mindedness is a reason why certain political agendas and political parties can become more favourable or more dominant than they really should be, but that’s an aside and this is not a political blog (well, not too much of a political blog). Nevertheless, closed mindedness is not, and should not, be an academic agenda or goal. Open mindedness is the best approach, not just when attending conferences but within academia in general!

Oh and a couple of other things that might be useful: presenting at conferences might also help you with your Upgrade paper, and shall help towards whatever Professional Development courses or schemes that you are a part with at your own University!

Ontology, Epistemology, Methodology, Whatonology? Part C: why should Ph.D. researchers care?

On the way back to my beautiful home county of Cornwall after presenting at Warwick’s CES Third Interdisciplinary Postgraduate Conference, I continued to read literature on Mixed Methods methodology, which is the type of research methodology that I’m currently planning and designing for my Ph.D. project. Mixed Methods methodology, of which there are various types and various debates for and against, is simply a methodology that combines multiple methods of research to gain a more complete understanding of the phenomena being investigated. Literature on Mixed Methods is quite extensive and the debates and discussions, including from Ontological and Epistemological perspectives, are immense and it shall be difficult for any Ph.D. researcher to be able to identify a general consensus from literature as to the correct approach and correct perspective to take with mixed methods methodology. The best that I personally can do as part of the development of the mixed methods methodology is to develop a full understanding of the different discussions and debates surrounding the methodology and use these discussions and debates as a basis to form my own arguments for using mixed methods methodology, a certain kind of such a methodology, within the context of my research, and why it’s most appropriate for the phenomena being investigated. That in itself shall probably take up eighty thousand words of the thesis nevermind anything else!

My supervisor commented that he doesn’t agree with literature being categorised or polarised within qualitative and quantitative paradigms of research, and also recently among the plethora of literature read on the way back from Warwick, I came across discussions that were divided as to the need and emphasis of articulating ontological and epistemological perspectives within research. This I found very interesting, because in a lot of research methodological textbooks there is a clear emphasis on the need for such discussions and considerations to take place, particularly within a Ph.D. thesis. It just goes to show that not everything is black or white.

So given all that, should the Ph.D. researcher be involved with and concerned with ontological and epistemological perspectives of reality and the way in which these have influenced the design and application of their methodology? I’m going to say yes, whilst acknowledging that this is not a black or white argument.

It is not a black or white argument because there really is no right or wrong answer. Just because a Ph.D. researcher has adopted a Positivist Ontology it doesn’t make that researcher anymore correct, or incorrect, than a Ph.D. researcher who adopts an Interpretivist Ontology. Similarly, a Ph.D. researcher who adopts a single methodology, either qualitative or quantitative, is no more right or wrong in their approach than a person who adopts a mixed methods methodology.

What’s most important is that whichever methodological, epistemological, and so on, perspectives are selected that they are able to contribute effectively towards answering the research questions and be compatible with the phenomena being investigated. What is also very important, I argue, is that a Ph.D. researcher is able to effectively and convincingly argue that their Epistemological, Ontological, and Methodological approaches are suitable; essentially, each Ph.D. researcher must be able to select a particular positioning, and develop and present convincing arguments as to why their perspectives are the most appropriate for the context of their research and phenomena being investigated. Why is this? Because, despite what some literature says, there is a connection between Ontology, Epistemology, and Methodology; that there is connection between these considerations, the context being explored, and the phenomena being investigated. When you, as an example, explore the differences between the Sciences and Social Sciences, it is plainly obvious that both context differ, and both contexts carry different Ontological and Epistemological assumptions and perspectives, and therefore influencing methodological concerns and considerations.

My own arguments that argue for the positions that I’m currently positioning myself in are in the developmental stage and they will be in development for quite some time as I explore all these debates and discussions among the other work as part of the Ph.D. that I am currently involved with. I find it all an exciting challenge, and it’s something that is extremely intellectually stimulating and satisfying; therefore the reasons of an intellectual challenge and intellectual stimulation should further encourage Ph.D. researchers to become fully engaged and involved with their own Philosophical and Epistemological perspectives and developing arguments for these perspectives through engaging with debate and discussions both within literature and through online discussions and conferences with other researchers.

Go explore: be stimulated, be inspired, be challenged, and have fun doing so!

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