May 03, 2020

An Encouragement For Post Graduates (and anybody else who this post can relate to)

Society is indeed going through unprecedented times with Universities, colleges, schools, workplaces, etc. closed en masse. It is a timely reminder of the times I used to read some sociological books and chapters that refer to society and culture not as some static entity that never changes, but as an ever changing entity, continuously shaped and moulded by patterns of human behaviour and technological advances.

Doctoral research as a part of our society and culture is also changing. Doctoral research by its very nature is a changeable construct that shifts and alters according to cultural needs and requirements, but also affording the time and space to question what goes on around us, to ponder alternatives, and to wonder at the value of these reasonable alternatives.

It is important to remember that each Ph.D. project is different in terms of aims, objectives, research questions, research context and environment, research design, and intended outcomes. And even where there are similarities between Ph.D. projects, each Ph.D. candidate is located within different social, culture, environmental and family environments. Each Ph.D candidate will have different worries and concerns at this time in relation to their Ph.D. and beyond their Ph.D. such as their families, friends, their homes, and their children.

Because of the vastness of variables and the equally vast possible states expressed by these variables, the impact of the lock down situation will vary greatly upon the research that is being carried out by Ph.D. candidates.

For example, researchers who are conducting research through interview based techniques are having to transition towards technological platforms in order to conduct their interviews. Those who were planning observation based research or a study of the lived experiences of others are again having to transition to online environments, and adopt and adapt online ethnographic methods.

These changes bring about implications to and challenges of research design and research ethics, but can also afford opportunities to engage critically and reflectively with new processes, to explore and question how similar research has been carried out previously, and to even contribute to relevant philosophical and technical discussions of research design, of research ethics, and of the use of online research methods. For example, you could write research papers or a chapter in your thesis that focus on critically comparing and contrasting face to face and online approaches to any ethnographic approaches you have used. You could ask the following questions:

What differences or similarities have you observed?

What logistical challenges and opportunities did you encounter and had to engage with?

How did you overcome any challenges and took advantage of any opportunities?

How has any changes to your context impacted how you analyse, conceive, or interpret your data?

It is very challenging times for many, but this can also be such an exciting opportunity for us to really intellectually engage with what, how, and why we can perform as researchers, to think deeply about who we are as researchers, and to think more about the challenges, constraints, opportunities and possibilities of technologies within our respective fields now and in a post-pandemic society. Yes we have had ‘post pandemic’ societies before, that which occurred after the Bubonic Plague, but this is the first time we can engage with such a society that has experienced many technological advances over the past hundred years or so.

Will technology become more normalised in the new post pandemic society?

How can we as researchers engage with this?

How will this alter our thinking about who we are?

How will this alter what we think and perceive of technology?

How can technology contribute towards or inhibit our society, our culture, our education system and our research?

What about patterns of human behaviour in response to technology?

These are important questions that will no doubt be engaged with over the coming months and years.

Where and when you can, I encourage you to engage creatively, critically, analytically and reflectively upon the new context that you find yourselves in. Personally, my research is not too badly affected, as my research has always been based on purely online means. But even then, I can use this opportunity to think even more about online research methods and about how online research can be of a benefit when we’re in such a pandemic. This is no doubt a challenging time to our philosophies, but we can get through it, and from it, our research can be positioned in a much stronger situation.

Remember why you are doing what you are doing. Remember your value, and don’t let the situation discourage you. Yes doing a Doctorate is tough. It’s a challenge at the best of times, but you are here for a reason. You are doing what you are doing for a reason, and that reason can only be realised and explainable by you. Keep going, believe in yourself, believe in your work, believe in your worth, and never give up!

‘till next time!

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