Ph.D. Update: Successfully Passed The Upgrade Process; Onward With The Thesis!
Confirmation arrived by email earlier the previous week, confirming that my research work has been successfully upgraded to Ph.D. level! The successful confirmation has been met with surprise and feelings of relief, as the confirmation is the result of a reassessment of my work following the upgrade presentation that took place a few months ago, where my work at the time nearly matched Ph.D. level but had to make a few alterations to the research design. These alterations initially came about as doubts that I had about the suitability of my own research design subsequent to first submission of the upgrade paper, but before the upgrade presentation and these doubts were confirmed during the presentation.
As has been detailed and heavily documented in my previous blog posts, the Mixed Methods approach was dropped in favour of a Case Study Grounded Theory research design and the rewritten upgrade paper, which increased in word count from three thousand words to between six to seven thousand words, was based around this research design. The literature review, methodology, trial study and discussion chapters were significantly revamped to reflect updated readings, changes in methodological directions, thoughts about the phenomena of interest, initial data findings, hypotheses and thoughts about the data.
Eventually I was happy to send it in for reassessment, and led to my research upgraded to Ph.D. level!
Current Status Of Research
But even now I’m debating my research design as I am beginning to feel that a case study design is no longer appropriate, as a characteristic of a case study design is its suitability for research where the boundaries of the context and phenomena of interest are not clearly defined.
What this means is, a case study design is most suitable in situations where the boundary definitions of the phenomena of interest (I am taking this to mean contextual, research environment and situational boundaries) are not clearly understood or are clear. However, as I come to know and understand my own philosophical beliefs and read intensely about them, along with analysing and thinking about the data relating to the phenomena, the more I am beginning to realise that there are situational and contextual boundaries and that I am able to clearly define these boundaries. Therefore, the case study option might be dropped. I shall explore this more though and write a blog post in the future when I am fully convinced this is the case, and no pun intended!
Doubts are also beginning to come about regarding the possible use of interviews in the research. The idea of using interviews came about when I followed a more constructivist epistemological approach, but having really analysed the situational context of my research a few months ago I shifted away from constructivist epistemology to constructionist epistemology. Basically, the type of interviews I wanted to carry out are known as semi-structured interviews, which enable co-construction of meaning and knowledge about concepts of reality to take place between the interviewer and the interviewee; also, the research interviews could be taken into different directions depending on the answers given by the interviewee in order to enable myself as the researcher to explore specific thoughts further. This is a sign of a constructivist approach therefore I am not entirely convinced this is achievable with a constructionist epistemology. This is something I need to look at further in the future.
Apart from those two concerns, everything else is more or less decided upon: an ontological realist approach, a social constructionist epistemology, and the possibility of dropping the case study methodology and upgrade grounded theory to a full methodological approach therefore in a sense the grounded theory shall be situated within a realist-constructionist paradigm.
What is the current focus? Where to next?
I have made tentative plans up to around the middle to the end of August where I am planning to take my annual summer time off before the long autumn and winter stretch towards Christmas. The plans, put in place about a month or so ago following the successful Warwick University conference, revolve around developing philosophical justifications for my research design, and to attempt to argue the case for a realist-constructionist paradigm as most suitable for exploring the phenomena of interest, as opposed to a positivist paradigm or a relativist paradigm.
Essentially, the main current focus is to begin drafting the initial sections of the methodological chapter of the thesis. The initial sections of the methodology chapter aim to explain and explore my ontological and epistemological beliefs, and therefore reflexivity, reflectively, and critically analyse and acknowledge any personal biases and the way that these biases might have affected the implementation of the research design, and the development of the theory. Obviously I will have to edit the methodology chapter to include such reflexivity, reflections and critical analysis in the future as I have not fully applied the research design.
However, the main focus at the moment is to develop philosophical justifications of the research design: I need to explain what my ontological and epistemological beliefs are; justify and explain why the phenomenon of interest is being explored from a realist, constructionist perspective; compare to other perspectives that other researchers have considered in the past; and to explain in detail the relationship between ontology (realism), epistemology (social constructionism) and methodology (grounded theory).
Some might consider this as a little odd because I am writing the early chapters of the thesis in somewhat of a reverse order, as I am writing the methodological chapter, or at least the beginning of it, before fully drafting the literature review. But this approach makes sense to me. I’m leaning more heavily towards philosophy compared to a couple of years ago, and I feel that a full understanding of the philosophical aspects of my research design shall put me in a better position to fully critique and analysis the ways in which the phenomenon of interest has been explored, from both philosophical and methodological perspectives.
There are various ways in which a thesis can be completed and a qualitative, grounded theory thesis does not have to be completed in a set order of literature review – methodology – results – discussion chapters and so on (I’m simplifying the structure of a thesis here) but it can be completed in whatever way a researcher feels the need to complete it. The key is not the order in which the chapters are written, but that throughout the thesis there is a clear, identifiable, observable, and engaging narrative and relationship between the chapters.
Being upgraded to Ph.D. level is half a surprising outcome but definitely a relief! The current work leading up to around the middle to end of August, possibly, is the drafting of the initial sections of the methodology chapter that refers specifically to documenting and exploring my ontological and epistemological beliefs, argue their relevance to the research phenomena and context, and explain the relationship between my ontological and epistemological beliefs, and the methodological approach.