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October 09, 2015

Weekly ramblings: opportunities and getting settled on methodologies and methods!

Open Doors!

A big opportunity might have opened up during the past week regarding publication of a second research paper! This is because of the positive feedback I had regarding the second assignment of the Advanced Research Methods course that I did as part of the first year of the Ph.D. with regards to the literature that I had critically analysed and explained the need for the questionnaire instrument that I am developing.

The supervisor was pleased that I had explored the literature and offered a unique perspective, and in my opinion that opens the door now to convert and extend relevant discussions for the conference paper at next year’s Warwick University conference early in the Summer. Still early days as to the exact directions this shall take, but my initial thinking is the conference paper shall extend relevant discussions on the survey instrument that I am developing.

Deciding on the methodology!

The following quote from the research methodology book “Qualitative Research Designs: Selection and Implementation” sums up the sheer amount of approaches to qualitative research

“The qualitative researcher faces a baffling array of options for conducting qualitative research”

Phenomenology, Ethnography, Case Study, Grounded Theory, and Participant Research are all different types of qualitative methodologies, with the additional different types and variants of each qualitative methodology. Not only this, but there are also various quantitative research methodologies around and also there are mixed methods approaches where a variety of different methods are used to provide a richer set of data, as well as the many different Philosophical perspectives of research (mostly relating to ontological and epistemological perspectives of reality). To the junior researcher, it can turn into a baffling mixture therefore they need to carefully construct their questions and understand their own mind and perspectives of reality before they really tackle the selection of methodology and methods. Many research textbooks emphasise the relationship between perspectives of reality, methodology, methods, and research questions therefore all of this needs very careful consideration from the very beginning and the only real way this is going to be understood is to start reading and keep reading! Questions shall change as reading progresses and therefore it might be likely that methods shall change: I know that I have changed my research questions several times to explore the same phenomenon and probably will change some of the questions in the future with the aim of increasing compatibility between questions asked and methodology selected. The key thing to remember is never believe that this is a once only process: this is a continuous process during the early stages of the Ph.D. as the reading and your thinking progresses and develops.

With my own methodological considerations, I have always liked the idea of Mixed Methods research design to explore the phenomenon of investigation even before starting the Ph.D. and this is something that I have stuck with. I had also very early decided on using surveys as an approach to collecting both quantitative and qualitative data, but also required a pure qualitative method to analyse any interview transcripts or discussion transcripts. Following the reading of various chapters of research methodology books, I have now settled on Grounded Theory. This was fairly easy to decide once I started to compare different qualitative research designs as I have an interpretivist, constructivist perspective of reality and Grounded Theory is compatible with these perspectives.

However, I have not yet decided on the way that survey data is going to be analysed and also have not worked out the way in which cross comparative analysis shall also take place. That is going to take a little while to build (and hopefully another research paper!)

So is that it then? Now that I’ve settled on the majority of the data collection and analysis methods can I just get on with it? Not at all: this is only just the beginning!

What’s next? The following lists some of the activities during the next year or so as part of the upgrade process:

  • Develop extensive understanding about the flavours and approaches of Grounded Theory methodology

  • Complete the questionnaire method if possible in time for showcasing at the conference via a conference paper early next year

  • More extensive learning on Mixed Methods methodology: its many flavours and approaches to collecting and analysing data and choose that which is most relevant

  • Develop substantial argumentation that supports the overall research design, the relationships between selected methods, the way they have been integrated, and why certain methods and methodology have been selected over other methods and methodology

  • Panic

  • Drink strong coffee

  • Chant some mumble jumble telling myself that everything will be alright

  • Explore and choose most relevant quantitative data analysis methods

  • Remember why I’m doing a Ph.D.

  • Plan, Design and Develop quantitative and qualitative data analysis techniques

  • Figure out in what way this organised chaos of a research design is supposed to work

  • Panic again

  • Drink strong coffee again

  • Chant yet more mumble jumble

Sounds like a plan! Thanks for reading and shall post up more musings soon!

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!

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