Archive | September, 2011

Reflexivity in Qualitative Research: Reflections from a workshop

29 Sep

Today, I attended a workshop about reflexivity in qualitative research facilitated by Dr Carrie Bradbury-Jones, a colleague and post doctoral research fellow at the University of Dundee. This workshop inspired me so much that I decided  this evening would be dedicated to updating my reflexive diary and share a few of my thoughts via this blog. Writing my diary and blogging, I saw as something I would do ‘when I had time’.  This hasn’t happened as frequently as I would have hoped as I didn’t see it as an integral part of my PhD. This afternoon’s workshop changed my opinion about that…

The challenges of ensuring rigor within qualitative research is well documented (Seale 2001).  As we know, the validity and reliability of qualitative research, especially when taking a pure constructivist standpoint is often highly criticised, with some arguing that the empirical inquiry inevitably depends on the arbitrary predilections of the researcher  (Paley and Lilford, 2011).

However, Carrie advocates an approach which allows researchers to consider their own subjectivity within the philosophical stance that they adopt (Bradbury-Jones, 2007) in order to enhance rigor.  Carrie draws on the work of Peshkin and his search for his own subjectivity within his research (Peshkin, 1998; Bradbury-Jones et al, 2009).  Peshkin’s subjectivity takes the form of an ‘I’ and from a particular research study, on writing his reflexive diary, he went on to create 6 characterised ‘I’s’ (Read Peshkin’s paper to  see his full descriptions and how they derived).  In short, these ‘I’s reflected  his own subjectivity of this piece of research and what impact they could potentially have on the study.  

Perhaps to try to make this a little clearer, Carrie shared with us excerpts from her own PhD reflexive diary, which in itself was quite courageous! I say this because it contained quite a lot of emotion – how she felt at different stages of her research – both the good and the bad. It was clear that some excerpts were really personal and came from the heart. Inspired by Peshkin’s work, from her journal, Carrie identified her 4 ‘I’s: The Paladin I (in which she talked about her being a ‘crusader’ – standing up for her participants); The Maverick I (she saw herself as wanting to seek the slightly unusual or unorthodox): The Impatient I (wanting to get things done quickly) and The Pragmatic I (because she also brought a grounded, sensible and logical approach to her study).  On analysing her 4 ‘I’s, Carrie then became aware of the similarities of them with the characters from the Wizard of Oz, and so renamed them The Scarecrow I; The Tin Man I; The Cowardly Lion I and The Wizard I (See Bradbury-Jones 2009 for more detail about this)

So what is the point of all this and why is reflexivity so important? I compared Carrie’s journal to mine. Although Carrie’s included discussion about the processes and evolution of her research, a major part was about her feelings.  In contrast, mine is mainly about processes and decisions, with limited information about my feelings and inner thoughts. By omitting such detail, I am failing to explore my own subjectivity and thus I cannot, nor can my supervisors, examine or critique how this may potentially influence the quality of my research.  By using her reflexive diary in this way, Carrie argued that it helped her ‘to navigate the treacherous route of doctoral education in a bid to successfully reach the end’

As a final note, I reflect on one part of my PhD study where I interviewed Journalists and Editors of Regional and National newspapers (Broadsheets and Tabloids). Prior to my research, while working in the NHS in Infection Prevention, I was hugely critical towards newspaper journalists for their sensationalised, and from my perspective, inaccurate and scaremongering stories.  However, after my interviews, I felt very privileged that they ‘accepted me into their world’ and shared with me their objectives, their challenges and their frustrations.  As a result, I have now become somewhat defensive when I hear other people criticising them and find myself frequently defending them and their stories. I still stand by these thoughts and I know I will continue to try to put their side of the story across. I will however, write my thoughts and feelings about this in my reflexive diary so I am able to draw on them during my analysis, interpretation and conceptualisation of my data.  This inevitably will allow me to be aware of my own subjectivity and ensure this does not impact on the rigor and quality of my final thesis.

Bradbury-Jones, C.(2007) Enhancing rigor in qualitative health research: exploring subjectivity through Peshkin’s I’s. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 59, 290-298

Bradbury-Jones, C. (2007). Exploring research supervision through Peshkin’s I’s: the yellow brick road. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 60, 220-228.

Bradbury-Jones, C. Hughes, S. M. Murphy, W. Parry, L. & Sutton, J. (2009). A new way of reflecting in nursing: the Peshkin Approach. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 65, 2485-2493.

Paley, J. & Lilford, R. (2011). Qualitative methods: an alternative view. British Medical Journal, 342, 956-958.

Peshkin, A. (1988). In search of subjectivity – one’s own. Educational Researcher 17(7), 17–21.

Seale, C. (2001). Qualitative methods: validity and reliability. European Journal of Cancer Care, 10, 131-136


Long due update

2 Sep

Well, the idea of starting a blog was a good one, I think! However, my intentions to blog regularly crashed and burned almost immediately! Having been inspired by Wednesday evening #phdchat and a tweet I read today from @timbickteeth , who said “I think, therefore I blog”, it has given me a push to getting blogging! 17th July was my last blog – so quick update from there.

The Health and Media Symposium was brilliant! Although a nervous time, one can never really appreciate the extent of potential development/progress when presenting/attending such events. During a very ‘sticky/challenging’ period in my PhD with changing supervisors half way through – different thoughts/different ideas/different expectations, going to this symposium was the start of a real turning point.  Having been ‘interrogated’ for want of a better word by my new supervisors, for the first time since starting my PhD I had major doubts about my philosophical and methodological approaches and theoretical frameworks (despite finishing data collection); my confidence took a major nose dive; I was reading and reading and getting more confused and  I felt completely isolated.  It was as though someone had taken my whole study and thrown it up in the air and I was powerless as to how and where it landed.  Additional to that, being a member of staff at the University, I also felt incredibly stupid and wondered what on earth my colleagues (who are my new supervisors) must think of me! It was a real struggle and yes, the tears did flow regularly!

However, those very dark few weeks actually turned out to be exactly what I needed (although if anyone had told me that at the time, I’m sure I would have been arrested!).  Normally being fairly shy at such events (really I am!), I made it my mission at this symposium to talk to as many people as I could about their research, which also gave me the opportunity to chat about and critique mine.  Although I usually enjoy presenting my work at seminars and conferences, I was particularly anxious about this one due to everything that was going on with it and of course my confidence issue.  However, I needn’t have worried – the presentation went much better than I imagined and as a result, I had some excellent questions/comments/feedback after (all of which were invaluable).  So armed with lots of new thoughts, I went home, took a week off in the motorhome with the family, and just chilled and reflected.  On returning home, I ignored my transcripts, my data and my analysis and  I did nothing but read and read and read and read some more – scribbling notes/thoughts/assumptions at the same time.  I also went to speak to other researchers outwith my own institution.  By the time I had my next supervision session(only early this week) (I’m sure a new box of tissues was bought in anticipation!), I was crystal clear in my mind why I chose the approaches I did and why I rejected others for the purpose of my study. I was also confident that in actual fact, I didn’t need to ‘fit’ my study into a nice neat already established approach – and that it was ok to be different and novel as long as I could defend it. That is exactly what I did and for the first time in a number of weeks I came away with a big smile on my face and a spring in my step – and supervisors who clearly understood what I was doing and why!

I shall finish up now – but just reflecting on these past few weeks, while they were my first real dark time since starting my PhD (although I am sure there will be more to come!), they were also extremely valuable and very necessary to get to this stage!  It also taught me that taking time out to reflect (as much as it is a very difficult thing to do) – away from the desk, away from the computer and away from books and literature is very, very important.  Anyway, this was just a few words (well a little more than a few word!) about my experiences over the last couple months.  Hope I haven’t depressed you too much! I want to try to blog a little more frequently (even if no one else reads it – it is very therapeutic to get all this written down!). When I return to my transcripts, I would like to blog about my experiences of conducting telephone and face-to-face interviews and focus groups – the challenges I faced and how I addressed them.  Bye for now, Em 🙂

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