Archive | February, 2012

Why qualitative research?

18 Feb

I wrote my methodology chapter quite some time ago now and shelved it as I continued along my PhD journey. Following some discussion with my supervisors, extensive reading and fascinating chats with everyone at #phdchat, it was time for me to revisit this chapter. On reading it, it felt very academic, boring even. As though it could have been written by anyone. I remember one of my supervisors saying to me once ‘I want to see you in your research’ and although I nodded like a good student would, I didn’t really understand what she meant. I think I understand now. As Minichiello and Kottler said ‘You can’t understand qualitative research without understanding your personality – what you are searching for and what your journey is about’  This was a challenging process for me. Like most people, I have many flaws, but don’t often like to acknowledge them. However, to move forward and develop, such reflections are necessary. Here is a snippet of my reflections:

I have always been naturally curious. Constantly needing to know the why’s and the how’s of the what’s. As I embarked on my nursing career, my curiosity grew. However, as my career progressed and I followed various paths of clinical specialism which ultimately led me into academia and research, something changed. Although my curiosity did not subside, as hard as it is to admit, I found myself listening less and talking more. This was not because I thought I had a great deal of interesting or exciting things to say, rather that I felt it was an expectation. After all, being the ‘expert’ with the specialist knowledge, it was my responsibility to impart that to others wasn’t it?

In my 12 years as an infection prevention and control practitioner, I was frequently called upon by healthcare workers to speak to distressed patients and their families, following the acquisition of an all too often, unnecessary healthcare associated infection. I spent a considerable amount of that time talking – telling them what I thought they needed to know.  That would then be followed on by more talking – to healthcare professionals, also telling them what I thought they needed to know. I felt satisfied that I had ‘educated and informed’.

It wasn’t until I embarked on my first substantial piece of research after my move to academia did I realised the consequences of not truly listening. Listening to patients and their carers about their experiences of having acquired a healthcare associated infection was harrowing and at times very uncomfortable. The impact of these infections during a time of illness and beyond had massive consequences for everyone concerned. Consequences I realised I was oblivious to. That study was a major turning point for me in the sense that I realised that although as an ‘expert’, I may have thought I knew what was important to patients, the public and indeed colleagues, but in actual fact, I did not. I learned a great deal during that study, especially about people’s concerns and anxieties, about their reality, and also about the importance of their social and cultural environment. I also learned about me as a professional, a researcher and a person. I did not need to have all the answers. I did not need to have to constantly talk and educate. I learned that it was in fact not just ok for me to listen – to really listen, but it was a necessity.  I want to continue that learning. I want to continue to explore, to uncover and to understand – and for me that is why I find doing qualitative research so fascinating and why I want to continue along this path.


Another positive step forward in the world of a PhD

2 Feb

Today I had my final part of my Transfer of Ordinance (two years into a part-time PhD)

When a student registers for postgraduate studies at the University of Dundee, they are initially registered under Ordinance 12 (which governs all research degree students) and can only transfer to Ordinance 39 (PhD status) following the successful fulfilment of a number of minimum criteria:  Prepare and submit a 10,000 word written report, give an oral presentation to peers and undergo an interview (mini-viva) with their Thesis Monitoring Committee (TMC).  Following the meeting with their TMC, the decision based on a number of criteria will then decide whether or not the student should be allowed to progress to Ordinance 39

On 7th December 2011 I gave my oral presentation. I am not ashamed to admit that I was proper nervous! However, I practised over and over and over again until I knew my presentation inside out. What concerned me most was making sure I was prepared for any questions that arose. At this stage of my PhD I knew that I cannot possibly have all the answers, and I didn’t.  I did get asked some tough questions (also some questions I didn’t really understand either). However, despite feeling I could have answered some questions a little more clearly, I felt overall quite satisfied with my performance.  I am also eternally grateful from the amount support, feedback and advice I received from my fellow academics.

So next came my meeting with my TMC, which usually happens within a week or two of the presentation. However, due to the Christmas break and annual leave, there was a slight delay with mine.  This was expected so it wasn’t a problem. My feelings about this meeting were similar to those of Carly Tetley @ClaretCarly (  who had her Interim Assessment in December: I suspected my written report would be considered acceptable but I was extremely nervous about the questions I would be asked. You see, I know my research inside my head; I am clear as to exactly what the problems are; I know where the gaps are in the empirical research and clinical practice; I know why I am doing this research; I know how I am doing it and I know what I need to do to answer my research questions. Often, I forget that others don’t know and it is my job to explain. Now there lies the problem! How difficult can it be to explain to others what is very clear inside my head? Actually, very bloody difficult at times! I was asked some very important questions – mainly the so what? questions. I have to admit I didn’t answer them too well and this evening I could kick myself for it. However, thankfully one of my TMC members came to my rescue and helped me out in terms of how I can work on answering such questions in the future and what type of things I need to think about (phew!). Not that long ago, through a rather difficult time in my PhD with changing supervisors, this would have thrown me completely and I probably wouldn’t have handled it too well. However, I am now really thankful for such challenging questions as I know I can learn from them to enable me to keep developing and help me become a better researcher. Consequently, this will make my PhD much stronger and more robust.

I know these Transfers are not taken lightly and I needed to be able to prove I was worthy and capable of getting through it. Thankfully, my TMC felt I was and I passed this process!

So, I need to be clear and specific when I am explaining why I am doing what I am doing. In doing so, I need to acknowledge that just because I am very passionate about my topic, and that I believe it is the most important research study anyone has ever done, it doesn’t mean everyone else thinks the same! I need to demonstrate and articulate the importance of it and what impact this will have on healthcare practice and how this can enhance the quality of patient care.

The past few months have been a significant turning point for me. I feel very positive about my PhD and the future; I have structure and clear short, medium and long term goals. I also feel much more settled and relaxed with my new supervisory team and I understand what their views and expectations are. Most importantly, I feel very much supported by my supervisory team, my TMC, my fellow PhD students, my fellow academic colleagues and my University. Wait – I am not finished: the support, advice and encouragement from #phdchat colleagues is absolutely incredible and without them, I very much doubt I would be where I am now. For all this, I feel very lucky (and will remind myself of this through the tough times, because I know there will be some to come!)

But for now – a smile on my face and a wee glass bubbly! Cheers!

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