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’ http://www.sagepub.com/upm-data/26993_Chapter1.pdf  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.


2 Responses to “Why qualitative research?”

  1. mzsura July 2, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

    Great post on qualitative research. While I started my research career as more quantitative focus, I have begun to appreciate and do more work on the qualitative side. It is so interesting to me to dive into the “why” and details that qualitative can really bring out, especially in the public health field. I like to think that I am more of a mixed methods person now.

    • Emma Burnett July 2, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

      Thank you for your response Kris. I was the same in that my first piece of research was a quantitative study, but subsequent research has been qualitative. I agree that exploring the how’s and why’s is really fascinating and can contribute to a great deal of knowledge in the public health arena. I enjoyed reading your blog http://mzsura.wordpress.com/ – what beautiful pictures!

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