Thursday, September 08, 2005

Conducting a national survey

For the past twelve months, I have been working in partnership with Kevin (my PhD counterpart at another university), and in collaboration with CI's Terry, Margot and Pete (our project’s Chief Investigators), to administer a national online survey of all doctoral candidates enrolled in universities Australia-wide. A major purpose has been to get a clearer picture of the contemporary characteristics, practices and experiences of doctoral candidates. The survey was implemented in July-August 2005, following a long and complex process that included trialling the items, piloting the online questionnaire and data analysis techniques, and a subsequent refining of the instrument.

Aspects of the complexity encountered are reflected in the high level of negotiation associated with objectives, content, methodology and intended outcomes. While there were major investments of time and effort regarding the survey structure and items, this was matched—or possibly exceeded—by work involving ethics, protocols, technology, strategy and the like. While Kevin and I have driven this exercise, we have also consulted with and sought the support of a wide range of parties including industry partners (this is an ARC Linkage Project), universities, student associations, professional groups—as well as our supervisors and CIs. Conducting an online survey may sound simple enough, but the logistics of reaching a potential doctoral population of around 35,000, for example, are considerable.

With support from groups like the Deans and Directors of Graduate Schools (DDOGs) and postgraduate student associations, an invitation was extended to doctoral candidates at each university to participate in the survey that was hosted on the CAPA website during July-August. A response rate of almost 15 per cent has been achieved and we are currently in the process of conducting a preliminary analysis of the data. Select findings will be presented in due course to various bodies including CAPA and its affiliates, DDOGs and at seminars and conferences, as well as via publications. If you have been involved in surveys directed towards doctoral candidates, I would be very interested to learn about your processes and outcomes.