Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Conducting interviews

I have recently completed my 29th semi-structured interview as part of my doctoral research. In a previous post determining a sample of PhD candidates I recorded the means by which I selected potential interviewees from a group of over 60 volunteers. In another post I outlined my tri-focal lens developing a conceptual framework that provided a structure that enabled me to generate key focus questions.

I have found the literature very helpful with regard to methodology and technique. While a range of strategies (e.g. ‘do’s and don’ts’) form part of many the standard research texts, an article by Holstein & Gubrium (2004) entitled The Active Interview was extremely useful in providing an overview and analysis of the interview process. I remain particularly attracted to their argument that understanding how the meaning-making process unfolds in the interview is as critical as apprehending what is substantively asked and conveyed.

In accordance with approved ethical procedures, I provided each interviewee in advance of the interview with details of the purpose of my research, requiring them to sign a consent form on the day that signified their willingness to be interviewed, along with a number of acknowledgments that included the maintaining of confidentiality.

In order to gain a multidimensional perspective on contemporary doctoral practice, during my interviews with ten doctoral candidates, I asked each of them to identify two individuals who had exerted considerable influence on the direction of their PhD research, one of whom should be acting in a supervisory capacity. Each was willing to do so, and agreed to act as a ‘go-between’, by ascertaining subsequently if the individuals they had nominated would be willing to receive an invitation from me to be interviewed. While the interviews with candidates were generally between 60-75 minutes duration, those conducted with ‘significant individuals’ were around 30-45 minutes.

With the support of a computer software package I have transcribed each interview, then emailed a draft copy to the relevant interviewee for comment. I am extremely thankful that the overwhelming majority of respondents were prepared to read and amend their draft copy, in all cases by tracking changes that clarified the meaning of certain statements they had made. While a few responded very quickly, others needed a number of reminders, with only two or three choosing not to register any amendments. I am still pursuing one ‘significant individual’ in order to conduct what should be my final interview for this study.

Summing up, it has been a very time consuming process, but well worth the effort in terms of the data created. The outcome will be a set of edited transcripts providing detailed and illuminating perspectives and insights on contemporary doctoral practice.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Undertaking research training

Prior to the commencement of the academic year, an extensive program of research workshops is organised for Canberra's postgraduate students. This is a cooperative venture involving four local universities [ANU, UC, ACU and UNSW@ADFA] in a program that is also implemented mid-year. I attended a number of short courses in 2004 and 2005 and found them extremely useful—especially in terms of gaining hands-on experience with software programs such as NVivo, SPSS and EndNote. I have also trained myself to use other programs like Dragon Naturally Speaking (e.g. through software tutorials and related support).

During the past ten days I have attended two workshops on research methodology. The first was concerned with research based on interviews, narratives and other kinds of discourse. It was a useful half-day session that focused on the analysis of written and spoken texts. The presenter was well prepared, focused and informative. One of the most useful outcomes was a reference list that included useful texts for qualitative research generally (e.g. Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, Silverman, 1995, Miles and Huberman (1994); as well as narrative approaches specifically (e.g. Labov and Waletzky, 1997).

The second was based on Wagner’s (1993) concept of blank spots and blind spots in research, and explored a range of epistemological, ontological and methodological questions. This one-day workshop enabled me to link a number of related issues—especially positivist, interpretive, constructionist and other approaches to mapping the complex territory of research. A number of succinct tables provided by the presenter summarised different approaches to research in a way that was most helpful. His strategy of using small groups to undertake a series of semi-structured, practical tasks throughout the day also challenged participants to apply various theories and concepts to our own research practices.