Friday, May 26, 2006

Appreciating practical resources

It’s always good to get your hands on a text that lives up to expectations. I finally got my hands on a staff member’s copy of Doctorates Downunder this week. While there are a number of 'how-to' guides for PhD candidates and their supporters on the market, this is definitely one of the better ones.

Given that the publication is co-authored by one of my advisors, I could be accused of biased reporting, however, there really are a number of very positive aspects. First, it contains 28 short, sharp articles that are highly readable as well as informative. Second, the contents are structured into 9 sections that reflect various stages of candidature, that enable the reader to access particular areas of interest as appropriate. Third, many of the articles contain 'hands-on' advice that can be implemented without delay.

Given I'm in my third year, I zoomed in initially on Section 7—Preparing the Thesis, and Section 8—Preparing for Examination, then dipped in and out of each of the others. Articles on Argumentation by Erica McWilliam, and Opening the Black Box: How examiners access your thesis by Margaret Kiley and Gerry Mullins were great. I also found Robyn Barnacle’s piece On Being a Critical Researcher to be of really good value.

All in all, I would recommend it as a good read for PhD students at any stage of their candidature.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Reviewing and refereeing publications

I have received a couple more requests recently to act as a reviewer and referee for publications that address issues in contemporary research. The first was to review a book on the use of narrative in social research. The associate editor of a journal contacted me to see if I would be willing to construct a review of around 1000 words for a new resource that should be “evaluative rather than descriptive”.

Given that the underlying theme of the book was the need to bridge the gap between qualitative and quantitative approaches, I was impressed with the way in which the author managed to blur the boundaries. For example, the term ‘reflexive bridge’ was coined to describe the way in which narrative can be employed to span the long-established divide between these alternative methodologies.

One interesting aspect of reviewing the publication was the extent to which the analysis and arguments affirmed my own views regarding the power of narrative in research. Another was that it provided me with access to a range of new perspectives, insights and resources pertaining to the theory and practice of narrative, which I was able to relate directly to my own research, where narrative is becoming an increasingly important component.

The editor of another journal also emailed me to act as a blind referee for an article that had been submitted recently. Having acted as a referee previously for this journal, I was interested to observe that a web-based system for managing the journal had been introduced, whereby a username and password were required to access and provide a response to the article. Once again, the process of critically reviewing the research and writing of another author(s) proved to be a challenging experience that encouraged me reflect on my own practices.