What a waste of time… or was it?

As a part-time PhD student who works full-time whilst juggling family life, time is always my enemy. There are never enough hours in the day, either to get enough work done, spend enough time with the family, or even just to get enough hours sleep at night. This will be a familiar scenario to many part-time PhD students and possibly even some who are working full time on their studies.

Such pressure  makes it crucial to make good decisions on how to spend time. So deciding to spend two hours at a research seminar which eats into my study allowance is not something I do lightly, but a recent seminar caught my eye. It was on discourse analysis (DA). “Perfect”, I thought, “I’ll go along to that”.

Although I am using interpretive phenomenological analysis (Smith, Flowers & Larkin, 2009) in my PhD study, DA is not a million miles away, as both concern analysis of discourse. I thought it would be useful to go along to the seminar and hear from a researcher very experienced in using this approach, in order to deepen my understanding on where the two approaches converge, and where they are significantly different. At first I was a little frustrated as the presentation covered mainly the academic debate about who was worthy of being a discourse analyst and who wasn’t. I have little time for what I consider, “academic snobbery” – this is not directed at the speaker but at the debate.

However, I did gain something unexpected from this session. The session made me think about my research in a way I had not really anticipated. There was a discussion surrounding objectivity and subjectivity which then moved to realism and constructivism. As the epistemological stance in my own study is informed by social constructivism the discussion caught my attention and has kept me thinking since. It has reminded me of one of my favourite children’s stories, The Velveteen Rabbit (by Margery Williams).

What is real? is a question the Velveteen Rabbit asked of the Skin Horse, who tried to explain that being real wasn’t about things or objects, but about meaning, which is created by experiences. The Velveteen Rabbit becomes “real” when his owner makes a fuss and he feels loved, he experiences the feeling of love giving his life meaning and thus becoming real. So what seems real, is in essence a construction of socially mediated experiences. This has helped me to consider the relationship between realism and constructivism and the philosophical debate surrounding each of these epistemological viewpoints, not quite what I was expecting from the session on DA but a pretty good outcome nontheless.

There is often little time for philosophical debate in our busy lives but sometimes it is worth making the time and something unexpected might happen.


Hello blogging world!

Hi and welcome to my shiny new blog site!

Last week’s  #phdchat twitter chat topic was on blogging about your research and I committed to starting to blog about my own research. I shall start with a little introduction to gently ease me in. I am currently registered as a part-time PhD Student at Edinburgh Napier University. I work full time as a lecturer at the university.

My PhD study is about the impact of a new diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) for the person diagnosed and their “support person”.  This is usually their partner or parent but this person was nominated by the person with MS.  The underpinning theory is that of biographical disruption (Bury, 1982), and loss of self in chronic illness (Charmaz, 1983) with my study hoping to contribute to the knowledge of how a diagnosis of MS impacts on how people affected assimilate this new identity and learn to live with it.

The study is qualitative, I have used a hermeneutic phenomenological approach most closely informed by Gadamer (1976).  I am currently analysing my data using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) by Smith, Flowers & Larkin (2009).  I am finding this approach to be extremely useful as it follows how I would intuitively approach analysing qualitative data but it also helps me to interrogate this further while along the way providing me with a useful audit trail of what I have done.

The phd process hasn’t been an easy route to follow, there have been many ups and downs along with way but being part of the #phdchat community has helped me see that this is quite normal and it is great to have this support available 24/7!