Mixing the methods and data – a better synthesis?

The final mixed methods workshop we had this week could not have been more timely. I like how this workshop is conducted at the end of semester because it kind of wraps up our understanding on a variety of research methods from previous workshops. 

MIxed methods workshop is unique in that it did not focus on how to use the method per se, but more on when to use it. This is because nothing new with the qualitative and quantitative methods. We already know what qualitative or quantitative methods to use. But, the challenge is how to integrate both methods to produce a useful synthesis that can answer our research questions in the most satisfying and justifiable ways.

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What does it mean doing a ‘critical’ research?

critical puzzlingThis post’s title is equivocal in that it is unclear what ‘critical’ means in this context. Is it ‘critical’ as in critical thinking, or ‘critical’ as in doing research informed by critical paradigm? This is one of many questions I still have left after the workshop on Critical Theory concluded this week.

What is the nature of contribution in research using critical paradigm? Is an extension of current critical social theory enough a contribution? Or, should the study come up with alternative theories?

Why are postcolonialism and postmodernism not entirely included as critical theories? What part of them that are not critical theories? What is the difference between post-colonialism and postcolonialism?

There are a lot of grounds in critical theories that definitely cannot be covered in only two sessions of workshop.

But, if my limited understanding is expected to contemplate on the likelihood of using critical theories as the underlying paradigm of my research, I need to answer this one question.

“What makes a critical research critical?”

A reframing of the question would be “what is the characteristic of research that is informed by critical paradigm?”

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Empowering communities: the case of participatory research

indexI started this 3rd workshop with knowing only action research as an exemplar of participatory research. Upon doing the workshop activities, I am pleasantly surprised that this method has similar vein to my research. Participatory research is an umbrella term for different kinds of research partnership between researchers and the subjects. I am particularly sold to the notion of community partnership research (CPR) that is proposed by Sue McKemmish (my lecturer for this workshop) and her colleagues.

CPR puts away the dichotomy between researchers and the subjects. Instead, it focuses on how planning, conduct, and reporting of research is a shared responsibility between researchers and participants. Thus, research objectives, data collection techniques, and even publication of results entail collective ownership by both parties as a team.

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Design science research – design or science?

ImageAs far as this workshop is concerned, design science (DS) has enticed me particularly for its (realised?) potential to become a signature research method for the field of IS. Iivari in one paper argues that DS may as well be a separate research paradigm for its focus on problem solving and utility instead of truth seeking. Of course, not everyone agrees with this argument. But, my astonishment with DS stemmed from its ability to showcase the strength of studies in IS field.  

Studies in the IS field can offer insights on how technologies can shape and be shaped by social environment, or commonly referred to socio-technical systems. While behaviourist studies are equally important to help us make sense of the world, I believe DS research (done rigorously) is one that will make improvement to the development of the world (as it has been through studies in engineering) because of the artifact creation. And IS field, in this respect, can offer most useful insights due to its strength in examining technology and human in sociomaterial practice. In the middle of continuing discourse about the nature of contribution of IS studies, DS is truly promising.    

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Is grounded theory for me?

theory word cloudAfter immersing myself with grounded theory for the past 3 weeks, I can say that using grounded theory is no easy task. For one, grounded theory can be used as both methodology and method (aww, welcome to the philosophical world!). Or, it can also be thought of as a meta-theoretical assumption and a methodology. Either way, it stands on two worlds. Cecez-Kecmanovic (2011) did a great job in explicating this issue in greater details. With these two standpoints, grounded theory requires extra consideration for anyone thinking of doing it. This particularly includes how you are going to bring up your research technique to generate theory.

The problem with much research that we have seen so far (in the workshop) is, there are too many studies claim using grounded theory when they only embrace one of those two different layers (i.e., method & technique). This is a phenomenon that has been picked up by Urquhart (2001) and has remained prevalent to date. We cannot simply blame researchers who use grounded theory partially, though. One thing that I learn from research is the justification that the researcher provides in the decision that s/he makes. Thus, if the justification were valid, we may agree on the selection & use of grounded theory in that particular case.

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The world according to researchers

Introduction to FIT6021

So, the mandatory coursework unit as part of the new Monash PhD program is underway and it has been mind-boggling so far, to say the least. The coursework unit is aimed to advance our understanding, the new PhD students, in contemplating, selecting, and applying a diverse range of research methods which we are going to use in our own research projects. The coursework is in a format of workshop series and has been designed with the best of intentions despite trialling for the first time in this semester. I have been very pleased with the delivery of the unit so far, including the discussion and stimulation throughout the workshop which has been fruitful. Well, this was on top of the magnificent hot chocolate being served in each workshop, of course 🙂

philosopher stone

Is the world what we think we know?

The workshop is only starting, but it really cannot take off without embarking on the philosophical battle that underpins every original research. Yes, I am talking about research paradigm. The notion of paradigm in research is not a new thing to me, as I had touched on this issue lightly when I did my minor thesis project. At that time, I claimed ‘my research’ as interpretivist, and I was using qualitative method for data collection and analysis. Until recently, I didn’t really give much thought on the difference and clashes between existing paradigms, i.e., positivist, interpretivist, and critical (plus their variations). As it turned out, there is a long tradition of beliefs, values, and worldviews in each of the paradigms that has existed for as long as human knowledge has existed. It can even be traced as far back as the 17th century through the work of great philosophers such as Hume, and Locke.

The debate revolves around deep philosophical thinking about what constitutes knowledge and the way we acquire knowledge through considering what is truth (epistomology) and also about the nature of the world around us (ontology). PhD research is about making significant contribution to knowledge which is why gaining deep understanding of where, what, why, and how our research can fit into existing human knowledge is imperative. And this was not simple. Imagine the 400+ years of scientific inquiry to the nature of the world and the amazing results that have brought us to the life what we have and what we are now. It can be overwhelming yet fascinating just to explore how scientific research has been conceptualised, argued, embraced, conducted, evaluated, and advanced. Let alone, contributing to that knowledge through our research whatever petty it might be.

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Do you truly wanna do a PhD?

Been a while since I want to scribble around this topic, but it got delayed over and over due to mainly procrastination (geez.. already?). But this topic has just recently gained its relevance when @yanuarnugroho did mention again on his timeline about how a PhD study looks like and what kind of person would benefit the most from doing a PhD. For Indonesian wannabe-PhDs, I recommend following @yanuarnugroho to get inspirations on what it takes and how it looks like to be a researcher pre and post PhD.

A little background info, I am only starting my PhD this week (well, only yesterday in fact I was enrolled). But I think I could offer you my perspective to what PhD means to me as I have been coming through quite a journey looking back. I also feel like sharing useful information so that any prospective PhD student may benefit from it.

PHD Comics- Marriage v. The Ph.D. Now, there has been this enormous discussion in the academic circles about the value of PhD these days more than ever before. ‘The disposable academic’ may well represent the ugly truth of academic world (mostly in developed countries).Lots of PhD have been graduating only to find that there are fewer and fewer jobs available in the academic job market. A PhD generally would need to work for years as post-docs (which are non-tenured positions, of course) before they would find permanent jobs in form of lectureship or professorship, if they are lucky.

Though this problem may mainly be found in countries like the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and the likes, problems in less-developed countries are not less pressing. It has long been known (at least in Indonesia) that the remuneration as a lecturer and researcher is not among the highly praised ones. This makes the migration of academic jobs around the world not too easy. Unless you are a PhD student from developing nations, you probably find working as a lecturer in these countries less attractive. Even students from such countries would gladly look for more highly-paid professorship in other countries, if possible.PHD Comics- Academic Salaries

I am not an academic (not full-time though), so I may not be in a position to accurately grasp the motivation behind doing a PhD for career academics. But this gives me an even quirkier position to tell you why on earth I am doing what I am doing now.

Getting a PhD is not only about financial matters, I know. There are a lot more reasons like intellectual freedom (you’re still a student, though), the chance of being world expert in your field, or simply to add that 3-word title to your credentials. However, since doing a PhD generally takes a long time (3-4 years, or 5-7 years in US system), any rational man would at least measure the cost against the benefit of this investment. Again, the most easily quantifiable measures are the financial worth of your time and energy during that years and the years that followed too, good or bad.

While you’re at it, please consider what many PhDs would talk about their experience doing a PhD:

“Ultimate torture, hard work, and sometimes hopeless right from Day 1. The big chunk of your time will be so tedious you would end up hating reviewing the literature or fed up by transcribing that 20+ hours of interview data.”

“Let’s not forget the chance of finding a dead-end on running your experiment, survey, or data analysis.”

“You may also find a non-effective relationship with supervisors which only worsen your situation.”

“Lack of social life due to lacking time to do virtually anything (reading, writing, analysing, teaching, presenting, organising, and a good deal of administrative work on top of living your everyday life).”

“A lonely journey, as no one can understand your topic as much as you do. Not even the supervisors.”

“With this lengthy nature and uncertainty that most PhD projects have, the risk of failure is so high that you at times would feel like quitting due to worthlessness that you feel to your work.”

In the end, I have heard many stories about people unable to finish their PhD on time or simply leave it without ever graduating. Okay, quitting is not exclusively PhD’s business. But it is just so unfortunate that someone throws away the hours, days, months, and years that she has devoted her life into. Drop-outs are still high even in the final year of PhD.

So, if with that depiction you still aspire to become a PhD, then who are you actually? What are you made of? Don’t you have anything more useful to do with your life?

Now, @yanuarnugroho tweeted that a PhD is best for aspiring researchers and lecturers. Because PhD is essentially that. It prepares you to be an ethical, thoughtful, organised, and  brilliant researcher all-around. What will you actually learn from doing a PhD? The answer in order of importance is (1) generic & transferable skills on being a solid researcher; (2) the expertise in your narrow field.

Hold on, what are those generic and transferable skills you gain during a PhD? Does that kind of skills matter in real-world jobs? What does actually a PhD do to the world surrounds him? Is there really an impact?

Stay tuned.. Wait for it in the next post.