Over the years that I have been teaching and supervising students, one thing that it is clear is that students can become isolated and extremely anxious that they are the only person experiencing a particular issue in their research. This is not helped by the impression given by published articles that research is plain sailing by failing to document the hard, messy, hidden work behind crafting a good qualitative study and subsequent journal article. Wrong turns and feeling overwhelmed are common issues that not only affect most people doing qualitative research but are also part of the process.
Often, the students I work with are in regular contact with each other and can share problems informally but while this is to be encouraged, the difficulty is that as novice researchers they cannot distinguish between aspects of analysis that are part of the process and those that indicate the need for intervention. Nor can they answer each other’s questions adequately. Moreover, not all students have such a support network; many PhD students and early career researchers express feelings of isolation and lack of support. Unfortunately, not all PhD supervisors / line managers / principal investigators / academic departments are alike, so opportunities for support in an environment where you can express your deepest concerns without fear of making a fool of yourself are not open to everyone.
It was with some of these issues in mind that I began running troubleshooting workshops for the trainees on the Oxford Clinical Psychology Doctorate and now I am very excited to be able to extend this opportunity to a wider audience. The purpose of a troubleshooting workshop is to provide a safe, supportive forum for researchers to discuss concerns and difficulties. Although the workshop leader facilitates discussion, much of the agenda is set by participants themselves, so each troubleshooting workshop is uniquely tailored to the needs of those participants on that day. I encourage participants to bring along whatever they are working on (and if they wish, any feedback they’ve had from elsewhere), and share this with other participants and the workshop leader.
Workshop participants benefit from sharing experiences, mistakes and challenges: knowing that you are not the only one can be especially comforting. As valuable as that is, these workshops are more than ‘just’ a support group. Participants learn a great deal from each other, and as well as gaining confidence in their own study, they come to realise just how much they do know. Importantly, the workshop provides a safe environment to ask for help and receive constructive feedback from each other and an experienced researcher. Participation therefore also involves critiquing others’ work and to suggest ways forward, often something that researchers do not do until they have responsibility for a research student/assistant, or review a journal article (perhaps practicing these skills in person will help build more sensitive, constructive peer reviewers and supervisors in the future!).
At present then, the following workshops are available:
- Research design and ethics / writing protocols
- Interview design and interviewing skills
- Qualitative data analysis
If these prove popular I will expand the selection and aim to run them on a regular basis. As no two workshops are the same, participants can return time and again with new problems and new studies. I’d love to hear what you think, and any suggestions would be most welcome!