Last week, I was on a panel of experts interviewing potential PhD students for this academic year. I was somewhat saddened by the many that had not prepared well and had no idea what lies ahead regardless of the sound experience and interest in the subjects. To all potential students, I wish to share this with you so that your first initiative is founded well and guided properly.
There is little point in undertaking a qualitative research project unless your research can be shown to be original and feasible. If it is not original, then knowledge will not advance. If it is not feasible, then it is unlikely that the research methods will produce findings that solve the research problem or mystery; nor will they improve practice. Obviously, the extent of ‘originality’ required for a research project will differ between undergraduate and postgraduate levels. MPhil and PhD theses are required to make a significant, original contribution. Whichever level you are working at, your study should aim to fulfill the criteria for originality by:
- discovering new insights; and/or
- providing evidence of independent, critical thought. (Silverman, 2010)
Building on the ideas of Phillips and Pugh (2005), I suggest that original research can be characterized in three ways:
- it is a novel development of an existing idea or issue;
- it is a novel application because it cross-fertilizes concepts, techniques or methodologies in new ways;
- it is a novel interpretation of previous work or ideas.
With regards to the Methodology… nothing is cast on stone.
• Your worldview determines your research question and the choices you make about the design of your research, including the methods you use to collect and analyse the data.
• Qualitative research is associated with an interpretive worldview. It is interested in exploring meaning and communication relationships, and how social reality is constructed from the point of view of the people being studied.
• Qualitative research can be used on its own in a research project or in combination with quantitative research.
• The distinctions between qualitative and quantitative thinking are not absolutes but are positioned on an interactive continuum.
• It is important to ensure a sound fit between your research orientation (qualitative or quantitative) and your main research question. ‘How’ and ‘why’ questions are suitable for qualitative research with an emphasis on process and description.
The Successful Thesis will largely depend on the some of these attributes:
• The thesis demonstrates authority in the candidate’s field and shows evidence of command of knowledge in relevant fields
• It shows that the candidate has a thorough grasp of the appropriate methodological techniques and an awareness of their limitations.
• It makes a distinct contribution to knowledge.
• Its contribution to knowledge rests on originality of approach and/or interpretation of the findings and, in some cases, the discovery of new facts.
• It demonstrates an ability to communicate research findings effectively in the professional arena and in an international context.
• It is a careful, rigorous and sustained piece of work demonstrating that a research ‘apprenticeship’ is complete and the holder is admitted to the community of scholars in the discipline.
I hope that some of you may find this useful….