I think I am ready now to expose my research questions to the world. Here it goes:
- Are 1958 British Birth cohort members’ perceived social class identities affected by participation in higher education? If so, how?
- What role does structure and agency have to play on working-class cohort members’ decisions to enter or not enter higher education as a young or mature student at some point in their lives between 1976 and 2008?
- What meaning and significance does having a degree hold for cohort members as they reflect back on their lives age 50?
- Can understandings of participation in higher education across the lifecourse be enhanced by the use of a mixed methods secondary dataset and by applying mixed modes of analysis?
Why is that scary? Well, because someone might ask a question about it that I won’t know the answer to. Someone may say ‘that it is a shit topic’. Someone may ask ‘what’s the point’ and I’ll have to articulate an answer. Someone might say, ‘oh so and so already did that exact topic, I can’t believe you didn’t know?’ Someone may say ‘wow, briliant topic, your thesis is going to be so interesting’ and I’ll think, ‘well, not if I can’t do it’. Or someone may say ‘you’ve put an apostrophe in the wrong place’.
But I like them, they feel like my little friends, always by my side, quietly nagging me for not spending time with them and forgetting their birthdays… oh sorry, that just slipped out.
Go on, be vulnerable and show me yours (research questions that is).
Thanks to Jessica Gagnon for the video link.
In the first and second year of my fabulous PhD (I’m practising a positive mental attitude) I would bump into a fellow student, and we wouldn’t talk for long, but what we did ask each other was simply “Have you got your research questions yet?”. We both used to say, “nearly”, “I think so”, “perhaps”.
I did get my research questions at the end of the first year, in time for the upgrade, but until today I didn’t quite like them or I had a niggling feeling that they weren’t quite right. That feeling you get when you accidentally start brushing your teeth with your sister’s toothbrush and it feels different and you think it looks different but you don’t fully realise until she walks in a screams at you with hatred and disgust.
But today something amazing happened. I think I finally have three research questions that I like. They are actually still the same ones from all that time ago, but I have finally composed them in such a way that feels natural to me. Before I felt that they were a bit stuffy or as if they were written by someone else. I didn’t feel like I owned them. But now I can proudly declare them! ‘Well go on then’ I hear you say – well, I think I better get final approval from my supervisors first…… then maybe I will get a T-shirt with them printed on.
So how did this happen? Well, reading a lot more of the literature that linked directly to what I have been finding through my data analysis. This was the key to feeling more confident and more comfortable with my study. I realised that actually, I can answer them and that they only needed an extra word here or there to flow better. And one question that seemed to have a bit missing has now been repaired and another which was really weak now is nice and strong.
The research questions are vital to have nailed down for the particular type of method I will be using for the first stage of the data analysis. It’s called ‘structural coding’. Take a look at this book by Johnny Saldana (which is one of the most useful books I have come across so far) for suggestions on all sorts of coding types and here is a snippet of the structural variety.
Johnny Saldana: The coding manual for qualitative researchers
I hope no one is reading this and thinking that it is odd that I only just feel comfortable with my research questions in my third year… ? Was everyone else sorted with this years ago and have finished their analysis already? Well, we are all different so stop having a go at me…. I THOUGHT IT WAS MY TOOTHBRUSH OK! *sob*
I have been struggling with my literature review but did not really know it. Well, I knew because it has been going very slowly, but I thought that was because I am just a slow worker. However, upon reflection I am not a slow worker. When I worked in the menswear department in a department store I was super fast I could scan, fold and do the credit card transaction in super speed time, so much so customers would comment and crowds would form. When I worked in the library, I could shelve and tidy the heavy marketing books in a flash, all perfectly in order and upright, and some of those textbooks books were very heavy.
So when I met with one of my supervisors last week she said that the reason I am having difficulties in creating an outline for my literature review and actually writing it with purpose is because I do not know what my aims are. Instead I have been writing 2000 words here and there on seemingly random sections that do not seem to have a particular purpose apart from be standalone essays of sorts I suppose. In my head they kind of make sense, but my supervisors do not see it and I have not communicated well.
She helped me think about how to create aim which will eventually will become one aim and some objectives (remember there is a difference – see this blog for discussion on this issue: https://patthomson.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/aims-and-objectives-whats-the-difference/ ) and of course they will also become research questions.
- What you need to do is just write down an aim that comes to mind – what is it you want to do?
- Then ask Why? Who cares? Why is it important/interesting? This takes the aim to a more theoretical level.
- What hypothesis do you have? This is not just a quants thing – think about what you suspect to be the case, what your initial thoughts are, perhaps based on common sense assumptions.
- Next ask What are the implications of this and also what are the limitations.
Another thing she said is that when writing your literature review, think of a framework to guide you. So for example, I think that C. Wright Mills’ Sociological Imagination where he talks about the importance of the interaction between history, biography and individual is going to be my frame. This is framing my whole thesis as it helps me to justify why I am using mixed methods and studying people’s educational trajectories using longitudinal data. I will be shifting from historical to social to individual perspectives. From policy to then how individuals enact policy for example. I will be looking at the context of people’s decision making of attending university at different time periods. Then this all links to my aims and the way I compose my research questions.
Now that I have a little bit more of a focus, I think the literature review should be much easier to write now. Better be because I have a big ball of anxiety in my chest where I feel like I have wasted so much time!