Posted by: Adam Pattison Rathbone4 JUL 2014
‘Doing research’ is how I describe what I do to the family, kids and friends, however actually ‘doing research’ is a bit more complicated than it might first sound. I started my PhD last October and in my own mind had imagined getting out there and stuck in almost instantly. I’d imagined I would be interviewing participants and coming up with ground breaking theories that would revolutionise pharmacy practice across the UK, or even the globe! In my head, ‘doing research’ was intrinsically linked to actually finding something out, either through reading, collecting or analysing data. However I soon realised that there was a lot more to ‘doing research’…
After approximately nine months, I’ve just interviewed my first participant. Even writing that sentence I could almost hear line managers across the country sweating with frustration at the lack of momentum. In actual fact, ‘doing research’ is not just about reading, collecting or analysing data. There was a whole raft of activities, procedures and processes I had not anticipated. I was aware of ethics requirements but had not completely prepared for a three month submission-resubmission marathon - I submitted my first application on 9th February and did not actually receive ethical approval until approximately 10th May. Prior to February I had been drafting, submitting and redrafting my research proposal (basically an SOP/rationale of your study) and other documents to submit to the ethics committee with my supervisors. In order to prepare many of the documents I had to learn something as well as review the literature, this involved lots of reading and learning but a distinctly different kind of reading than to what I had expected - reading a text book rather than an ancient rune! Reading this way did not feel like I was uncovering some mystical fact. ‘Doing research’ did not feel like I was ‘doing’ much at all - but that changed today, after doing my first interview!
I approached the situation as per my research protocol and finally started to appreciate the work I’d put in and hoops I’d had to jump through for ethics. I had anticipated plenty of problems cropping up - the ethics committees had made sure I had prepared for all kinds of eventualities. After the interview I came back to university and went for a (very generously funded) PhD student get together. Eventually the chat turned to research paradigms and methods, as it often does, and I was criticised for planning on interviewing too many participants. For a qualitative researcher who shares an office with quantitative researchers, the size question is raised quite a lot - does size really matter? For me, the number of participants I wanted to use was influenced by typical theoretical data saturation (the theoretical point where interviews stop giving you new data - although some would argue that every interview offers new data thus saturation refers to the point at when doing an interview is not practically plausible for the amount of new data to be obtained). The other PhD students explained that one student had gained their PhD after interviewing 7 clinicians. I am planning on recruiting 75 patients. In my opinion, for a run-of-the-mill healthcare professional reading something in a journal, seeing a study with 7 participants, regardless of what the study was saying, would lead to the results of the study being ignored, or arguably contested, therefore limiting impact. I might argue that the more patients in a qualitative study, the greater it’s impact with practicing healthcare professionals - although this idea certainly needs more thought. These kind of discussions on research methods are also intrinsic to ‘doing research’ and often lead to PhD students behaving remarkably like their supervisors.
On reflection, I think the interview went well and after transcription I’ve got my first pieces of data to analyse. Finally it feels like I am ‘doing research’!