The mullings of a procrastinating researcher!
Now that I am two thirds of my way through my PhD research and getting stuck into the lengthy writing up, I’ve found myself asking the question “why am I doing this?” (with a gasp of exasperation, at times!). I have to remind myself of my purpose when I started:
Defining when we are at our best in work will help to structure self-reflection, performance management and coaching conversations and will help with the prioritisation of development.
Yup – that makes sense but “why am I doing it so academically?” It is that question that has taken a lot more thought. With my practitioner hat on, I want to speed things up and just get on with working with clients and seeing things change and improve. My researcher hat seems to mean that things are slower and there are a lot of hoops to jump through. But it is those hoops that form part of the reason why I’ve taken the academic approach:
Understanding where it adds to existing knowledge
The process of my literature review has been challenging but also wonderfully enriching. I’ve purposefully reviewed literature that might relate to being at your best. In doing that, I’ve gained new insights from things that I thought I already knew – like all the fascinating work around Flow from Csikszentmihalyi where he found that people were more engaged and ‘in flow’ when their activities have clear goals, immediate feedback and skills that are balanced to action opportunities. How helpful is that when designing or planning development?!
Asking the big questions
The academic process of reviewing, before you get stuck into any research: ontology (what is reality?) and epistemology (how can I know reality?) has been really fascinating and helped to direct how I structure the research. My research question came about as a result of questions from clients and questions to coachees. There was such consistency in their responses that I began to question if we had an undefined shared understanding of what it means to be at your best in work.
That falls into the view of knowledge and reality of Social Constructionsim – we use language and images to create meaning and is our lens for interpreting reality. So I saw myself as a detective…. Someone trying to uncover what that shared meaning is – that meant I would need to investigate the words and images used when we are at our best.
With words being the basis of my research, I needed to understand what good qualitative research looks like. With my background in psychometrics, I’ve been used to the quantitative approach where reliability and validity are shown statistically, with clear guidelines to demonstrate rigor. I’d always assumed qualitative research was less robust somehow. How wrong was I.
Creating a sound structure to the qualitative research, rooted in the social constructionist way of viewing the world has been a journey of discovery and a whole other article for me to write.
The key has been to develop a structure to the research that ensures it remains credible, transferable, dependable and authentic. Those have been my principles for qualitative research.
This has been the scary bit! Having spent hours mulling, interviewing, analysing and writing things up, it all gets read and pulled apart by others. I’ve had one academic viva already (another one soon and one at the end of the process) – where I shared the findings so far with other academics. Instead of a 45 minute meeting it turned out to be an hour and a half of great discussion and debate which I found really helpful.
I also presented ‘my work so far’ at a colloquium (fancy word for academic conference where you share your findings) – I had ten minutes to share what I’d done followed by 20 minutes of challenges and questions. Again, I actually found this invigorating and so helpful to be able to respond to the questions posed by experienced qualitative researchers.
More recently, I was selected to write a chapter in the ABP’s forthcoming book Partners in Progress. The editorial process demanded quite a bit of labour but it was so valuable in honing my thoughts. There is probably more editorial labour ahead with a couple of academic journal articles in the offing but no doubt at the end of that process I’ll be even more refined in how I explain being at your best in work.
So that is where I am at… I know why I am doing this research and why I am taking the academic approach…. I’d best get on and do it then!