…thoughts on and about my PhD journey and beyond…

Posts tagged ‘phd’


2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 5,600 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 9 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

Social media and my PhD

Britain Going Blog Crazy - Metro Article

Image by Annie Mole via Flickr

This post was first published as a guest post on thethesiswhisperer, on 31-Aug-10 and was mentioned in this article in The Age on 9-Aug-11.

In this post I want to reflect on the value of using social media and what it might have to offer research students. As a full time PhD student investigating a messy phenomenon in real time–leadership literacies for the knowledge era–I made a conscious decision to be an active learner, to learn by doing and learn by connecting with people as well as through the literature.  I had always been a reflexive practitioner and wanted to also be a reflexive researcher.

The ‘learning by doing’ part began by mapping out conferences where I could present drafts of my work. I wrote abstracts about what I needed to develop arguments for.  I thought that there would be no better way to focus the mind than presenting on that topic in 3 or 6 months time!  Yes, it might be the ‘extreme sport’ end of PhD comportment, but it did work for me.

The risks associated with presenting work that is not ‘perfect’ and still in development have to be considered, but the benefits of receiving timely and valuable feedback really helped me with my work.  The ‘connecting with people’ part occurred at these conferences, where I met theorists in the field (yes they are human beings!) and people with aligned interests.

The ‘connecting with people’ part was also met by the interactions with the social networks I’ve built up using Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, and to a lesser extent Academia.net.  The sharing of ideas and resources has been a two way thing and even though most of what I’ve learned through these networks will not go into the thesis, they have been invaluable as an action learning tool to pick up on trends, test ideas and to get a feel for what is emerging or fading.  This has helped strengthen the research instrument that is ‘me’.

The reflexive researcher part was taken up with the blog where I have written a lot about my struggles with ‘text work as identity work’ (For more see Kamler and Thomson’s book “Helping Doctoral Students to Write). I started my blog in November 2008, inspired by a  Professor at RMIT,  Brian Corbitt, telling a story about Germaine Greer writing “The Female Eunuch” from her collection of vignettes.

A vignette is a small piece of writing which tries to encapsulate a story or a moment of insight in a stand- alone piece. The beauty of a vignette is you don’t have to try to connect with other ideas.  This is opposite to how one might normally think about a thesis, which is meant to be a long, densely inter-related document. The vignette approach seemed a compelling idea, and one that I reflected on for a few months as I pondered just how I was going to become a writer, specifically how I was going to write A LOT.

I thought that blogging might be the modern day equivalent of Greer’s vignette approach. Brian was quite pleased that he had inspired such endeavours and, in typical professorial fashion, suggested that there could be a paper on ‘blogging as a research method’ in it! I have yet to write that paper, mainly because I don’t feel like I am leading that charge, unlike Lila Efimova whose blog and PhD studies are well documented at Mathemagenic and widely cited.

My blogs were written when I needed to think and reflect and this seemed to be in the period leading up to the confirmation and when designing the research.  I am currently using these blogs–these placeholders of my thoughts–as I draft my thesis chapters.

I remember commenting to my supervisor at one low point that I couldn’t write anything, not even a blog posting.  I was expecting a blast for being a terrible PhD student but reassuringly Sandra mused that perhaps I didn’t have anything to write because the issues, for now, were sorted.  Instead, perhaps, this marked the shift to a new stage of the PhD–a ‘doing the research’ stage, rather than ‘thinking about the research’ stage.  That was indeed an ‘aha’ moment for me and it is true that I didn’t feel the need to write many postings while I was ‘doing the research’ but now that I am back into writing and analysing I think that the need to blog will be more frequent.

A blog can be an archive of reflections about what it means to do a PhD. It can be a placeholder for the vignettes that build to become arguments in the thesis and, unlike a personal journal, the thoughts and arguments are open for scrutiny and feedback.

Blogs about the PhD journey–like thethesiswhisperer and by individuals–remove the veils of mystique that mask the hard work.  It shows us the ‘invisible work’ which never makes it into ink in the final thesis document.  A blog does not a PhD make, but a blog can help develop the necessary confidence to become ‘writerly’ which is necessary to tackle the thesis itself.

The concept of ‘researcher as research instrument’ within the hinterlands of research


Hinterland by Mike the Mountain via Flickr

Piantanida & Garman (1999) present a theory to expand the notion of qualitative inquiry to present it as a method and a logic of justification for the research study.  Their theory makes explicit the notion of the ‘researcher as research instrument’ (other references to ‘researcher as research instrument’ include Guba & Lincoln, 1981 ; Shindler & Case, 1996 ; Piantanida & Garman, 1999 p. 139; Janesick, 2001 ; Meloy, 2002 p. 61; Merriam, 2002 ; Patton, 2002 p. 109; Janesick, 2003 p. 47).

…the researcher is as much a part of the inquiry as the intent of the study and the inquiry process.  In fact, the researcher’s thinking lies at the heart of the inquiry…Ill-conceived dissertation folklore…contribute[s] to “dissertation block” by diverting attention from the very wellspring of knowledge that feeds the dissertation—that is, students’ own professional experiences, personal intellectual concerns, and assumptions about knowledge (Piantanida & Garman, 1999, p. 24).

Engagement with the ‘researcher as research instrument’ notion is very much dependent on the researcher’s worldview and their own ontological, epistemological and axiological underpinnings of what constitutes acceptable research.  Just how explicit this position is ‘owned up to’ is also dependent on the underlying assumptions and within the social contexts of acceptable research practice within disciplines and theoretical schools of thought.  The continuum for making this position explicit (or not) runs from an objective (values free) stance where the notion of ‘researcher as research instrument’ may be hidden from view to the subjective (values laden) position where it may be fully declared. researcher_as_instrument1

Whether this position is indeed visible or hidden it is nevertheless in play in the everyday decision making and conduct of research, for example:

  • The patterns of reading the literature
  • Who is seen as expert, novice, practitioner and what weight is thus accorded?
  • Intuition, insight and subjectiveness
    • Are these and other ‘soft’ skills used to guide decisions about the research?
  • Researcher’s experience in the world, at work and in research?
  • How much of this is drawn upon to come up with a do-able research project?
  • How the research is written, how the researcher is positioned within the text.

The notion of ‘researcher as research instrument’, therefore takes root in the ontological, epistemological and axiological underpinnings of what constitutes acceptable research for each of us.  From here it will manifest (or be hidden) in the selection of research methods and in the research text itself.  For those of you who are undertaking research, have you thought much about the position of ‘researcher as research instrument’ ?

Your comments welcome:

How do you, see yourself (more or less depending on technique, method, philosophical framework) as part of the creation of the ‘text’ and ‘data’? (Take the poll above)

Do you see this position as being ‘not about me but through me’ in your own research work?

What resonates most strongly here?

Attached is the discussion paper and readings on this topic which were prepared for the RMIT Qualitative Inquiry Special Interest Group meeting of 5-May-09.


Guba, E. G. & Lincoln, Y. S. 1981. The evaluator as instrument, Effective evaluation, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, pp. 128 – 152.

Janesick, V. J. 2001. Intuition and Creativity: A Pas de Deux for Qualitative Researchers. Qualitative Inquiry, 7 (5), pp. 531 – 540. http://qix.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/7/5/531

Janesick, V. J. 2003. The choreography of qualitative research design: minuets, improvisations, and crystallization. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Strategies of qualitative inquiry, 2nd ed., Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, pp. 46 – 79.

Meloy, J. M. 2002. Writing the qualitative dissertation: understanding by doing.  (2nd ed.) Mahwah, N.J., Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Merriam, S. B. 2002. Qualitative research in practice: examples for discussion and analysis.  San Francisco, Calif. ; Jossey-Bass.

Patton, M. Q. 2002. Qualitative research and evaluation methods.  (3rd ed.) Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage Publications.

Piantanida, M. & Garman, N. B. 1999. The qualitative dissertation: a guide for students and faculty.  London, Sage.

Shindler, J. V. & Case, R. E. 1996. Apperception and Meaning Making in the World of Qualitative Inquiry: An Examination of Novice Qualitative Researchers, Annual AERA Meeting. New York,  AERA.


Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y. S. 2008. Collecting and Interpreting Qualitative Materials.  (3rd ed.) Thousand Oaks, Calif., Sage.

Kamler, B. & Thomson, P. 2006. Helping Doctoral Students Write: Pedagogies for Supervision.  Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, Routledge.

Law, J. 2004. After Method: Mess in Social Science Research.  London ; New York, Routledge.

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