I feel privileged to be asked to write this blog to offer advice to research students at Masters and PhD level. Research is something I am passionate about and I see myself as a qualitative researcher who also has great respect for those who prefer quantitative methods. Hopefully the advice I offer will be useful to both schools and those from a pluralistic background.
The first piece of advice I would offer is that you must be really impassioned by your research. Writing a thesis is a hard slog which becomes even harder if you are just going through the motions with your topic. You will have moments (hours, days and sometimes months!) where you feel you will never reach the end of your research journey and it is then that a fervent interest in your subject will sustain you. If you are pursuing a topic that isn’t really of much interest to you, then these difficult periods will be much worse. Dare greatly and take the risk of choosing an area that excites you. Brene Brown rather reluctantly describes herself as a researcher-story teller and that is what we are. Fall in love with your story!
The second piece of advice I would offer is listen to your supervisor’s advice and remember the thesis is yours! Supervisors have a great deal of experience and are often very wise but in the end, your dissertation will have your name on so make sure it is something you can be proud of. Speak up if you feel your thesis is going in a direction you are not comfortable with.
Thirdly, surround yourself with lots of support. Writing is a lonely road and you will survive much better if you have friends and colleagues with whom you can share your trials and tribulations. An ability to laugh at yourself and with others is also useful.
Fourthly, have a research question you can answer. This seems obvious but sometimes people have an area they are interested in but not a specific question. Having a question means that you are able to decide which method will best allow you to focus and provide an answer. After all, the thesis is a long answer to your research question.
Whatever method you choose to have, I would advise you to have a ‘revealing’ interview. This concept comes from qualitative research and is often called a bracketing interview. I feel this is a misnomer as the original intention was to bracket off your preconception about what you would expect to find in your research so you could approach it without bias. Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, it’s not possible to do that. The purpose of a revealing interview is to allow us to become aware of your preconceptions, not get rid of them, so we can approach our data collection and analysis saying ‘Is this really there or is it there because I expected it to be there?’ Our interviewer can be anyone we feel comfortable with and who will gently probe us to find out what we expect to find.
Finally, try and enjoy your research journey. It is not often life allows us time and space to answer a question we want to know the answer to. It can be a long and lonely journey and it can be stimulating, exciting and satisfying. Often it’s both and more!
Maggie Robson is a Senior Teaching Fellow in the Counseling Group in the School of Psychology at Keele University