For those of you scoring at home, I’m in the thick of wrapping up the second year of my doctoral program, and it has been a year marked by all manner of academic research. At this point, the end is in sight. I have 40 pages of first draft due on November 20 and then my final paper is due on December 11.
In case you are curious, I thought I would detail my process. In other words, this is what I’ve been up to in lieu of blogging regularly.
First, the research part. The goal has been to cast the net wide and gather as much data as possible on my research problem, namely, the qualities and characteristics of flourishing inter-gender partnerships in my organization, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
Primarily, research has taken three forms:
- Participant observation studies. In this method, I’ve sat in the room while InterVarsity staff have conducted a run-of-the-mill staff meeting in order to observe the gender dynamics. You know, stuff like who is sitting where, who talks more (or less), who leads the meeting and how everyone interacts with each other. Think Gorillas in the Mist, only with campus ministers…
- Focus group interviews. I really like this method, as the whole idea is to get a group of staff interacting with one another around my topic. So we’ll have agreeing, disagreeing, and then a bunch of collaborative brainstorming. And when that all happens with some degree of vigor, good data tends to emerge.
- One-on-one interviews. The solo interview format has made up the majority of my research this year, and it has been a joy (and an honor) to hear people’s stories. Early on, I generated a ten question interview route, and I’ve been walking through it with staff from all around the country. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all of the reading in year one, but the personal interaction in year two has been even better.
So…what do you think you get when you combine hundreds and hundreds of pages of notes and interview transcriptions?
Yep. Data. A lot of it. Like an overwhelming pile of information about inter-gender partnerships in mission and what makes them flourish (or not).
So, step two is to code the data.
Coding the data may sound fancy, but, really, it’s simply the process of culling the information in search of nuggets that while help inform my research problem. In my case, I’m seeking to wrangle the data into four different word documents, one that corresponds to each of my four stated research questions.
How do I do this? Simple. Sorta.
Each research question has a letter code. “H” is for “history,” as in, what is the history of inter-gender partnerships in IV? “C” is for “current state,” as in, what is the current state of those partnerships around the organization? “Q” represents “Qualities and Characteristics,” and that’s really the meat of my research. Finally, “F” stands for “flourishing,” as in, what could flourishing look like in my organization in this area?
And, armed with my H-C-Q-F rubric, I sort through my notes and transcripts, marking them up with one of my four designations. I’ve done this on airplanes, in coffee houses, at my kitchen table and even on a clip-board while I’m walking laps. Then, after I’m done with the paper coding, I go back through with my laptop open, transcribing observations or direct quotes in my word docs.
At this point, with most of my research data coded, I’m left with four really robust documents, each with information that (I hope) will help me answer my questions.
And now, step three lies ahead…to write. For this year two final paper, I have to write up two of my four research questions. Deciding which two to focus on is feeling like a challenge! Right now, it’s going to be F and Q, in case you’re curious.
And lest you think drawing the curtain on year two means an end to the research, think again! In some ways, I’m only beginning. In fact, later on this month, after the first draft deadline, I have more interviews scheduled, including one with our president. After that, in year three, more focus groups, more participant observation studies and, ultimately, perhaps a qualitative survey open to all InterVarsity staff.
All of that lies ahead. For now…time to get writing!