Reaching a crossroads
I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks, and it was whilst trying to get to sleep last night that I realised why – I have hit my first crossroad in my research journey. Now, anyone who is further down their PhD path than me (which is most people, considering my start date isn’t until January 2014!), will nod sagely at this point and say ‘oh yes, crossroads, decisions, very tricky…’ and so on, as you will have no doubt experienced a veritable avalanche of sticking points during your work that you have had to navigate around.
For me, this first one has been some what of an education. After some great advice during my last mentor meeting around starting to think about methodology, I schlepped off to the library and borrowed a RIDICULOUSLY heavy stack of tomes covering everything from methodology to research design and statistical analysis. Having allowed this stack to sit next to my bed untouched for the appropriate 4 days, I started leafing through and trying to pick out appropriate parts that I could relate to my work.
And that was it. That was where I went wrong and fell head first into a week long fug within which I couldn’t see any relation between these theories and my subject area, or how I could link the two. It felt like I had to choose between researching my subject area, or conducting my research in a way that fit into an appropriate frame or method. I couldn’t see a way to reconcile the two. I’m sure this is very common (and please do share your experiences of this with me if you can), but it was nonetheless very off-putting and had me doubting my choice of subject area late into the night.
Shifting my thought process
That said, it seems sometimes it is necessary to just ride these doubts out as, whilst on the bus this morning indulging in some Tom Waits, I realised that perhaps I needed to stop looking for an existing link between my subject and this methodolodgy theory, and instead consider the theory as a support for my work. The two views might sound similar, but that little shift in thinking has really helped to clear my head. This way, I can concentrate on my research and call upon the support of the theory as and when I feel it is needed, rather than struggling to align the two at all times.
As soon as I realised this it reminded me of something I had heard my supervisor say about how defending your research isn’t necessarily about defending what you choose to say, but defending why you chose to say it in that way. In other words, I can use methodological theory to justify my decisions along my research journey, and show that they have been carefully constructed turns along the path, rather than knee jerk reactions to an unsuspected corner.