A Reflection of My Qualitative Journey

Sounds cliché, but it’s hard to believe that the semester is already over. Literally, where did the time go?

Over the last year, and really over the last semester, I’ve realized the importance of reflection. I was never the journaling or writing type, never really sat down and thought about things. I was always go, go, go. If I learned anything about qualitative research this semester, it’s you HAVE to reflect. Not only do you have to reflect, you really should be reflecting throughout the process. This proved to be harder than expected for me.

I’m not an experienced “reflecting type of person.” If I did happen to reflect on a topic or project I’m working on, it was usually towards the end. It was usually in terms of what went well? What were some of the challenges? What would I do differently next time? I approached it in terms of the basics and only at the end of the project. I learned this semester that I should not only be reflecting throughout the entire process, but it also doesn’t have to be a long extravagant reflection. Jotting down notes here and there and “memoing” about different aspects (e.g., content, processes, perspectives, etc.) is completely acceptable. This shift in seeing reflection as a long, time-consuming process to a smaller more manageable task has proven to be beneficial to me. I’m still not an expert in reflecting but have made huge improvements, and I’m more intentional, from when I first started.

This qualitative research class honestly surprised me in many ways. The following are five of the major realizations I had this semester as a novice qualitative researcher:

  • I never thought that qualitative research was all that useful (due to my previous experiences). I didn’t understand how interviews, or other data collection tools, could help me in understanding a new phenomenon. Well I was very wrong here. Qualitative research is a different research design and therefore fundamentally different than quantitative research. I was always comparing the two, when I’m not sure that’s not the appropriate way to approach research designs.
  • I didn’t know qualitative research was collaborative. I always thought that it was a single researcher or two collecting a lot of interviews and working independently. I didn’t realize the importance of dialogic engagement with peers, researchers, and others. This practice can really affect quality and bring new insights to the research project.
  • I thought qualitative researchers only used interviews or filed notes to collect their data. Believe it or not, there are many more ways to collect data! Each approach has their benefits and challenges depending on the context.
  • I was clueless when it came to data analysis in qualitative research (still kind of am – see below for more details). I knew there were codes and themes but did not know anything besides the terms. I didn’t know the process to get the codes let alone what it meant. I learned that I have to conduct multiple readings of the data; engage in coding, connecting strategies, and dialogic engagement; generate themes; engage in validity strategies; look for alternative explanations; and participate in more dialogic engagement – and that is just the general/basic process.
  • There is a lot of writing! I honestly thought that writing takes place at the end of the study in the form of a proposal or manuscript. In reality, writing should be occurring throughout the entire research process as a way to make sense of and systematically interpret (analyze) data. This could include writing memos, journaling, reflections, codes, etc. I have found the more I write and reflect, the easier the process is becoming (still fairly challenging).

One area that I still need practice with is data collection. I have a better understanding of what the terms mean and general process, but I’m still hesitant about the data collection and analysis process. Regarding the data collection, I’m still learning about the many different methods and which are appropriate ways to gather data. For example, I did not know that you can collect data using documents. Also, when is it more appropriate to use individual interviews verses focus-groups? Do certain research questions lend themselves to certain data collection methods? These are just a few of the many questions I am working with.

Data analysis is by far my weakest area. I feel this is due to the lack of practice. I still do not feel confident in my abilities to pull out emerging codes and themes from the data. One of my concerns is that with my lack of experience, when summarizing and grouping the data, it will lose meaning. I’m afraid that the participant’s voice will be lost because of the process I used to analyze the data. Another thing I have learned is that the participant’s voice is very important.

Overall, I feel this class has been very beneficial to me as a researcher. I have learned so much and can’t wait for the advanced qualitative course.

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