(11) Writing and Research Design

The question is what is the question.

Should I conduct semi-structured interviews? Do we need an experiment? Would a mixed-methods approach be more appropriate than a (mainly) qualitative or quantitative approach? How to analyze the data once obtained? These and other questions come to mind when thinking about a new study, and the answer to each of these questions boils down to the purpose or core question of the study.

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Whether it comes to interviews, experiments, mixed-methods approaches, or other issues, there is no point of doing something if there is no question that calls for it. Doing interviews for the sake of doing interviews – or because we have been doing so for years – is unlikely to serve your purpose if your main question calls for an experiment. Likewise, experiments can provide a means for questions concerning causal relations between particular variables of interest and may have little added value if there is no such question to begin with.

Some may argue that in for instance a social science context, a mixed-methods approach is always better than a (mainly) qualitative or quantitative approach. However, mixed-methods research only makes sense when an integration of quantitative and qualitative findings responds to a research question or set of research questions in such a way that it tells more than two separated (one quantitative, one qualitative) studies, or: 1 + 1 = 3.

Whichever method, design or combinations thereof you are considering, there is a metaphorical bridge between question (purpose), data collection, and analysis; it is good to keep that bridge in mind throughout the entire journey from core question to reporting the study in an article.

by Jimmie Leppink

To read more, see here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/focus-purpose-all-rest-extraneous-jimmie-leppink

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Q&A

PhD I. asks: “I don’t know what to do after my PhD which ends 1 year from now. I would like to stay in academia pr research institutes that do high quality research, but there are no so many offers out there. Please advice”

Jimmie answers:  “This is a question I receive quite frequently, as it is a question that many PhD candidates at this stage deal with (it was certainly a question on my mind back then). Given that a change you may have in mind will probably take some time (application, paperwork, move, etc.), it is good that you are having this question now, about one year before the finish of your PhD project. If you know you would like to continue doing research at an academic institute, the next question is what institutes attract you and why. Three things to consider in this why question: (1) Topics; (2) Culture; (3) Geography.

(1) Topics. In many cases, specific institutes come to mind because they are working on topics that are of interest to the PhD candidate. Read more about the topics of research that the institutes you wish to consider are known for. What defines each of these institutes topic-wise and how does that align with your own interests and, to some extent, with your current activities?

(2) Culture. I have learned that writing style (articles) and presentation style (conferences) can tell quite a bit about the culture and mindset of people from a particular institute. Moreover, formal collaboration with other institutes as in joint authorship on articles and presentations can serve as an indicator of the extent to which an institute under consideration is open to collaboration and idea exchange with other places.

(3) Geography. If you have a partner and/or (young) kids, you or your loved one(s) may be less willing to move. It is then very important to discuss this factor in an early stage and see what the outcome of that discussion means for your options. Even if you are currently not in a relationship and have no kids, it is recommendable to reflect on this factor early on. If an institute that interests you is in a different country, are you willing to make the move, and if so, what investments – emotional, financial, other – are you willing to make for that move to happen?

Once you have reflected on these factors, it is important to start making connections with one or two of the institutes you still have in mind. Is there some project or perhaps article you can work on with some people from that institute? Is there a conference where you may meet some of the (key) people from that institute? Do your supervisors have connections with that institute? Especially if continuing in your current institute – for instance due to funding issues – is not an option, your supervisors may actually be willing to help you connect with people in the institute you have in mind.

There is a lot more to say about this question, but the issues I have addressed here can be of help in your stage – one year before the end of the PhD – as well as in subsequent stages of your career.”

 

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