Qualitative Journeys: Student and Mentor Experiences with Research

Qualitative Journeys: Student and Mentor Experiences with Research

Edited by: Victor Minichiello & Jeffrey A. Kottler Published: 2010
Methods: Focus groups
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  • Copyright
  • Preface

    This text and resource book is designed for students and professionals in the fields of social sciences, education, human services, health, and related fields. It is intended for those students who already have some rudimentary knowledge of qualitative research, and can be used in conjunction with a more traditionally structured text. This book, after all, is about the journey that researchers experience.

    The first two chapters describe the general nature of a qualitative research journey. Each subsequent chapter tells the story of a research study (both master's and doctoral level) with vivid, compelling descriptions of the struggles, joys, discoveries, surprises, and interpersonal negotiations that take place. Most critically, the parallel stories of both student and mentor reveal the innermost workings of how the qualitative research process unfolds and evolves over time, as well as how all the participants are changed personally and professionally by the experience. A section at the end of each chapter discusses the themes, challenges, and practical issues that have arisen in this particular research experience, helping the student to better appreciate and understand the major concepts highlighted and how to apply these in further qualitative research.

    The purpose of the book is to prepare readers, both novice student researchers and their experienced mentor researchers, about the complex journey and partnership they are about to undertake. The chapters portray this research journey not as a sanitized process, as is so often presented in published research articles and conference presentations, but as part of normal human activity and reflective learning processes with all of the accompanying joys, pains, and contradictions.

    Unique Features of the Book

    Rather than covering the same well-worn territory that is introduced by the dozens of other texts in the field, Qualitative Journeys tells the stories of what constitutes qualitative research, what is involved in collecting qualitative data, and how studies were conceived and conducted, as well as the studies' ongoing personal and professional impact. In addition, the following features are somewhat unique:

    • There is a focus on research from the perspective of students' experiences—that is, their innermost feelings, reflections, and intellectual growth.
    • The stories demonstrate the partnership between students and their mentors, including interactive and relational factors that take place.
    • Chapters represent diverse and rich research projects to highlight the methodological challenges associated with undertaking quality qualitative research.
    • The narratives engage the reader in a reflective learning process about qualitative research that motivates students to do their own research, not as an arduous task, but rather as an exciting journey.
    • Each story discusses research as it is lived, which is the essence of qualitative research.
    • Narratives reveal the private and often-hidden aspects of doing research, presenting the realities and struggles as well as the joys and satisfactions.
    • Chapters include editors' comments and pragmatic guidance for what works and what doesn't, with accompanying solutions.
    • The case studies demonstrate the ways that research is a social production and a collaboration, not only between the researcher and participants, but also between the researcher and student peers, mentors, and auditors.
    • This book presents a diverse range of research journeys, not only representing different qualitative methodologies and strategies (ethnography, grounded theory, narrative analysis, phenomenology, discourse analysis, feminist, mixed method, action research), but also within various professions (education, health, social sciences, gerontology, medicine, business, counseling) and cultures (Australia, Nepal, the United Kingdom, and the United States).
    • We take a student-centered approach, honoring and valuing the contributions that students make to the development of their professions. The student is always the senior author. This book is, in fact, a celebration of student achievement. By student-centered we are referring also to direct dialogue with the reader using engaging prose, reality-based examples, and practical applications.

    By drawing on a wide range of different types of qualitative research designs, data collection, context, and analysis, the book provides reflective commentary about how qualitative research can be conducted in a rigorous and dynamic way. The partnership between the students, their mentors, and the editors also reinforces that research is a shared collective process and involves academic engagement with other scholars as part of the learning process.

    Structure of the Book

    The first two chapters briefly (re)introduce the qualitative research process, reviewing the nature of this exciting method of exploration and investigation. The main features of this approach are described and highlighted. The reader is taken systematically through the component steps in the process, including (1) accessing passion for discovery, (2) learning and planning the methodology, (3) resolving predictable problems and challenges, (4) collecting data, (5) making meaning from the data, and (6) doing qualitative research by means of the relational process. The emphasis is on the skills required to do qualitative research and the human nature of the fieldwork process.

    Chapter 2, in particular, describes the language and logic of qualitative research. This includes explaining in a concise manner the conceptual and philosophical foundation of qualitative research, the key methodological features of qualitative data, and how such data are collected, organized, and analyzed as a data set. We also emphasize the distinctly relational features of the establishment of rapport and trust with informants that are so fundamental to doing good qualitative research. The discussion also will address briefly the pragmatics of different data analysis options. This will provide a context for the selected cases that will be presented in the next part of the book, highlighting key aspects related to learning and doing qualitative research.

    The next series of chapters (3–16) tell the stories of diverse and fascinating research journeys. In each case, a research student and the mentor write about the processes and discoveries that took place during their investigations. The mentor's comments appear in italics following the student's narrative. You will note that because the contributors represent so many different disciplines and nationalities their language varies a bit. For instance, when describing the faculty member who acts as the guide during the journey, you will see various labels such as supervisor, mentor, committee chair, staff member, faculty member, lecturer, and professor. Likewise, although the academic systems are somewhat different in the American versus European or British traditions, the principles highlighted are universal.

    These chapters hone in on particular aspects of the qualitative research process and the relationship aspects of doing qualitative research as the focus of gaining entry into the worldviews of people. How is this accomplished? When does it work? When and how does it fail? What are the personal tales of such experiences? What can we learn from such fieldwork stories? The stories have commentaries on how qualitative research and data collection and analysis manifest themselves in real projects, how fieldwork challenges are addressed, as well as highlighting the intrinsically developmental process of qualitative research.

    Each chapter presents a case with different features and representing diverse fields in the social sciences, health, and education, highlighting some aspect of qualitative research and qualitative research design. There are particular emphases on getting into the mind of the informant and how this is accomplished; the reason for selecting a particular data collection tool and how this was derived; ethical challenges that arise from the doing of qualitative research, some of which were predicted, others that were not; how themes in the data were identified; how grounded theory or a narrative approach is learned and used; and how to use qualitative computer software and using it effectively in the research process.

    The chapters contain interwoven narratives alternating between the student and mentor, talking about the journey itself, the mutual learning process, the pitfalls and successes, and the ongoing effects and influence from the outcome. As noted above, in each chapter, the mentor's voice is in italics. The stories are constructed and written in engaging prose. Throughout the stories, you'll find ‘Editors' Comments,’ highlighting major concepts, bringing attention to important lessons, and describing particular methodological features that you may wish to consider in your own efforts.

    Chapter 17 looks at the lessons learned and main themes derived from all the qualitative journeys. In a sense, this book itself is a qualitative study in which the data collected are the narratives of each research journey. This last chapter presents a synthesis and analysis of what was gleaned from these narratives, highlighting the lessons learned for conducting research. It draws on the rich material presented in the previous section to highlight how qualitative research can be conducted in a methodologically sound and rigorous manner and guided by the principles of qualitative methodology. The editors draw on the learning experiences of the students and mentors to show how the pragmatics of doing qualitative research can be better conceptualized, understood, and put into practice as they embark on their own qualitative research journey.


    We are primarily appreciative to our students who inspired this project through their passion and excitement for their research journeys. We wish to thank David Plummer, who worked with us for many years and provided important insights into the qualitative learning process. Leigh Kelly, Sue Whale, and Robyn Rogers provided outstanding administrative support. Finally we are grateful to our Sage editing team, including Kassie Graves, Veronica Novak, Karen Wiley, Alison Hope, and Andrea Martin, who were so supportive throughout this journey.

    We are especially appreciative of the courage and honesty of our contributors, who have been willing to talk so openly about their struggles and challenges.

    VictorMinichiello, Armidale, AustraliaJeffrey A.Kottler, Fullerton, California
  • About the Editors

    Victor Minichiello is professor of health in the School of Health and dean of the Faculty of the Professions at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia. Victor is a sociologist, gerontologist, and public health researcher. He is the author of ten books in the field of aging, sexual health, and research methods. In addition, he has published more than one hundred research articles in medical, health, and social science journals. He has successfully supervised more than fifty doctoral and master's research students across diverse nations including Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and the United States. His most recent textbooks include Contemporary Issues in Gerontology: Promoting Positive Ageing (Routledge/Allen & Unwin) and Handbook of Research Methods for Nursing and Health Science (Prentice Hall/Addison Wesley).

    Jeffrey A. Kottler is professor in the Counseling Department at California State University, Fullerton, and a doctoral program supervisor at the University of New England, Australia. He is the author of more than seventy books in the fields of counseling, education, and social science, many of which employ qualitative research methodologies. Most recently, he has completed a series of five books that involved interviewing prominent theoreticians in counseling and therapy about their most memorable counseling sessions. Some of his best-known books include On Being a Therapist, On Being a Teacher, Making Changes Last, and Bad Therapy. Jeffrey is also cofounder of the Madhav Ghimire Foundation, which supports the education of at-risk and neglected children in Nepal.

  • About the Contributors

    Comstock, Dana L., PhD, is a professor and chair of the Department of Counseling and Human Services at St. Mary's University, San Antonio, Texas. She also has a part-time private practice specializing in women's issues, including pre- and perinatal loss and trauma. She is the editor of Diversity in Development: Critical Contexts That Shape Our Lives and Relationships (Wadsworth/Brooks-Cole, 2005). Among her many publications are chapters in How Connections Heal (Guilford Press) and The Complete Guide to Mental Health for Women (Beacon Press).

    Couch, Danielle, MPH, is a consultant with an Internet health services company, Health 1st, where she works with clients on the delivery and evaluation of online health services and programs. She is also assisting with two research projects with the School of Public Health at La Trobe University that are investigating dating practices. Her professional and research interests include health promotion, online service delivery, and online research methods.

    Davidson, Patricia, PhD, is professor of cardiology and chronic care at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Curtin University of Technology, and director of the Centre for Cardiovascular and Chronic Care in Sydney, Australia. Her clinical and research interests include management of chronic disease (particularly heart disease), models of care, and palliative care in nonmalignant conditions. She is currently working on a number of national projects, including an investigation of the use of oxygen in end-stage heart failure, palliative care in heart failure, women's health and chronic disease, transitional models of palliative care, strategies to promote self-management, and the development of the nursing role in primary care.

    Donovan, Raymond, PhD, is adjunct senior research fellow at the National Centre in HIV Social Research, University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. His research interests include the culture of public hygiene, design history and theory, gender studies, government of conduct, sociology of public moralities, representations of contagion, and visual sociology. He is a member of the Australian Socio-Graphic AIDS Project (AGAP); the Southeast Asian Socio-Graphic AIDS Project (SEAGAP); the Design History of HIV/AIDS Public Health Campaigns (DHAP); and the Documentary Chronology of HIV/AIDS Project (DCHAP).

    Edwards, Helen, PhD, is a lecturer at the School of Education at the University of New England, Australia. She is an adult and early childhood educator and occupational therapist with research interests in indigenous education and disabilities. She is currently working on a number of projects investigating the sharing of knowledge between indigenous nations and the impact of aging on people with disabilities and their families.

    Gilchrist, Heidi, PhD, is a lecturer at the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney. She is a physical therapist and public health professional with particular research interests in women's health and physical activity and leisure. She currently teaches public health in the medical program at the University of Sydney.

    Grbich Carol, PhD, is a professor at the School of Medicine at Flinders University. Her research interests lie in qualitative health research and she is currently evaluating the delivery of palliative care services and the legal aspects of dementia. She has written several books: Qualitative Research in Health: An Introduction (Allen and Unwin/Sage), Health in Australia: Sociological Concepts and Issues (Prentice Hall/Pearson), New Approaches in Social Research (Sage), and Qualitative Data Analysis (Sage). She is the Editor in Chief of the International Journal of Multiple Research Approaches. She has supervised doctoral students since 1992, most of whom have become senior academics or senior executives in the health field.

    Hays, Terrence, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the School of Education at the University of New England, Australia. He is a music educator and performer. His research interests include psychosocial aspects of music in people's lives and music performance. He is the Artistic Director of the Australian National Seniors' Choral Festival and Australasian Piano Summer School. He has recently cowritten In-depth Interviewing (Longman/Prentice Hall).

    Hu, Wendy, PhD, is senior lecturer in Medical Education at the Western Clinical School, University of Sydney. Wendy is a family physician and medical educator with research interests in health-care communication and the interplay of values and uncertainty in clinical decision making. She has published in peer-reviewed medical journals, including British Medical Journal and Health Expectations. Currently she is researching mentoring, workplace-based learning, and other modes of informal learning for medical students.

    Leary, David, PhD, is an adjunct senior lecturer at the School of Health at the University of New England, Australia. He is also the director and senior counselor of the Come In Youth Resource Center, a counseling service located in Sydney. He lectures in a number of counseling programs and provides clinical consultation and supervision in government and nongovernmental agencies. He has also published works on youth suicide, HIV, confidentiality and ethics, male sex work, and adolescent counseling.

    Liamputtong, Pranee, PhD, is a professor at the School of Public Health, La Trobe University, Australia. Pranee has a particular interest in issues related to cultural and social influences on childbearing, childrearing, and women's reproductive and sexual health. She has published many papers and books in these areas. Pranee has also published several books on research methods, including Health Research in Cyberspace: Methodological, Practical and Personal Issues (Nova Science Publishers, New York) and Researching the Vulnerable: A Guide to Sensitive Research Methods (Sage).

    Lunn, Suzanne, ProfD, is policy and research officer for Independent Schools Queensland (ISQ), Australia. Her work involves reviewing a range of national and state education initiatives in the light of their implications for ISQ and its member schools. A primary focus of her research is the growing quality imperative of integrating information and communication technology within the educational process, and identifying ways in which ISQ can best support its schools to meet the challenges required of twenty-first-century schooling.

    Malin, Connie L., PhD, began her educational career as a special education teacher in a general education elementary classroom. She also worked as a preschool director in New York where she ran family literacy programs to assist parents in learning to develop and maintain active literacy skills with their young children. She went to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, for her PhD in special education. All of that brought her to cofound Innovations International Charter School of Nevada and to serve as its chief educational officer, where she uses her qualitative skills on a daily basis.

    Maple, Myfanwy, PhD, is a lecturer at the School of Health at the University of New England, Australia. She is a social worker and lectures in mental health and counselor ethics. Her research interests are in the areas of suicide, traumatic grief, bereavement experiences in families, and mental health and well-being. She is currently working on a number of narrative inquiry projects in these research areas.

    McCann, Pol Dominic, PhD, works as a research associate at The National Centre in HIV Social Research at the University of New South Wales, Australia. His fields of interest are gender, sexuality, and blood-borne viruses. He has published his research in refereed journals on the role of homophobia on shaping the gender presentation of men in the West, and is currently researching the injecting drug-using community in Sydney.

    Phillips, Jane, PhD, is program manager of quality and professional development at Cancer Australia in Canberra, Australia. She is a registered nurse with research interests in palliative care, chronic disease, health services reform, and health promotion. She has published a number of articles and book chapters related to her doctoral work, and is working on a national project investigating the role of oxygen for people with end-stage heart failure.

    Putney, LeAnn G., PhD, is an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, with an early career background in secondary education. Her research focuses on long-term, in-depth ethnographic investigations into individual and collective learning and development in elementary and secondary classrooms. LeAnn's publication record includes refereed research journal articles, book chapters, and a coauthored book, A Vision of Vygotsky. LeAnn cofounded Innovations International Charter School of Nevada and brings to the school her expertise on ethnographic research and her work with classroom teachers on constructing academically successful and socially responsible classroom and school communities.

    Regmi, Kiran, PhD, MD, MPH, is chair of the obstetrics/gynecology department of Bharatpur Hospital and one of the few physicians working in the remote villages of Nepal. She is on the faculty of the College of Medical Science and reproductive health advisor for Family Planning of Nepal. Kiran is cofounder of the Madhav Ghimire Foundation, which provides educational scholarships for at-risk and neglected children in Nepal.

    Reicherzer, Stacee, PhD, is faculty staff with the Master of Science in Mental Health program at Walden University. A passionate social change agent, Stacee has written extensively about the complexities of transgender lives, including gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender identity development; transgender experiences; and the cultural bias in the diagnosis of gender identity.

    Scott, John, PhD, is a senior lecturer at the School of Cognitive, Behavioural, and Social Science at the University of New England, Australia. He is currently working on two projects associated with sex work and masculinity and violence. His most recent books are Crime in Rural Australia (Federation Press), How Modern Governments Made Prostitution a Social Problem: Creating a Responsible Prostitute Population (Mellen Press), and Perspectives in Human Sexuality (Oxford University Press).

    Sheridan, Alison, PhD, is a professor in the School of Business, Economics, and Public Policy at the University of New England, Australia. She has published widely on women's experiences in paid work. Her most recent work focuses on gender and governance.

    Smith, Larry, PhD, is a professor at the School of Business, Economics, and Public Policy at the University of New England, Australia. His particular areas of interest and research are business management and leadership and work-based learning. Recently, he was a member of an international team that undertook a World Bank–funded review of the higher education system in Vietnam. He is editor of the International Journal of Business Policy. His most recent publications have been the Australian Government Research Report to the OECD on informal learning pathways, and Approaches for Sustaining and Building Management and Leadership (Adelaide: NCVER).

    Smith-Ruig, Theresa, PhD, lectures at the School of Business, Economics, and Public Policy at the University of New England, Australia. She teaches human relations and management at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. Theresa's research interests are in the areas of career development and diversity management. She has numerous conference papers and journal publications in these fields.

    Sullivan, Gerard, PhD, is an associate professor at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Sydney. Gerard has also held positions in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at the University of Sydney, where Heidi Gilchrist completed her PhD research. Gerard is a sociologist with research interests in minorities' access to health, education, and public services. He has published extensively in the field of gay and lesbian studies.