My PhD project has evolved into a very qualitative methodology and approach. As my training and background is very positivist and focused on outcomes, I am really struggling with this shift into a more conceptual endeavour. Initially my PhD was going to involve complex surveys and some interesting statistical approaches (Selecting the Theory Underpinning the Research Project). However, as the literature review progressed, the many assumptions that the field explored earlier seems to to be poorly founded and I find myself keen to challenge and develop a new synthesis of the issues.

It seems clear that that what is required is a more open ended, interdisciplinary approach. Grounded theory, a methodology that aims to analyse data to develop theories seems like a great fit. Grounded theory draws on all sorts of data sources to explain complex experiences and phenomenon which seeems to be what is required in my field. Although I understand the intention of constructivist grounded theory on the whole, I have now lost a lot of faith in my project and have come to a standstill for weeks now.

I am really struggling to believe that my research will help draw clarity that I was hoping to find. Also, I am worried that once I start my research, the interviews and data that I collect will only consolidate stereotypes and biases that I found in the literature review. I will become another researcher that will only contribute further to the ongoing difficulties in the vulnerable group that I am researching. My supervisors have been encouraging, they supervised grounded theory projects before. Grounded theory and intercultural facebook groups have also been encouraging and argued that my experience is common. I feel that I just need to somehow snap out of my reverie and self-indulgence. I would appreciate some advice and perspective on how to get perspective and to get back into a more motivated state.

How should I deal with discouragement as a graduate student?

Student supervision when student loses motivation to work

Are there any ways to improve perspective taking and motivation in doing qualitative PhD research, rather than quantitative research which seems to be the main discussion in this stackexchange?

  • 3
    What is your question? – astronat Apr 11 at 14:54
  • Ways to snap out of it and to get motivated and get started again. – Poidah Apr 11 at 17:59

Let me try to make two points, one about you and the other about Grounded Theory. First, though, I don't know you and so am extrapolating and I'm not involved with grounded theory other than having evaluated a thesis and a tenure decision.

About you: Many students reach a point in their research at which they start to doubt the value of it. This happens in many fields. But one of the reasons for the doubt is that the student begins to know and understand the theory and so it starts to seem somewhat simple and maybe inconsequential. But that is a sign of growing expertise. What seemed hard at the beginning, now seems less hard and maybe more obvious, so, what's the point. This is the sort of thing you just need to power through, hopefully with the help of advisors. If the advisors are good enough, and actually involved in grounded theory, rather than just external observers of students, then you should be able to trust their advice.

About Grounded Theory: I'd never heard the term until I was asked to serve on the tenure committee of a new faculty member. I reviewed her work and was astounded at the depth of understanding she brought. I became one of her chief advocates through her attaining a Full Professorship. Why?

I was trained in mathematics and later switched to computer science. They are similar to each other in some ways. I've written here in response to other questions about what is required to be a mathematician. It isn't just deep knowledge of mathematics, but requires insight into how a field of study works. It is one thing to be able to follow or reproduce the proof of a known theorem, but it is a completely different level task to be able to propose what might be true with enough confidence that it is worth spending time and effort evaluating the truth. It is easy to make random statements in math and easy to extend things trivially, but much harder to even conceptualize something over the horizon.

But it is just this sort of thing that grounded theory attempts to do. It is very difficult. But, when done well, it will come up with questions worth studying. Integrating the various threads of thought what are unfocused and incomplete into something that can be rigorously studied is a big deal. The world is a messy place. Grounded theory attempts to make some sense of it.

But, and you have pointed it out in the question, it has to be done carefully and rigorously so that you don't just put a stamp of "science" on shoddy thoughts and preconceptions. It is very difficult to look into messy data, even contradictory data, and discern the inner workings. Even to discern what might be the inner workings is very hard. You need to rigorously question every assumption as those may lead to error. But you already know this, and, I suspect, that since you recognize it, are well placed to follow through on the required rigor.

You've chosen a hard path, actually. I wish you well along the way.

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  • Thank you Buffy, I really appreciate your kind words and encouragement. Pre-coronavirus, my motivation and enthusiasm was quite broad and I felt far able to handle all the various outcomes of a grounded theory project. Now, the apocalyptic intensity of it all eclipses my project, making it hard to focus and question it all. Really appreciate your thoughts and hope to be kinder to myself. – Poidah Apr 14 at 7:08

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