Preparing Qualitative Researchers at the Doctoral Level

For today’s qualitative researchers, nothing is more important than reconstructing the pathways we provide to expertise. It is critical we reshape the ways one becomes this thing—a qualitative researcher–with the new assumptions we have developed about what it is, how to practice it, and how to insure it brings good value to society.

Much has changed in the years since qualitative research officially came onto the academic scene, but our preparation does not reflect these new perspectives. Here are my ideas about what must be done (in no particular order):

  • Integrate digital tools throughout the students’ experience—in a digital world all components of research will benefit…faculty and students need to adapt to technology fluidly. Create a mind set to support a digital tool kit perspective.
  • Provide students with opportunities to learn to conduct research as it is conducted in the real world—as team-based and interdisciplinary. Don’t drop this stance in the dissertation phase. How can all parts of the program develop collaborative skills?
  • Include students in all levels of program planning and community organization. Doctoral students need to learn what program is and how to build it, and as faculty we need to continually mentor them in these perspectives. Where ever they go next they will need to contribute to program, not just their own agenda.
  • Spend significant time with them reading and writing,—Integrate different forms of writing/expression into their/your experience. TEACH writing, break it down, explain it, create worksheets and templates if needed. Honor scholarly logic but bring academic writing into the current century.
  • Spend significant time with graduate students on oral communication. Show them how people at the next stage talk through a methodological argument and present it in a professional setting.
  • Deal with feelings (particularly if you want to diversify the student body!). Don’t be afraid of anger or frustration—they go along with learning hard things. Affirm students, help them to find ways out of the quandary they find themselves in.
  • Help students come to grips with the role of “the literature” in a digital era where there is massive amounts of stuff to sift through. Elevate literature to data and demonstrate the dynamic ways that literature (extant data) plays in developing thinking through an idea.
  • Introduce students to the conundrums qualitative research currently faces—what are the struggles and arguments? How are they historically situated? Why do qualitative researchers care? What are the implications?
  • Introduce your students—to people in the department, to people on campus, to people in the field. Introductions and invitations are key to mentorship. Expand their world and help them to develop independence, not dependence.
  • The dissertation as currently conceived is an anachronism. In today’s world we work with projects (write grants) Approach the dissertation like a project, not a dissertation—in fact, get rid of that word. As a project, sit down and work out roles, % of commitment. Consider, what are the important products that this project can create? What media is appropriate for expressing the knowledge? What knowledge objects will be created?
  • Insure that the data and products from these major projects conducted by students have an archiving plan and the materials are appropriately and professionally archived so they can continue to give value beyond the student experience—on many, not just one narrative level.
  • Recognize that the working world available to students is much bigger than just academia, assist them to develop career paths that allow them to develop their talents to the best of their abilities, wherever that is.
  • As the leaders of educational programs it behooves us to figure out how best to maximize resources, increase positive achievement and positive results, and meet key goals. This may mean learning to organize in new or different ways, investigating options, or changing long held traditions (whether they belong to this organization or another). Our world is rapidly changing and we face increasing challenges in this area—but we’re it. We have to lead, not look around in astonishment waiting for help to arrive.
  • As qualitative researchers can we say what we feel our students should know and be able to do? Do we know if we are hitting that mark? Have we educated our academic significant others to understand what we value and why?


Thoughts on the Stages of Doctoral Life:

Induction: Deciding to come, applying, entering the program

Initiation: Beginning Stages, Confronting the Academic World, Creating an initial identity, identifying key areas of interest, understanding how they are understood in this new world.

Intermediate: Confirming one’s identity, exploring key areas of interest, consolidating old and new knowledge

Demonstrating Independence: Expanding and Experimenting

Transitioning into professional work roles.

Each of these stages have special challenges for qualitative researchers—

In summary, we need to treat doctoral students as valued colleagues-in-process not cheap teaching and research labor. Student numbers are decreasing. Cherish what you have and bring out the best in each individual. They reflect your cherishing…they are not there to reflect you to the world. Pay attention to the professional and the personal; meet often, debrief, and be available to support integration to this new world.

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