Weaving a PhD via #PhDchat

My life revolves around my doctoral studies at this point (at least outside of my full-time job, of course!), as I am busily working on my doctoral thesis proposal that is due at the end of the month. While I have heard it said, and even experienced it at times, that there are few things as lonely and isolating as doing a PhD, I think that having a community of practice (here’s to you, Etienne!) for support and with which to share and grow and weave thoughts, is worth its weight in qualitative methods texts.

With this said, I find that the #PhDchat that exists on Twitter is fantastic in its communal support of struggling doctoral students, sharing of resources, answering of questions, and suggesting of apps and software. With this said, just knowing that there are others out there who are reading along while facing their own struggles and liminal experiences is beneficial–I am not working alone in a vacuum but weaving my experiences with others along shared, but different, paths.

Some of my colleagues in this synchronous chat that exists in an ongoing asynchronous manner as well have started to discuss ways of studying, or at least beginning to explore this experience. Martin Eve @martin_eve discussed the early history of the #phdchat experience in his fine post On #PhDchat: Call for Collaboration/History, Overview, Themes and Response, and Andy Coverdale @AndyCoverdale talked about considerations related to ways of understanding Twitter networks, among other things, in On #phdchat – some initial thoughts. I have previously spoken about this experience in my earlier post PhD Chat as #phdchat and Liz Thackray @lizith with her Networking post soon thereafter. While this post here is partly in response to calls for people to discuss their experiences here (such as from part of an exchange I had with Jennifer Jones @jennifermjones) among others, I am going to take a slightly different perspective on this experience.

For those who know me, it may not come as a surprise that I am not terribly interested in understanding how the #phdchat network works, who responds to whom, who retweets what and when they do it. Yes, they are all valuable questions and may very well lead to some interesting research (anybody thinking about Internet Research 12 or 2012’s Networked Learning Conference that was just announced in this regard, please let me know!), though the questions I tend to ask are more around the area of meaning and how this experience helps to form identity:

  • How does your experience of participating in #phdchat help or hinder your doctoral studies?
  • What is your experience of community in #phdchat?
  • What have you learned through active or passive involvement in #phdchat?

Ahh, so many interesting ideas come about when we involve ourselves in something really engaging. I wonder how my (current or future) colleagues involved in this see themselves as part of something larger than themselves? How do you weave your PhD?

My Doctoral Research to Date

As I am focused on writing down the fundamental elements for my doctoral thesis proposal, I thought it may be helpful to summarize the five separate pieces of research I have done during the content portion of my studies at Lancaster University.   

So, here is a summary of the past 2 years of my research:

Paper Title



1. Educational Explorations of Autoethnographic Inquiry: A Case Study There is limited research around why autoethnographers engage in this method, especially in the context of trying to better understand their goals and intentions for their own work, as well as what is hoped for within the audience. This exploratory case study research will explore the researcher’s learning goals for his or her readers, as well as how the researcher’s own learning develops through the process of conducting the autoethnographic research. Case Study

Partipants were globally located, and were identified through a variety of means; they were not previously linked.

2. Autoethnographer Communities of Practice Using Wenger’s Community of Practice theoretical framework, 3 researchers are interviewed about their levels of doctoral support, and in the spirit of their telling their own stories, narrative inquiry is used to share and analyze their perspectives. Narrative Inquiry

Partipants were globally located, and were identified through a variety of means; they were not previously linked.

3. Public Transformations: Adult Learners Who Use Social Media to Express and Understand Their Identities as Developing Researchers It is a relatively new phenomenon for learners to publically and transparently engage in their research while also exploring how their identities develop. The purpose of this exploratory ethnographic study is to understand the experiences of adult learners who use social media to express and understand their identities as developing researchers. Exploratory ethnography

Partipants were globally located, and were identified through a variety of means; they were not previously linked.

4. Faculty Support: Doctoral Students, Threshold Concepts, and Technology Enhanced Learning Acknowledging the reality of threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge within disciplines, this study is intended to explore and potentially inform academic inquiry for those who seek to improve higher education learning-design by supporting learners who experience shifts in conceiving concepts that were previously uncomplicated. This grounded theory study seeks to better understand the experiences of faculty members who work with doctoral students via distance or technology-enhanced learning who have identified threshold concepts (or trouble spots, breakthrough areas, or defining moments of epistemological or ontological shift that may be pivotal in one’s identity development) for their students and who have found success with helping these learners through this troublesome knowledge. Findings reveal that threshold concepts in doctoral education are more academic-process related, rather than disciplinary content oriented. Grounded theory

Partipants were globally located, and were identified through a variety of means; they were not previously linked.

5. Diversity and Aha Moments in Doctoral Student Identity Development This research seeks to explore the connections between four content areas of study that have engaged much of my doctoral work thus far—threshold concepts, transformational learning, identity development, and technology enhanced learning. While these are often considered separately from one another, I have experienced connections between them that I want to explore more fully, with an eye toward my upcoming thesis proposal. Knowing enough about them that they can each be studied independently or as integrated into the study of other phenomena, I will bound them into another area that has captivated my curiosity, doctoral study itself—namely the developing researcher, or more specifically doctoral identity formation or the formation of a research-laden identity. Literature Review

What a useful exercise; I already see some juicy areas for further research . . .

Musing on Grounded Theory

As I am nearing the point where I need to submit my doctoral thesis research proposal idea by the end of the month, and then the first draft of the proposal itself by the end of February, I am starting to narrow down my seemingly endless options and consider what will hold my interest for the next two years, as well as what will have enough (workable) depth to allow me to leverage the results of this process in an academic context.

While considering this on my own, I am quite happy that Jane, one of my colleagues at Lancaster University and through the Twitter group #phdchat, is a few steps ahead of me on the path and is doing her own thinking about what appears to be our shared methodology of choice, grounded theory. Her most excellent recent post, Remodelling Grounded Theory – some quotes and the odd note, has me thinking again about some of the reasons why grounded theory started and continues to attract me.

I remember when I first encountered grounded theory through the work of Glaser, it seemed a little rigid and, dare I say it, almost quantitatively qualitative. I had the sense that he wanted his perspective of grounded theory to be objective, as if qualitative research can (or should) be objective, in any way. What does it mean to be objective when we are trying to understand meaning-making, much less so if we are intentionally trying to problematize it (which I mused on regarding transcription itself)?

With a little more learning and more experiences since then, though not necessarily more wisdom, I can now try to articulate a bit about what in Glaser’s work, especially in his essay Remodeling Grounded Theory, does not feel right with my perspective in this research. It seems Glaser works from a different paradigm than I do, and that is how I perceive a certain rigidity he seems to have with how grounded theory is used or understood. I can’t help but think that Glaser approaches grounded theory from a post-positivist perspective, where he seems to make meaning and derive theory about something by finding out what is already in the pattern of the experiences, as if it were objectively sitting there already awaiting his discovery, rather than he as researcher bringing the meaning to the phenomena.

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While I am not clear what Glaser means in his reproach to the concept of “Qualitative Data Analysis,” though I think it has something to do with Denzin’s shift (thanks again to one of Jane’s links) that is well-articulated in the work of Kathy Charmaz where the researcher is clearly a part of the grounded theory research process, with all that it entails.

I again agree with Jane, “More thoughts and deliberations to follow“!

PhD Chat as #phdchat

I often find it easier to study the experience and process of doctoral studies (from both student and faculty perspectives) than to speak with people about my own doctoral work. One reason for this is that I often feel I am working alone, without a community of people who are doing similar or related work.

With this background shared, I am thrilled with the recent synchronous (on Wednesdays at 2:30 EST / 7:30 GMT) and ongoing asynchronous (it is Twitter, after all) phd-related chats using the tag #phdchat that have recently started to attract more attention. Do I hear interdisciplinary community of practice, anyone?

Support. Sharing. Ideas. Potential collaboration. New applications. Calls for papers. Conferences. Community. I suppose many people may be involved in this loose collaboration for many reasons (thank you @NSRiazat for getting this started), though I now feel I have more colleagues (and know more about some of these colleagues who I knew before) as a result of this experience. No, I have no idea where it will lead, how it will develop, and who else may or may not become involved for whatever period of time. This is somehow fitting that while so much of my research is from a distance, my community should be like that as well.

Nice to know that I am not alone on this road and others on this path are only a Tweet away.