Interpreting the first 3 years of my research journey. Part 2.

In 2009 I not only completed the remainder of the research modules I had to do, I worked with the university’s web team to create a web space as the tool for gathering men’s stories. By this time the shape of my project was changing relatively dramatically. By the beginning of the new year I had dropped what had originally been a major component of my original proposal, the ‘emotional intelligence’ angle on the research. Rather than making a straight assumption that a lack of EI was directly responsible for the development of an eating disorder, I was taking a much broader view – that I was open for exploring what men themselves felt led to the development of disordered eating.

I was strongly committed to a project that would not use the previous literature as an assumption base – it would actively inform the work that was to happen once I’d collected stories. The website to do this collection was certainly taking some time to put together, CMS was easy enough to use (but still represented a steep learning curve for someone like me who had not really even thought about making websites before even though I used them work plenty enough) but making the decisions about what to include on the site, piloting and testing it, having people check it, writing participant briefings and consent forms was all difficult fitting into part-time study hours.

These were the activities, along with the remainder of the taught modules that occupied most of my time during this year, along with two other key elements. These were methodologies reading to hone the design of the research study and completing all of the information and documents to make sure that my project received ethical approval. In terms of methodology, I was trying to find a ‘version’ of men’s stories I could work with and also trying to get my head around the plethora of philosophies and epistemological positions that proliferate in social research. I looked at discursive psychology, discourse analysis, narrative enquiry, memory work, phenomenology, interpretive phenomenological analysis, well, and many more. I looked at software packages such as Nvivo and SPSS to make decisions around ‘what do I do if I need to code?’ The explorations for answers went far and wide – I read way too much – as in, I wasn’t focused enough at times, just because I was vaguely interested in things I was reading and note-taking stuff that, with hindsight did help in the rounded formation of decisions, but did not even make it anywhere near the resulting research design.

For starters, I read a load of philosophy stuff that I had found in the first year but had ultimately skirted around. Although I feel like a read too broadly, and at times only succeeded in confusing myself, it was thanks to this wide spectrum of ideas-searching that I found hermeneutics – it’s as if I was looking for what was at the root of all this mish-mash spider’s web of research. Ultimately I went back to what were, arguably, the very beginnings of scientific scholarship. I also found, near the end of the year the seed that was to grow into something which dominated the remainder of this year and into 2010: bricolage. I’ll come back to this later. I began to write my transfer paper and got myself in such a bind that ‘I didn’t know what I was talking about’. I was trying to turn myself into a methodology expert, as if I had to know everything there was to know about different qualitative ways of designing research. I spent ages just trying to fathom out what ‘research design’ meant for me, as the tutor on the methods course had simply not offered any useful explanations and some of the antiquated books that were on the reading list were not informative or current.

The ethical approval stage had been submitted by December 2009. I found it hard work – which I understand it has to be – someone has to be putting researchers through their paces to make sure that they are not doing irresponsible research or treating people poorly in the name of furthering knowledge. What I found so tricky was getting sustained time to be able to work on the documents that they required and my responses to the questions on the form. It was incredibly useful, though. For starters it gave a clear idea of what the overall key ethical elements were that all projects had to satisfy, irrespective of the nature of the project – qualitative or quantitative, beginner or big-money research funding. I found that a real eye-opener and it gave me some form and structure to all of my notes, info and thinking I’d drawn from the ethics books and articles I’d been reading.

It was so nerve-wracking sending the forms and supporting documents off – the idea that they would be returned stamped with some sort of ‘rejected’ was constantly on my mind. Most of the autumn had been given over to this and the work on my transfer paper stalled dreadfully – I just couldn’t handle having two things sent off together that might both be wrong. I had shown my ethics form to someone I trusted who pointed out numerous things to change or add to, which was good, but also difficult to do – it meant that it wasn’t ‘perfect’ and that there was a chance that someone might decide that I simply did not come up to scratch or that what I had decided to do was not sound enough. I enjoyed my Christmas but there was a constant niggle in the back of my mind that I hadn’t mulled over the ethical stuff enough, almost discounting that I had spent 2 years reading and thinking about this stuff.