Personal attachment to research

Yesterday I had a meeting with my supervisor to discuss the assignments I’m going to run as part of the first objective of my PhD. Together with a systematic review and a survey, I was interested in using student and staff participation in a social network to derive additional data that would help me form a baseline understanding of their attitudes and skills around teaching and learning practice, as well as establish the level of digital and information literacy within the department.

After joining the SAFRI programme, I incorporated the social network idea into my SAFRI project, but unconsciously ended up with a different agenda. Instead of using the network to highlight potential problem areas and the challenges of teaching with technology, it morphed into me trying to demonstrate the effectiveness of using a social network to facilitate reflective practice. In hindsight, it’s clear that the 2 projects were at odds with one another, and the objectives were definitely not aligned.

When my supervisor pointed out that there was inconsistency in the 2 projects I really struggled to accept it. I was adamant that my methods were fine and she suggested that I hand over facilitation of the assignments within the network to other staff who didn’t have such a high personal stake in the success of the project, and I strongly disagreed. I found several reasons to explain why I had to be the person to run it, the strongest of which was that “…no-one else will try as hard as I will to make sure it works”. Which kind of made her point.

When I went away and thought about our conversation I reviewed my objectives for the 2 projects, and then it was clear that they really were 2 different projects. One was suggesting that this would be a useful tool to describe the current state of affairs, which I know will be less than ideal. The other was intent on proving that the network would be a positive tool, rather than describing what would happen if we just incorporated one into the department.

After the painful realisation that I’d let my personal desire for this project to succeed override my objectivity as a researcher, I agreed to let others lead the social network assignments, with guidance from me. This will greatly reduce the impact of researcher bias, as well as synchronise the objectives of the 2 projects. As it stands now, it will more accurately describe the state of the department in terms of attitudes and skills around teaching and learning, and the levels of digital and information literacy, which will give me valuable data that will inform the next objectives of my study.

This was a great learning experience for me, and a warning of the dangers of getting too close to one’s project. There are some situations where the researcher can be an integral part of the project, but this experience has shown me when it would be detrimental to the process.

By Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.

2 replies on “Personal attachment to research”

Interesting what you are saying about the researcher. As part of my research paradigm I am seeing the researcher as an integral part of the research. And I am facing the fear of how far I am going to let my perspectives as a practitioner (and a tech enthusiast) influence my research views… time will tell. But this was a good lesson for you, and a good one for me too. Something I need to bear in mind…all the time. I hope to start my field research soon, and that does scare the ‘heck’ out of me.

as for thinking that with you the project would be so much better because you would work harder at it… of course!!!! I can also relate to it. It’s or baby. We want it to be perfect. No one will ever love it as much as we do…
But with the time I’ve also learned to be more patient….mind you, still learning!…and let people bloom in the new environment we introduce them to, while slowly providing some food for thought, some triggers for them to engage. When it comes to ‘convincing’ people to using tech, or just the fact of working with people, no outcome can be predicted…
They need to convince themselves… But having inspiring people guiding the way does help.

Best of luck. It will be great. No learning path is perfect. I am at crossroads all the time… trying to decide where to go next.
Keep blogging. It helps us too.

You’re bang on there. I have a real problem with getting over enthused about projects, including social media, and wanting them to succeed just so the world can see what a brilliant person I am. The reality is the project doesn’t need it to be, and the world doesn’t really care that much what I throw at it no matter how hard I try. I blame the perfectionist side of my personality for creeping out but its time to kick that into touch now.
Good luck with your project(s), I’m sure you’ll be fine and you sound like you have enough insight into how you work, as well the stuff you’re working on.

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