The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

First Steps In Becoming a Qualitative Researcher: Mapping the Terrain

Sunday, January 20, 2013: 10:45 AM-12:15 PM
Marina 2 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
Cluster: Research Design and Measurement
Barbara Probst, PhD, LCSW, Smith College, Amy Chanmugam, PhD, MSW, University of Texas at San Antonio and Frances Nedjat-Haiem, PhD, LCSW, University of Southern California
This workshop will focus on conducting and completing a qualitative dissertation but is also appropriate for any researcher interested in embarking on a qualitative path.

Increasing numbers of doctoral students are drawn to qualitative research, yet academic institutions do not always provide training in qualitative methods beyond an introductory survey course. As a result, new researchers may lack opportunities to acquire necessary skills and to receive guidance about how to make methodological choices, manage the process, and ensure rigor. The purpose of this workshop is thus to provide both a conceptual framework and a hands-on opportunity for participants to develop a personalized roadmap for the qualitative research process.

The workshop will have three parts, each with an interactive component.  The segments will be linked by a comprehensive worksheet that will guide attendees through each step in the presentation as they complete practical exercises and tasks corresponding to the material presented; attendees will also receive a handout with suggestions for further reading.

The three presenters bring a wide range of experience and expertise in designing, conducting, publishing, teaching, and reviewing qualitative research for scholarly journals. All have completed qualitative dissertations and have forged successful careers in diverse academic and geographical settings.

Part 1: Choices along the way. Within the qualitative paradigm, methods may be as different from one another as they are alike, each offering access to certain kinds of knowledge but not others, since something is lost and something is gained with every choice. Deciding what one wants to find out, what kind of knowledge may help to illuminate the chosen topic, and how one might go about obtaining that knowledge are fundamental epistemological questions that need to be addressed before moving on to specific methodological choices. Major qualitative options will be explored, along with their benefits, limitations, and requisite skills. Templates for navigating the decision process will also be provided.

Part 2: Qualitative dissertation pragmatics. This segment addresses practical considerations in completing a qualitative dissertation, including identifying apprenticeship opportunities and potential committee members and maximizing these mentorship relationships; developing a realistic timeline, which includes assessing feasibility of methodological decisions; educating the Institutional Review Board on qualitative methods, as necessary; and strategies for the defense and writing to ensure ongoing progress and completion. Discussion of writing strategies will include forethought of job market and future publication possibilities. A worksheet will help participants develop an individualized “roadmap” to conceptualize steps entailed in dissertation completion. Content will strike a balance between preparation for the perseverance often required to complete a qualitative dissertation and encouragement through clearly breaking down the process into manageable steps.

Part 3: Addressing methodological rigor. 
Qualitative researchers must consider certain factors to improve the methodological rigor of their work.  This section describes various methods for collecting and analyzing qualitative data to make it more accurate and credible, such as using theoretical sampling, data triangulation, persistent observations, an audit trail, peer debriefing, and member checking.  These methods serve to improve the overall accuracy and credibility of research findings.

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