Creating a Doctoral Student Peer Debriefing Safe Space for Qualitative Research Data Analysis

Friday, January 16, 2015: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Iberville, Fourth Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
Cluster: Research Design and Measurement
Kathleen H. Powell, PhD, Frostburg State University, Elizabeth Aparicio, PhD, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Saltanat Childress, MSW, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Marie Bailey-Kloch, MSW, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Deborah Svoboda, PhD, Eastern Washington University, Andrea Jones, PhD, University of North Carolina at Wilmington, Karen Burruss, MSW, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Lisa Fedina, MSW, University of Maryland at Baltimore, Anusha Chatterjee, MSW, University of Maryland at Baltimore and Debbie Gioia, PhD, University of Maryland at Baltimore
Peer debriefing in qualitative research “is a process of exposing oneself to a disinterested peer in a manner paralleling an analytical session and for the purpose of exploring aspects of the inquiry that might otherwise remain only implicit within the inquirer's mind" (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). This important guidance has not been widely adopted in social work doctoral programs where students are embracing qualitative dissertation study designs and expected to manage the data by themselves. In the solo landscape there is no additional voice to challenge researcher assumptions about the data or provide additional interpretations and support. Doctoral students often find themselves exploring research topics that permit direct association with at-risk participants. The extent to which new social work researchers adopt qualitative and mixed methods, however, may be related to the ability to create and sustain a support network of like-minded researchers.

Peer debriefing can be used throughout the research design, through analysis, and final write-up. Considering size of the debriefing group is important so that each person has a voice. We differ from Lincoln and Guba’s definition and incorporate “interested” peers given the richness of debriefing that can occur within the safe and protected space of ongoing relationships. The group is a primary vehicle for connectedness and well-being.

The purpose of this workshop is to address the development and sustainability of a qualitative peer group within one doctoral program and to advocate for its usefulness for incorporation by other doctoral programs. This monthly peer debriefing group was created by doctoral students in 2011 for students who wished to use qualitative methodology (alone or as a mixed methods approach). Four students from the group have successfully defended complex qualitative projects. The purpose of the group is to: 1) provide peer learning, problem solving, and debriefing opportunities, and 2) to discuss research results and seek feedback and alternate points of view. This peer group sought expert faculty assistance.  However, the maintenance of the group (scheduling, topics, etc.) remains student-based.

In a doctoral program a fair amount of research is conceived of and conducted individually and in isolation from others. This group serves as an opportunity to discuss new research ideas, especially for students beginning the doctoral education process, as well as an important conduit for practical issues, such as locating a potential research sample. For students who are coding and developing themes, the group is a place to present initial themes and to check with others on serendipitous findings. The debriefing process allows for catharsis around research with vulnerable populations.  Peer debriefing is incorporated into dissertation proposals as an important element in the vetting of rigor in doctoral research.  .

Our workshop goal is to meet with social work doctoral students and faculty to share our experience and encourage the development of peer debriefing groups. Given that peer debriefing is an essential element of rigorous qualitative methodology (Padgett, 2008), it is essential for social work doctoral programs to facilitate a mechanism for peer debriefing among students engaged in qualitative dissertations.

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