Shifting my research question

In the spirit of open dissertations, I figured I’d write a little more about where I’m headed with my dissertation. My last two weeks were spent up in Ottawa for the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies annual conference and a committee meeting followed by the Open Ed conference in Richmond Virginia. I have to say my head is still spinning for all that I got out of both conferences and my committee meeting.

For some background on the ideas behind open dissertations see Laura Goglia’s blog post Granularities of the Open Dissertation and Bonnie Stewarts blog post Opening the dissertation: Why we need to make open the default. They both presented at Open Ed, but unfortunately, I missed their presentation.

The idea of open dissertations isn’t new to me. The bigger question to me is what parts of the dissertation are open in an open dissertation? I am finding that the open part of the dissertation has mostly been the last part – the part after the committee has approved everything. It is like using open to get a sneak peek into what will be open in 3-6 months.

My challenge with open is that my research process doesn’t follow the standard linear progression of a research topic. The lit review, proposal, ethics, data collection, data analysis, write up findings process doesn’t align with the way in which I’m doing my research. I seem to be doing all the parts of the process at the same time. Of course this makes it that much more challenging, as it is unclear when ethics is required and for what ethics is required. But that is a discussion for a different blog post (actually something that I have reflected upon previous).

My primary source of data is already open – my breast cancer blog being my primary data source. I am writing about my experience. The current iteration of my research question is “What was my lived experience with breast cancer?” I’m rewriting blog posts in the style of evocative autoethnography described by Bochner and Ellis in the book Evocative autoethnography: Writing lives and telling stories. I’m also looking at My experience with developing health literacy and advocacy.

The open dissertation discussion doesn’t really talk about the process of doing the earlier parts of the dissertation in the open. Since my primary data is already open, there are a bunch of ethical questions on how to go about doing my research. For example, in my research I’m encouraged to not name the organizations that provide my healthcare, in part because it would be somewhat easy to identify my surgeon based upon my story. However, I’ve identified the organizations in my blog. I’m not about to go back and change my blog entries to remove those names. And given where I live, which is an important part of the story, it is pretty obvious what those organizations are anyways.

I feel like I’m grappling with so many different things around my research project that I need to blog about it. But I also find myself holding back. I find myself writing snippets and then asking myself, How much can I share now? How open can I be? What will I jeopardize by blogging about my experience of this process?

I’m also finding myself wondering if anyone in Canada does autoethnography and how they approach research ethics boards? There is a lot written in the US, but most US research ethics boards call autoethnography memoir (creative works) and exempt it from requiring ethics approval. That is not going to happen in my school. And so, I’m needing to negotiate the ethics approval process while I work on actually writing my story, reading the literature (which never ends because there are so many different angles to my story), and writing the analysis of the story. In writing the story, I grapple with various ethical considerations around representation of others in my story, but also on how I tell my story, what I leave out, and what I include. There are so many different decision points.

Part of me thinks that things would be a lot easier if I just gave up on the PhD and got down to writing the story – however, it is the act of doing the PhD that is helping me write a much better story. It is the act of going through the literature and linking my story to different themes that is making my writing so much better.

And with that, I’m hoping to see more and more PhD students opening up the dissertation process – and not just the final results. I feel like challenges to opening up the process can only happen one dissertation at a time!

Feature image CC0 public domain via Pixabay

2 Comments

  1. It is great to hear how pursuing the PhD is helping improve your writing. I am finding the rigor of my internship is helping me actualize and operationalize that which I learned in my MEd courses. It is through the discipline that I’m able to apply what I learned. I will check out those resources. They look interesting. And I might share them with some program directors for PhD programs here.
    Thanks for sharing.

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