Postgraduate research is hard work. You need to design a study. Pass ethics. Find participants. Gather and analyse data. Write up your findings. Get into journals and conferences. And, usually, do all this whilst you’re also juggling work, family and occasionally trying to have a bit of fun.
If something goes wrong – and sooner or later with research (as with life in general), something will go wrong – it can be hard to carry on. Perhaps you’re having to jump through a hundred hoops to get ethics clearance, or maybe participants keep cancelling on you. It could be that your supervisor is pushing you extra hard. In situations like this, you might find yourself wondering why you’re bothering.
Does the world really need another piece of qualitative research? (Answer – yes it does!) Do you really have something to say? (Answer – absolutely, you do, you total badass!)
If you’re struggling to carry on with your postgrad research, here are five tips from PGPR to help you get back into the swing of things.
- Take a break
Put your pen/laptop/tablet down and go outside. Look up at the sky (as long as it’s not raining of course). Read a good book, watch some reruns of Jane the Virgin. Gather your mates or your kids and go for a pizza. When you’re in the thick of a PhD, it can feel all-encompassing, but a good first step to tackling any research problem is to get things back into perspective. Other things in life can bring you joy – take a week off and go have some fun.
- Try reading around the problem
Whatever issue it is that you’re facing, you can bet your bottom dollar (whatever THAT is) that someone else has had the same problem. Whether it’s a logistical issue or an analytical one, have a poke around on the internet, do a Google Scholar search and see if you can read a bit about how others in your situation have solved similar problems. Postgrad research can feel pretty lonely, but there are many other people out there doing what you’re doing, and we can all help each other.
Academic Twitter is (in my experience anyway) a pretty darn supportive place, so it might be worth asking a question on there. Trying using the hashtag #AcademicTwitter or tagging @AcademicChatter and hopefully, both answers and support will come along shortly.
- Break the problem down into steps and tackle them one at a time
Challenges can feel overwhelming if we try to solve them all at once. Try instead to break the problem down into small, manageable chunks. Can you face the first one? Great – do that, then have a bit of chocolate. Leave part two till tomorrow. Rinse and repeat until the problem is dealt with. By the time you’re into the swing of it, I bet you it won’t feel as unsurmountable as it did to start off with.
- Make a list of the successes you’ve had
Another problem with – well – problems, is that when we have one, we can make it mean something personal about us. I couldn’t write a great discussion section the first time around, so I must be a failure and a terrible person. Try to stop thinking like that, because trust me, you are not a failure. Anyone who is doing postgrad work is a superstar and a brainiac to boot. This work is meant to be difficult, so the fact that you’re occasionally finding it difficult means that nothing has gone wrong. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you are anything other than amazing.
If you’re finding that hard to believe, try making a list of all the successes (big and small) you’ve had since you started your research career. Include everything from acing that undergrad exam to being accepted onto your master’s to recruiting your first four participants. You could also include cooking a lovely dinner for your family last night and mastering that impossible-looking posture at yoga.
If you managed all of those things, you can definitely manage this one too!
- Book a PGPR VC
If you’re still feeling stuck with any element of your qualitative postgrad research project, a great solution could be to book a video consultation with PGPR. In these VCs, we spent an hour looking over your work and notes before the session, and then another hour talking the problems through with you via Zoom or Teams or whatever platform you like. Discussing the issue with one of our friendly team of qualitative experts is a great way to brainstorm, gain confidence and beat whatever issue is stopping you.
Get in touch with us via the button below to book.