Pharmacist and PhD candidate Dimi Hoppe contemplates the research journey and ‘thinking outside the box’
I can’t help but notice the similarities between the research journey and the mythological hero’s journey. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell wrote: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his/her fellow people.”
The fabulous forces I have encountered—supervisors, academics, researchers, fellow pharmacists, students and readings—have inspired me to develop a more open-minded and flexible approach to research. I agree with education researcher Peter Newby who argues that research is a messy business and neither the real world nor research follows a highly structured and ordered process. Therefore it came as no real surprise that while exploring the philosophical underpinnings of research, I was drawn to the principle that the research question must guide your choice of research methods.
My research plans are dynamic in nature. Peer feedback related to my pitch has led me to look at potential gaps and areas for improvement in my evolving research idea, and the chosen methods and methodological approach. Because a successful research project is built upon strong foundations, my aim is to further develop a sound and persuasive motivation link and a succinct central idea.
I have learnt that collaboration and engagement with researchers and peers is a fundamental element of the research world. As the hero faces many tests on the road of trials, they proclaim their truth. So too must I present a compelling and persuasive argument that demonstrates the value of my research project.
As the hero faces many tests on the road of trials, they proclaim their truth.
I have learnt from readings, case studies and peer discussion that the methods and methodological possibilities are infinite (perhaps not infinite but certainly overwhelming and many). What really excites me is the breadth and depth of some of the discussions that have taken place in discussion forums, and in particular the different and insightful perspectives that are offered. This is evident when you read two unique critical appraisals of the same study.
Along with my developing flexibility and openness, my view of what is possible has broadened… you could say that I have had my eyes opened. Just this week, while talking to fellow researchers on two separate and unrelated occasions, they both used the phrase ‘think outside the box’. This resonated with me, as what I would like most to achieve is integrating the current rigorous and valid principles underpinning methods and methodology with innovative and unique ideas.
However, unlike our hero who has reached the end of their supreme ordeal and seized the prize (anything from an expansion of consciousness to a ‘Prometheus stealing fire’ scenario to having their research published) I still have a long learning journey ahead.
There are challenges associated with employing a pragmatic method that integrates qualitative and quantitative research methods according to need. What both motivates and, at the same time, makes me want to run in the opposite direction is the overwhelming number of choices and the important decisions I must make.
For example, do I conduct the qualitative part of the study first and gather data with the intention of generating in-depth findings that can then inform the quantitative part of the study? Or do I conduct the quantitative part of the study first and gather data that is representative of the sample population that can then inform the qualitative part?
And do I conduct semi-structured interviews or a focus group? But then again, the current literature reveals that my target population is notoriously terrible at responding to surveys…so perhaps I should look into the Delphi research method?
Red flags abound.
Sometimes as I reflect on my discussion posts, I end up with more questions than answers. What is most apparent to me is that I am a novice researcher and I am learning every day. While I have highlighted ‘red flags’ I am also confident that I will develop a research design that will address my objectives and questions. This is because I have magical helpers, not unlike the hero who does not always face their trials alone.
Research is a collaborative effort and sharing ideas is imperative in the quest to generate positive solutions. I acknowledge that this is by no means an original idea, but still a valuable reminder for an often-solitary part-time student. I believe that, while respecting traditional guiding research principles, it is critical that we join forces to discover complementary and innovative approaches that propel us further down the mysterious research road to success.
And just as the hero returns from his adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow people, I aspire to presenting the world with new knowledge and understanding.
Dimi Hoppe is a pharmacist, novice researcher and PhD candidate based in Melbourne.