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Methodological issues and methods in doctoral studies: tips and advice for success

Advice on a good basis for sound nurse research
Students sharing research

Drawing existing literature together and overlaying your own thinking and experiences on top of that knowledge is a good basis for sound nurse research

The demand for doctorally prepared nurses is growing internationally ( Jackson et al 2021 ). Like every other aspect of nursing education, the quality and nature of doctoral education is important to ensure graduates attain certain attributes. Currently, there is variation in doctoral programmes internationally and the merits and limitations of various programmes are the topic of discussion (

Drawing existing literature together and overlaying your own thinking and experiences on top of that knowledge is a good basis for sound nurse research

Students sharing research
Picture: iStock

The demand for doctorally prepared nurses is growing internationally (Jackson et al 2021). Like every other aspect of nursing education, the quality and nature of doctoral education is important to ensure graduates attain certain attributes. Currently, there is variation in doctoral programmes internationally and the merits and limitations of various programmes are the topic of discussion (Jackson and Cleary 2011). It is generally agreed, however, that a doctoral programme consists of ‘work which is independent, sustained, rigorous, original and at the cutting edge, in that it should add to the body of knowledge in that profession’ (Kirkman et al 2007). A doctoral programme aims to prepare nurses to develop and conduct nursing research to advance the profession and prepare the next generation of nurses (Ellenbecker et al 2017, Oermann and Kardong-Edgren 2018). 

To enable graduates to meet these aims, doctoral education centres around developing knowledge and skills in research methodology and methods. In doctoral programmes students need to have the opportunity to explore philosophical assumptions, understand how these influence methodological choices and implement research methods in real-world settings. Developing methodology and methods skills during a doctoral programme positions graduates well to successfully pursue post-doctoral nursing research. Publishing these explorations in a journal can be one way for doctoral candidates to cement their own understanding, develop their skills in writing for publication and share their thinking with others to inform future doctoral candidates. 

Qualitative desription and naturalistic enquiry

Nurse Researcher often publishes papers written by doctoral candidates and their research supervisors about various aspects of research methodology and methods. Our team works hard to provide a supportive peer-review process to encourage doctoral candidates to share their work. Recently there have been papers from three doctoral candidates exploring different aspects of methodology and methods related to their research. These papers provide good examples of the types of publications that doctoral candidates can publish around the methodological and methods issues faced when planning and undertaking their research.

The first of these papers, led by Natalie Cutler (Cutler et al 2021), explores how she applied a combination of qualitative description and naturalistic enquiry in her doctoral study. Her article demonstrates critical thinking about the philosophical underpinnings of the methodology and research methods and justifies the approach used. It also uses the doctoral research to demonstrate the constructive alignment between methodology and the specific project. This paper is a good example of a publication that demonstrates a doctoral candidate thinking critically about the epistemology and ontology underpinning the research and their implications in the conduct of a project.

'Critical discussions between supervisors and doctoral candidates are an important aspect of research training as they allow candidates to explore understandings of concepts and engage in scholarly debate'

Such critical thinking about the underpinnings of research is integral to assisting students at doctoral level in arguing about the relevance of their chosen methodology and demonstrating authenticity in the research process. The high-level thinking required to produce a methodological paper of publishable standard enhances internal coherence in doctoral work. Further, it provides the candidate with valuable skills for conducting independent research post conferral of an award, and in the supervision of future research students.

Critical reflection and scholarly debate

The other two papers focus on issues faced by the doctoral candidates in conducting their research. Emma Radbron and her co-authors (Radbron et al 2021) highlight the challenges of maintaining momentum while conducting action research in two large tertiary hospitals in Australia and Northern Ireland. This article describes how the authors used a model to guide reflection of field notes and combined this with critical discussions with supervisors to understand the challenges faced in maintaining momentum in the action research process.

'Many papers submitted for review do not adequately provide suggestions or strategies to inform others how they could manage the issues being discussed'

Critical discussions between supervisors and doctoral candidates are an important aspect of research training as they allow candidates to explore understandings of concepts and engage in scholarly debate. In effective supervision teams, supervisors can learn and be challenged by critical discussions with students. This process establishes important ways of working for doctoral graduates in fostering critical reflection and scholarly debate as a normal and natural part of the research process.

Suggested strategies

Gemma Aburn (Aburn et al 2021) addresses the challenge faced by many nurse researchers around being an insider-researcher. This well written article eloquently synthesises the existing literature and the authors’ experience of undertaking a grounded theory study in children’s blood and cancer centres in New Zealand. A significant aspect of this paper is the way in which it goes beyond simply describing the issue to suggest strategies for the reader to guide how they might approach this challenge in their research. Many papers submitted for review do not adequately provide suggestions or strategies to inform others how they could manage the issues being discussed. However, it is this aspect of the paper that provides the reader with take home messages that can inform their own research. It contains important insight that authors should consider when preparing their manuscripts.

An important feature of all these papers is the way in which the authors have drawn the existing literature together to show what was known and then overlaid their own thinking and experiences to advance knowledge by illustrating what has been learnt. This makes these papers essential for assisting novice and experienced researchers alike, in either mitigating or managing similar challenges when undertaking their own research.


References


About the authors

Elizabeth HalcombElizabeth Halcomb is professor of primary healthcare nursing at the School of Nursing, University of Wollongong, New South Wales, Australia

 

 

Kath PetersKathleen Peters is associate dean at the School of Nursing and Midwifery, Western Sydney University, New South Wales, Australia

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