On 24 and 25 May I attended a Grounded Theory (GT) seminar in Petersfield. This seminar, led by Dr Helen Scott (Grounded Theory Online) with a surprise Skype appearance from Prof Tom Andrews (UC Cork) is aimed at doctoral researchers in all stages of their doctoral journey and intends to give researchers a platform to discuss their research, and to seek guidance from GT experts and peers.
I decided to attend this seminar as I am currently in the proposal stage for my EdD and was struggling with my understanding of the method and what it would look like in practice. Unfortunately Glaser’s approach of “Just do it” (no swoosh here, Glaser coined the term before a big sports clothing company did) is not the most helpful when you are trying to write a proposal as not only a novice GT researcher, but also a novice qualitative researcher.
I set of on my journey early on the 24th, and soon realised the M25 is a pig! After 3.5 hours I finally arrived in Petersfield, in a very nice business centre in what appeared to be a grade-listed building. After a friendly welcome and some much needed coffee, the seminar was underway. It was a small group, with seven researcher from various fields (urban transport, nursing, psychotherapy, business management, policing, ICT and education management) in various stages of their research (range: proposal writing stage – thesis writing-up stage).
Day 1 started with an overview and discussion of the GT research process. Although all of us were familiar with classic Grounded Theory, it was good to see that there was plenty of discussion on various details of the process, such as the purposes of properties, dimensions and degrees of a concepts, and how this affects GT research practice. Importantly, the discussions did not only address theory, but there was plently of talk about practice and GT in real life (real life is messy, but GT can cope with that).
After this, it was my turn to present my project, where I am in my journey and what I am struggling with. Although I had given this some though on the way in (plenty of time to think when you’re stuck in traffic), it was hard to put my concerns into coherent words. I am still not sure why, but I think it had something to do with being around people who were further on in the journey, and I am still getting used to the GT language. Confidence is a weird thing. However, I managed to talk through my project with Helen, and received some great peer-input from the rest of the group. This is what I think was the best aspect of the seminar: talking stuff through with other doctoral GT researchers, and hearing their experiences, woes and worries. As a result, I am now much more confident, and felt able to contribute to further discussions.
After a lovely lunch in a very nice garden, we discussed three more GT projects, during which everyone contributed and some lively discussions were had. It was now time to go to my hotel and have some dinner. I was fortunate in that two other seminar attendees stayed in the same hotel. We ended up having a great discussion over dinner and a few beers, evaluating the day and discussing our research. With my mind buzzing with research ideas and my brain turned to mush I went to bed.
Day 2 started with a brief recap from day 1, after which we went on to discuss another 3 grounded theory projects. Valuable discussions were held, and I felt much more able and confident to contribute to discussions and ask probing questions. My role as a lecturer came in handy as I could provide one attendee who was an MRes student with some advice. After another lovely lunch, we switched to practicing coding and memoing from an interview transcript provided by Helen. As a group I think we did a decent job, and again I felt confident I could make a valuable contribution. It turns out Glaser is right: you do really learn GT bu doing it. After a bit of an uncertain start, I got the hang of it and now understand coding a lot better. towards the end of the exercise, Helen shared with us her codes for the interview, and it was quite remarkable how similar our codes were; grounded theory is a powerful method!
We ended the day with a surprise Skype visit from Professor Tom Andrews, who shared with us his take on grounded theory. Tom was unfased by the technical difficulties we experienced and patiently answered our questions. It was really useful to hear from another GT expert, and hearing him confirm much of what we heard over the past two days. I now have Tom’s most recent paper on GT which I look forward to reading and incorporating it in my final #ARUEdD paper.
Overall, the grounded theory seminar has been a great experience. I have learned a lot, and feel much more confident that I will not make as much silly mistakes in my research as I would have done if I had not had this experience. I will most likely return in a year or two to get more assistance. I would wholeheartedly recommend the GT seminar to everyone considering or undertaking classic grounded theory research. Apart from the subject matter, it was incredibly valuable to discuss my work and woes with others doing similar research, and to simply network with like-minded researchers. We now have a Grounded Theory WhatsApp group, and it is going to be good to stay in touch!
If you are interested in a grounded theory seminar, or in grounded theory as a research method, please have a look here. I have no affiliation with Grounded Theory Online, but they are very helpful!