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Hrmas newsletter 86
HRMAS Newsletter 57
• Community-based diabetes intervention proposals
• Christchurch Scholarship for MA in 2002
• Sample size in qualitative research • Choosing a thesis or dissertation topic
COMMUNITY-BASED DIABETES INTERVENTION
Call for expressions of interest
Closing date: 26 October 2001
The Ministry of Health and the Health Research Council of New Zealand have joined
forces to fund the National Diabetes Research Strategy. This strategy focuses on a
programme of research to develop community-based diabetes prevention and early
intervention projects in high-risk communities. The Steering Committee is currently
requesting Expressions of Interest from community-based organisations, primary care
providers and Maori and Pacific provider organisations, working in conjunction with
academic teams (i.e. researchers based at a university or other tertiary institution).
Approximately $1.1 million is available for allocation to the project(s).
More information can be found on the HRC website
CHRISTCHURCH SCHOLARSHIP FOR MA IN 2002
Department of Gender Studies, University of Canterbury
Research area: "Women and prosexual drugs"
Closing date: 30 November 2001
The Department of Gender Studies at Canterbury University is offering a $4,500
scholarship in 2002 for a full-time student undertaking an M.A. by thesis for one year.
The successful applicant will be expected to complete an empirical study on women’s
perspectives and experiences of prosexual drugs (eg Viagra) for the treatment of
sexual difficulties affecting women, and/or for recreational use. The methodology
employed will principally involve discourse analysis of interview material. This study
is part of a Health Research Council funded project on the social impact of Viagra,
and will be supervised by the project leader, Annie Potts.
Applicants should submit a copy of their academic record and a brief CV, along with
a covering letter outlining their interest in this topic. You may be requested to attend
an informal interview in person (if in Christchurch), or participate in an interview by phone and/or email (if living outside Christchurch). Criteria for selection: academic record; commitment to working on the project full-time during 2002; interest in publishing results of the study as part of an established research team; experience in the area of sexual health and/or women’s health (or an interest in this as a career field); an interest in continuing doctoral research in this area would be a bonus. Applicants should note that the scholarship covers one year only. Any expenses directly associated with the research (eg, use of equipment, photocopying, postage) will be met by the research grant. Please send letters of application and other relevant supporting information to Dr Annie Potts, Department of Gender Studies, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch Ph: ext. 7967; Fax: 03 364 2661; Em
SAMPLE SIZE IN QUALITATIVE RESEARCH
(Summary prepared by Verina Hassett)
Morse, Janice M. (2000). Determining Sample Size, Qualitative Health Research, 10
(1), pp 3-5.
In this article, Janice Morse summarises guidelines on the selection of appropriate
sample sizes for interviewing in qualitative research. In estimating how many
participants are required to meet satisfactory data saturation, she outlines four main
points to consider - the scope of the study, the nature of the topic, the quality of data,
and the study design.
If the scope of the study is too broad, Morse states the study take longer, more
participants will be required and consequently the larger number of interviews and
work required may result in a superficial study. If the nature of the topic is obvious
and clear, fewer participants may be required. Conversely, if the nature of topic is less
clear, or participants feel awkward about discussing the topic, more participants will
be required to gain richer data. Information shared by participants can also result in
variation in the quality of data.
As a general principle Morse stated that:
"The quality of the data and the number of interviews per participant determine the amount of useable data obtained. There is an inverse relationship between the amount of useable data obtained from each participant and the number of participants. The greater the amount of useable data obtained from each person (as number of interviews and so forth), the fewer the number of participants." "If, when using semistructured interviews, one obtains a small amount of data per interview question (i.e., relatively shallow data), then to obtain the richness of data required for qualitative analysis, one needs a large number of
participants (at least 30 to 60).If, on the other hand, one is doing a phenomenological study and interviewing each person many times, one has a large amount of data for each participant and therefore needs fewer participants in the study (perhaps only 6 to 10). Grounded theory, with two to three unstructured interviews per person, may need 20 to 30 participants, adjusted according to the factors discussed above."
Many factors influence qualitative interviewing, including participants ease in reflecting and articulating their experiences. Basically, the better the interview, the richer the data. Study design and methodology utilised plays a vital part in determining the number of participants required. Morse concludes as qualitative researchers we need to devote equal time to considering methodological decisions as we do to analysis.
CHOOSING A THESIS OR DISSERTATION TOPIC
(Thanks to Anne Cherrie for sending this item)
The excerpt below examines some of the factors to consider in choosing a thesis or
dissertation topic, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. It is from Chapter
4, Writing a Dissertation. In: The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career: A
Portable Mentor for scholars from Graduate School through Tenure. By John A.
Goldsmith, John Komlos, and Penny Schine Gold. Published 2001. London:
University of Chicago Press.
HOW DOES ONE CHOOSE A DISSERTATION TOPIC?
With considerable care. Never lose sight of the fact that the dissertation should be the crowing achievement of your graduate education and will influence the direction of your career for many years to come. It will take years to write and might well require a couple more years of polishing to make it publishable. Inasmuch as you are locking yourself into a project that will occupy a big chunk of your life, this decision should not be made lightly. Some advisors are willing to offer a choice of two or three dissertation topics. This can be of great advantage, inasmuch as she has a better overview of the field, knows the sources, and knows if the dissertation is doable within the allotted time frame, and, in effect, you receive a crucial implicit promise that you will be closely guided along the way. Of course, some professors are reluctant to suggest thesis topics, either out of a philosophical commitment and responsibility that go with such advice, but they may also simply want to limit their involvement with students. Be aware that a reserved disposition might well signal a reluctance to work with you closely, and it might be wise to look for alternatives. It is much safer to take your mentor's suggestion of topics if offered. By doing so, you will give yourself additional time to develop the necessary skills for selecting a good research project, which are difficult to acquire. In my own experience leads me to urge you to err on the side of caution if you have the
opportunity unless you have reason to think that you have already mastered such skills: the risk of sinking is too great at this stage. As a third alternative, you may find the choice being made through give and take with your supervisor. If you have good reason to be confident in doing research on the topic of your own choice, or if close guidance feels too restrictive to you, then proceed, but at least be forewarned that you can easily lead yourself on a wild goose chase. In fact, many students do not finish their dissertation because their topic turns out to be much too difficult for reasons that were not immediately obvious to them. In any case, do make sure you have your mentor's full support before embarking on a project. It is imperative that both you and your advisor be interested in your thesis topic. It is important that your mentor be interested in it because otherwise she might be much less motivated to help you, and it is crucial that you be excited about it because otherwise you will have enormous difficulties mustering the momentum to succeed in completing the project. Original research is challenging, and even frustrating at times, in the sense that hundreds of obstacles need to be overcome in the process. Make sure that you do not start a dissertation on an unfamiliar topic. You should prepare some plans, even if tentative ones, well in advance and have a good overview of the topic before you commence active research. It will be extremely useful if you have already made preliminary excursions into various related issues during the course of your graduate study. Having written one or two seminar papers on some aspects of the topic, you will enter the dissertation stage already somewhat knowledgeable about the field. You will know most of the scholars who are writing in that field. This knowledge will help you to formulate issues and to write up the thesis proposal in a convincing manner. Moreover, you should by now have a sense of how interesting the topic actually is to you. Once you have chosen your dissertation topic in collaboration with your adviser, you should seek her active guidance to the utmost degree possible. Every topic has imperceptible pitfalls, and your advisor can and should help you over them. Dissertation research is multifaceted; it proceeds in complex, and unexpected, ways, and the result is unpredictable. I have never done research that did not hold some surprises for me, and at times, I even disapproved my initial hypothesis. The closer your topic is to the expertise of your mentor, the more direction you can count on, and the easier it should be for you to avoid making mistakes or getting stuck along the way. These issues are less pertinent in the laboratory sciences because there the graduate student usually works in a close-knit research team, direction and funded by the mentor's own research program. In such fields, there is more group interaction, and perhaps more cooperation and conformity in research design. In any case, you will need to learn who the important scholars are in the field. Ask your advisor who is working in your area, check their respective home pages on the Internet, and look for their working papers. Consult also the
programs of the meetings of professional organizations in your field for people interested in related topics. Dissertations in progress are sometimes announced in the newsletter of discipline's main professional association, or there is a centralized dissertation registry. Though incomplete, they are certainly useful. Check also the University of Michigan microfilms of unpublished dissertations. Because in some departments and in some disciplines your access to your mentor might be limited, you may find it advisable to talk over your preliminary ideas with your peers and even show them your dissertation proposal before you give it to your mentor. Your dissertation is your first real research project, and you are not expected to strike out on your own into completely uncharted territory. That would be premature. You should restrict the scope of your topic as far as you can. You will be expected to work within a paradigm; that is, you aren't required to resolve a major controversy between two competing schools of thought in the discipline, although you can explore a pertinent aspect of a controversy in a case study. Dissertations are similar to the "masterpieces" that medieval guilds required for full membership in a craft: you might think of yourself as a journeyman demonstrating her skills to the members of a profession. In other words, the dissertation need not be an earth-shattering contribution, but, however modest, it must be original and demonstrate your skill in research and argument. Actually, one of the unstated purposes of the thesis requirement is to filter out people who will not be able to do original research in their subsequent career.
Whether one takes a topic selected by an advisor or develops one's own, I would emphasize John Komlos's comment that one has to be excited about the topic. I think it is more likely that this will happen, if the topic is developed by the student, and coming from questions that they really want to pursue. What difference will it make to you if your question is answered? If the answer is "Not much, it's just a nifty puzzle," you might want to search further. The interest has to be deep enough to sustain you over years of difficult work. Your professional identity will be also, shaped by association with this topic. Is this how you'd like to be known in the field, at least for the rather long first stage of it, until you do your next large project?
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• community consultation and collaboration (particularly with Maori and Pacific
• writing proposals for health research funding • qualitative research methods
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