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Daniel Butcher joined the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences on the Doctorate in Education programme in September 2011. He completed his EdD in May 2017.
Sometimes I think I envy my colleagues who have chosen to study their Doctorate on a full-time basis. The opportunity to focus each day on progressing work that has the potential to contribute to the sum of understanding in a particular field, completed within a three year period.
There are other times when I am very glad I chose to undertake a professional doctorate. From start to finish (hopefully) in 5-years, it challenges me to weave together the threads of what I do in my ‘day job’ as a Senior Lecturer in Adult Nursing with learning in new subject areas and developing the skills of the investigator.
I have been a student on the Doctorate of Education programme at Oxford Brookes University for three and a half years and have completed the preliminary modules in research methods and theory. However, it is this last year that has seen the most exciting and challenging part of the programme.
Twelve months ago I knew I wanted to explore the way in which new nursing students developed their professional identities. It is not an easy time for anyone working in the UK health service and all professionals need to construct a clear sense of who they are in order to make a significant contribution. The tricky part was designing a way in which to explore this. It’s easy to tell people what you are interested in but another matter to explain what and how you plan to investigate it.
I had conducted a feasibility study as a way of testing some of the possible tools that might prove useful. As it happened, these took my research in a direction I did not want it to go, turning identities into responses to a survey and marks on a Likert scale.
For me, a critical phase was preparing for and completing the Research Ethics approval process. Now, this was far from straight-forward. The process of completing the forms was simple enough but the necessary shift in thinking took longer to achieve. I am not new to the application of ethical principles in everyday life and work; nursing practice is ethical practice, but a change in viewpoint was required for me to achieve a break-through.
It came when I began to think like a research participant rather than a novice researcher. Up until this point I was proposing methods that seemed likely to achieve my research objectives but that, on closer inspection, had very little continuity or practicability. I struggled to see the reason for some of the questions I was being asked to consider or safeguards that seemed to be required. I’m a nice person. I’m not going to cause harm with my research activity!
As soon as I began to consider my research proposal from the perspective of potential participants, things began to fall into place. The details of data collection using a form of narrative interviewing technique as well as digital audio diary entries became clearer in my own mind. As a result, it was easier to explain my aspirations and intentions for the research to colleagues, my supervisors, the UREC panel members and ultimately those people who have agreed to participate in my research study.
Five months ago I began the data collection phase of my research which is due to last for a year. I plan to meet some new nursing students a number of times and collect their stories about the events, experiences and interactions that impact on their professional, academic and personal identity at the beginning of their nursing careers.
Conducting the interviews with participants over the past few months, I have not only taken ownership of the research, I have also begun to weave the threads of educator, student and investigator. I now feel very privileged to hear the narratives of new students as they share aspects of who they are in what, I am confident, is a safe research environment.
This time last year, I had an idea and an interest. I even had a theory but I didn’t really have a plan. Taking a year to develop this has been both frustrating and liberating. The opportunity to focus on solving a research problem and the potential to achieve new insights without the distractions of a teaching load and module management responsibilities has sometimes appeared very appealing. But the ‘slow-burn’ development of my research design alongside my responsibilities as a lecturer and student have helped me to more fully appreciate the value and importance of the professional doctorate.