Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Don't give up

One of the  [possibly] unforeseen outcomes of the rigorous ethical approval processes and some may say the even more draconian research governance processes that we have in the UK is the fact that, increasingly, health and social care researchers are resorting to increasingly innovative ways to recruit participants for their research. This is partly, I fear because NHS governance systems are cumbersome , and in some cases expensive,and slow down research studies to pre-global warming glacial speed. A number of tech-savvy people are beginning to look to recruiting via cyber-communities through project specific websites often hosted by an appropriate support group or charity. This can be seen as a good thing since often participants are prevented from even hearing about their potential research involvement opportunities by over protective health care staff and this approach, at least gives them the chance to decide for themselves whether or not they want to be included

 However, a couple of my PhD colleagues had similar experiences the other day which made me ponder how much people outside of universities understand about what is meant by Doctoral level research. The assumption made when they approached  the website owners was that either they were undergraduates or that they were undergraduates doing some kind of media course. They were told in no uncertain terms that they were unlikely to get any form of support from the website owners, even though all they had asked for was that a link to their study be added to the site.

Both were understandably disappointed but I suggested that they go back to the people concerned and explain exactly what level of study they were at and how their research could conceivably affect the client groups the charities had been set up to serve; that this was not a small six week research project designed with no other reason but to to complete a research methods module, but something requiring commitment and deep thought and eye watering amounts of hard work. Pleasingly, on  having made clear to them that the doctoral candidates were engaged in high quality, long term studies that were rigorously conducted and reviewed they were happy to collaborate.

The point that I am making here is that it pays to go back and seek an explanation if someone turns down your request for help when doing doctoral data collection using online media. Sometimes, and I guess this is part of the it-isn't-good-enough paranoia that affects most people doing a PhD at some time, students can be a bit too deprecating about their work. If someone says 'no' have the courage of your conviction and don't give up!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Using Twitter in my PhD research

I felt I needed to come on here and write about my experiences of using the online social media platform "Twitter" where some definite learning has occurred, but for most of it, it has been a joyous experience. I set up a Twitter account to connect with injured veteran/ex-service personnel and from the outset I was not positive at all as I feared that keeping the account up to date would be time consuming and laborious. However some benefits I have seen in persevering with it are:

1) The ability to freely follow relevant people, groups, associations and charities which could be of interest to your research. Given time they may follow you back and this can lead to recruitment
2) If suitable users follow you back you can "direct message" them which cuts out the concern over confidentiality issues and ethically inappropriate recruitment.
3) On your Twitter page you have the opportunity to put a small description about yourself so that other users can immediately find out what you are about i.e. in my case I have put my PhD research title in this area and put a link to my website.
4) Another benefit I have recently seen is the ability to receive recommendations of people to follow through my registered email address. Initially this annoyed me as it felt like a form of junk mail, but as I scrolled through the emails there have been some really good recommendations. You will also find some good recommendations on your direct Twitter page which can also be helpful
5) Getting to know some useful hashtags can make you part of some good conversations i.e in my case #veterans and #beyondinjury

Please bear in mind though that the dreaded 140 character allowance per Tweet/message can be infuriating but research is all about being succinct so it's good for research development #addedbonus  sorry could not help it! As you can see, using hashtags becomes a natural part of your life when you begin to use Twitter! 

So having described all these benefits, how have they impacted on my research?

1) I have been fortunate to recruit participants for interviews
2) I am beginning to increase my followers
3) I have been able to keep in contact with people I have met from conferences and seminars. The benefit of this is that I stand a good chance of being visual to other relevant users which could result in more followers

Therefore, having a Twitter account has the potential to make you more visual to others. However, it will require self-motivation on the researcher's part to make Twitter part of their normal routine, keep send regular tweets and building followers.

Remember to plan your recruitment strategy with sensitivity and thought!