For a moment, let me reflect on some not very surprising conclusions about learning to research. The path to research expertise is unnecessarily inefficient. I suspect that supervisors in Australia are being unfairly treated if a PhD course does not include some compulsory research methods courses for its students, of both quantitative and qualitative studies, and some compulsory courses on academic writing and research, geared specifically to the faculty or school. Manathunga and Goozee refer to the “always/already autonomous student and effective supervisor pair” (Manathunga and Goozee, 2007, p. 310) assumptions that have been perpetuated in higher education, in which they claim that that “research students were assumed to be ‘always/already’ autonomous scholars at the beginning of their candidature. So too, postgraduate supervisors were assumed to be ‘always/ already’ effective at supervising once they had endured the process themselves” (ibid, p. 309). These assumptions, however, are being challenged, by researchers such as Manathunga and Goozee. As this essay has provided me with a chance to reflect upon the challenges I have faced in my research journey, I feel it important to briefly analyze the many areas in research in which I am a complete novice and the areas in which I feel I already have some expertise.
Firstly, those skills I already possess: I have always felt perfectly able to articulate ideas in a text format, and the development of my written skills is no less than I expected when I first began my research. I have learned quickly to critically analyze journal articles and to develop critical thinking skills, but I attribute this partially to my teaching experience and partially to my prior education. I have a certain amount of content knowledge about my chosen field – classical voice education, but as is expected, have discovered so much more than when I first began. When I began my research journey at the beginning of last year, I knew absolutely nothing about methods. I was happy to state this. I knew I knew nothing. I expected that this aspect of research was key to developing research expertise, as it has proven, and as I will discuss shortly.
These areas: writing, critical thinking, research methods, are ones in which other students seem to struggle. My bête noire is completely different. My difficulty lies not with content knowledge of my subject area, or putting together a methods chapter, but with something altogether different: developing knowledge about psychology, philosophy, educational and philosophical theories that I comprehend.
I have truly struggled to come to terms with much social science research that many expert researchers in the social sciences take for granted. For example, I would have appreciated a course that provided a whistlestop tour of philosophy, and briefly explained the development of concepts such as “ecological nested systems”, or “communities of practice”. In hindsight, I also needed some basic courses that briefly explained the differences between behavioural, developmental and cognitive psychology, and some positioning of educational philosophies within an historical framework. The framework I am currently working in has no discernible boundaries and I am frustrated not knowing about what I do not know. I am dimly aware that there are concepts I have not yet encountered. I just don’t know how to find them, or where to start looking, or even what to call them. It can and has been argued that a PhD journey is precisely about finding this path for oneself and I suppose I should accept this, but I suspect that being prepared more thoroughly in philosophical and psychological knowledge about theories of knowing and doing could have been more advantageous for the rest of my research journey. As a result, much of my research time is involved with the exhaustive task of trying to find out what I do not know about various philosophical tenets, concepts and theories and discarding them in favour of another to see if it fits. For my poor sodden leaky brain, this has been the most challenging aspect thus far of my research studies. Comparatively, the clearly titled, goal focussed subject “Research Methods” feels like a walk in the park.