By Germari Kruger

Phronesis is the practical wisdom a person learns throughout his life. It’s the things books miss and conversations skim over. In a research context, phronesis was almost unheard of, but in recent years an interest has developed in the academic community. The practical wisdom a researcher develops throughout their career results in research phronesis. And who better to teach aspiring students than the researchers down the corridor? Herewith are the tips, advice and wisdom collected in the AUTHeR corridor:

Research starts with a realistic proposal. As a student, discussing what you would like to achieve with your supervisor is essential. You can determine what is possible and out of your scope there. Cut it down to size; you only have three years to complete it. As a professor used to say: “You are not aiming to win a noble prize with your PhD; you might, though it’s not the aim.” But it is crucial to determine what you will contribute early on. Is it a theory? A framework? What makes this a PhD rather than a master’s degree that showcases your research? Make sure you know the significance of your research before you start.

What do you want to achieve with this study? Your aim will determine the research design. Identifying the methodology leads to an epistemological selection leading to the methods you select. For example, choosing a qualitative case study approach requires selecting which fundamental author you plan to follow, e.g., Yin, and then deciding on a method like interviews. The most important part of this process is consistency. Stick to the same research approach throughout your whole research project. Do not deviate during the data collection, analysis, or quality approval sections. And make sure you choose the correct path to answer your research question! Research is a holistic process, so you need to determine beforehand if the data method, collection, and analysis are feasible regarding time, resources, and budget.

Data collection starts with planning. Start by discussing your ideas with your supervisor and the project’s Primary Investigator (PI). Things you should talk about are:

  1. Which data do you want to collect?
  2. How do you want to do it?
  3. What is the correct data collection tool for the methodology you selected?
  4. Which processes or standard operating procedures (SOPs) do you need to follow?
  5. Who will fill roles such as the mediator or informed consent person?
  6. How will you store your data during and after collection?

When you plan your data collection, think about the following:

  1. How will you document the data collection process so it can be replicated?
  2. How can you gather data similarly and under similar circumstances for each participant?
  3. How will you train fieldworkers?

In summary, you should construct an effective data collection project plan on how best to use resources (people, time, money, information, equipment) so that these elements make the most significant contribution to achieving your goal. And remember, have potential backup plans for unforeseen circumstances to mitigate risks!

After all the planning, you will go into a community to collect data. Sometimes this will be a physical trip, and sometimes, it will be digital. Regardless remember always to be courteous and respect the traditions of your participants. When visiting a community, consider how you dress. Is it presentable and culturally appropriate? For example, it is unacceptable for women in some rural villages to wear pants. They should wear a skirt or dress. In the same breath, I want to remind you about the implication of language barriers. Don’t assume every participant will be able to speak English. Understand the context of your community and plan accordingly. Lastly and most importantly, think about safety first. How will you ensure your fieldworker’s safety? Do you need those costly accessories, or can you go into the community without them? Where do you need to drive, and is the car you use insured? I don’t mean to scare anyone, but we live in South Africa and should always be safety aware.

After collection comes analysis, you start by capturing, preparing, and cleaning your data. Transcribe qualitative data and capture quantitative data. Clean the data by checking for typos, missing information and transcription errors. How will you anonymise the participants, so they fit under the POPIA act? Consider which analysis software you plan to use, e.g. Atlas.ti, SPPS, “R”, and are you trained in the use thereof? Make sure you are sure how you will manage your data so that everything stays in place.

So up until this point, you have made many plans, collected your data, and analysed it. The final step is to write it up for publication. One of the requirements as a PhD student is to publish your research thesis and some academic articles. To simplify your work, select a journal before you write according to that journal’s specifications. One tip for finding a suitable journal is to look at journals you often reference because they publish what you are investigating. Alternatively, use your title, keywords and abstract in the journal finder function of publishing houses such as Elsevier or Wiley to find a corresponding journal. But beware! Some journals only publish open access, which while excellent for readership, will bill you for publishing with them. If possible, publish your articles before submitting your thesis for publication, but this is not a requirement. Remember to make use of a language editor before submitting your final work.

Completing a PhD is a long and, at times, lonely journey. But as supervisors and peer researchers, we hope to support students wherever possible. So, the most important thing I can tell you is to talk: to other students, your mentor, to your supervisor. Do not suffer in silence. We all want you to succeed, so speak to us to help you get there. And then, before you know it, three years will have passed, and you are walking over a stage to receive your degree!