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The themed papers in this issue show every solution gives rise to a plethora of questions. Julie Taylor discusses the advice given by, and experience of, three nurse researchers
Accepted: June 25 2012
A collection of papers focusing on 'challenges in real world research' could have provided multiple examples of the unusual and the bizarre. I could have submitted one myself on the array of extravagant and eccentric individuals and situations that have helped and hindered my research endeavours: the men who were women, the knives and the threats, the comedic and the tragic.
While my account would possibly be entertaining it would not be useful academically. The authors of these three papers should be commended on providing papers that have something illuminating and interesting to say.
Each paper is different from the next, offering content that various enormously, but nonetheless conveys useful lessons for us all.
Hayman et al (2012) tackles the concept of reciprocity during data collection through story-sharing with lesbian mothers. This paper explores how research can be enhanced by revealing personal feelings, experiences and thoughts. The thrust of the background argument is that reciprocity leads to a more genuine relationship, resulting in enhanced information and equality in the relationship.
Hayman et al (2012) take the definition of reciprocity to be about fostering equality. This paper by Australian authors addresses head-on some of the issues that immediately spring to mind, such as who the participants might tell about the content of the interview, leading to the researcher wondering if his or her safety would be at risk or if participants would be in a position to blackmail the researcher.
The authors are persuasive in arguing that reciprocity reduces inequalities in research, and that creating emotional associations reduces negative impact and confers trust. But I am not entirely convinced. Without careful management reciprocity could be dangerous: novice researchers could expose themselves inadvertently to less scrupulous people than themselves; participants could feel awkward and embarrassed that a stranger has given them personal knowledge; and the extreme subjectivity implied may attract further criticism of the kind of research that nurses are often best placed to undertake.
However, this was an expert research team with plenty of support on hand and the issues will have been handled carefully. I would caution novice researchers in following the practice until they have learned reasonable interviewing skills. Hayman et al (2012) are right to recommend strategies to promote the emotional safety of the researcher, which is all too often neglected.
A personal insight into positionality is given by Moore (2012) in her paper. This is a candid account of a small study on how lecturers approach being facilitators for problem-based learning and how the researcher dealt with the 'powerful' researcher position.
Dilemmas were encountered, including how the researcher sometimes misunderstood a situation, exploited relationships with colleagues and how a lack of experience or sensitivity sometimes got in the way. This is a brutally honest account of the tactics taken as an insider in research and made me squirm a little in recognition of some of the actions and reactions of someone who is a novice researcher. Nonetheless, this account is a brave exposure of moments many of us would recognise as part of our own experience and Moore is to be commended for the level of honesty shown here. However, I would have liked to have seen more answers provided to the dilemmas because most problems are not insurmountable.
Research is often a lonely journey and there is a lot of mileage in having good supervision or mentorship. I am sure that was available here, and sometimes this can be a useful mechanism in helping to weigh up the options in navigating tricky waters. If there is not a mentorship scheme for novice researchers available in the area, schemes such as the one provided by the Academy for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting Research may be useful.
White (2012), offers a perspective borne from experience, drawing in the main from a highly complex multi-site, randomised controlled trial. White, also from Australia, has written this as a research note, highlighting ten challenges that neophyte nurse researchers may encounter and offering solutions.
White's notes offer a systematic framework for identifying the issue and working through it with hints on how to handle these challenges. While a large literature base is available for some of the challenges, for example writing a funding proposal and gaining ethical permissions, others receive less exposure and the author provides a refreshing insight into issues rarely aired - such as logistics and random events.
In particular, White's insight into how to deal with complaints is useful and the section on maintaining roles and boundaries provides an interesting counterpoint to the arguments made by Hayman et al (2012). This is a pragmatic account that offers workable fixes to many of the challenges most researchers are likely to encounter - whatever kind of research they may do - emphasising that balance and trade-off are necessary.
The authors of the three themed papers in this edition of Nurse Researcher have certainly met the brief. All have offered unique insights into some fairly gritty realities of research. These papers have left us with some solutions but also more questions. When examining the complexities of real world research it can sometimes be difficult to find papers offering a true insight into the issues encountered by researchers every day.
Such insights will make useful reading for those new to, and those supporting, students venturing into research studies for the first time.
Commentary | July 2012 | Volume 19 Number 4
Hayman B, Wilkes L, Jackson D, Halcomb E (2012) Exchange and equality during data collection: relationships through story sharing with lesbian mothers. Nurse Researcher. 19, 4, 6-10.
Moore J (2012) A personal insight into researcher positionality. Nurse Researcher. 19, 4, 11-14.
White E (2012) Challenges that may arise when conducting real-life nursing research. Nurse Researcher. 19, 4, 15-20.
Cite this article as: Taylor J (2012) Insight into the challenges faced by students involved in real-world research. Nurse Researcher. 19, 4, 4-5.
Julie Taylor is head of strategy and development, the children's charity the NSPCC UK (seconded from the University of Dundee UK)
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