“Collusion” vs “collaboration” and “so what?”: Reflections on course assignments completion

I’m now waving goodbye to the second semester of my first year PhD studies.

Similarly to the first one, I have learned a great deal from doing the assignments.

My friends and I were very alert to the assignments’ instructions and the deadline at the very beginning of the semester. Especially for the Quantitative Data Analysis one, we set up a small group to help each other understand the assignment better. We aimed to meet weekly to catch up with our progress and shared resources like literature and statistics textbooks. However, this “collaboration” seemed to worry many tutors; they were worried that our “collaboration” would turn to be “collusion”. It was a shame that we stopped share our thoughts but continued working pretty much on our own.

The idea of “collusion” was new to me as it had never came across to my mind and my friends too I believe. The event made me think of how we, PhD students, have to manage it well between working on our own and seeking for helps from others (our supervisors, tutors, friends, and even YouTube!) The tutor was supportive, anyway, as we could send him emails or attended his “open surgery” sessions. Like he said, statistics is another new language and to some extent, I have learned it. Although I cannot speak statistics fluently now, but at least I know what it is and will keep practicing it so that I will not forget it.

The most important lesson I have learned from the Qualitative Data Analysis assignment was that the most difficult question to be answered is “So what?” After going through a lot of thinking about the data, analytic approaches and strategies, I already had the descriptions of my data, but how to make sense what I had found was the most critical part of the process. The tutor once told us that we have to be humble by offering some interpretations from our evidence and perspective, not the definite truth of the data or the world. This was challenging because I wanted to make claims from my findings but I had to carefully think about the possible interpretations using the evidence I had. There are still a lot more for me to think about the assignment I have already submitted as well as the qualitative data analysis process.

Overall, doing the two assignments was a great step in my process of growing up as a researcher. The experiences I gain from this “learning by doing” cannot be found in any textbook. I cannot predict the grades of the assignments but I can say that had a positive feeling (anxiety too, of course) upon the completion of the assignments and I am now ready to move on to conducting my pilot study and learn more!


  • Thanks to Fitri and our friends for the brilliant idea of establishing the QQ girls group (sounds like a Korean pop girl group huh?). I’m blessed to be in this research community with peer supports (and the best supervisors too!) We can still learn from each other as always.

  • Richard Fay

    Many thanks Khwan. It’s interesting this collaboration-collusion issue. I wasn’t close to it so can’t comment on it in particular. But, in general, I guess the assessment dimension is what foregrounds the fear of collusion and reduces the value attached to peer-support and learning. For sure, it would be a great pity if collaboration between researchers were discouraged – we can, and should, learn from each other’s attempts to be curious and creative with research possibilities. Speaking personally, virtually all of my research, and certainly the bits I am most proud of, is collaborative and much the better for it 🙂

  • Hi Khwan…yes, I was also surprised with the worries about the possibility of our collaboration to turn into a dangerous ‘collusion’. Thing that never even flashed in our mind when starting QQ girls. It was probably due to the fact that we were working on the same data set, though we, surely, had a different preference of what to look at and set a different angle to see 😀 Anyway, I really think that our collaboration was really helpful and fruitful…….I love the way we share ideas and resources to help us shape our understanding on the ‘tough’ materials and inspire us to choose our very own direction to go…and choose different ways to look at the data …so I believe that though the data set was the same…we ended up looking at it differently…None of us would risk to have that ‘collusion’ and had never even thought of that idea 😀 …the collaboration was just like a peer support…..But I believe that now we are working on very diverse topics…we can bring QQ Girls back to life :)……as for the results…we can only hope for the best 🙂 ….this semester has been tough, but this is what prepares us for our next journey 🙂