A look back

Traditionally, New Year is the time to look back at the happenings and achievements of the past 12 months and also look forward to the coming year and set goals and plans, often accompanied by resolutions. I’m not really one for resolutions – I never keep them anyway and my overarching goal this next year, at least in academic terms, is to analyse my data and write a sizeable chunk of my thesis in draft form. So what I would like to do here is take a look back and reflect briefly on the last few months of the year and in particular, my data collection.

It is now a month since term ended at the language school where I was collecting my data and thus a month since I finished teaching my ‘data collection’ class. The 10-week course during which I was both teacher and researcher were 10 of the most intense weeks of my life – and I was only teaching two days a week. There were times when I felt as if I was on the edge of some sort of madness and even simple, everyday tasks seemed overwhelming. There were moments when I felt as if my integrity as a teacher was at stake as the research seemed to assume an almost monstrous importance, and others when I found myself consciously pushing the research into a corner so that I could do what I felt comfortable doing – just being a teacher. I don’t wish to claim exclusivity in terms of the feelings of intensity during the research period – I am sure many would testify to a similar experience and probably for similar reasons despite the different contexts of our research, because this is our doctoral research and the stakes are high. That certainly added pressure – I have done practitioner research before and it is an integral part of my practice, but this time was different. This time I was not just a practitioner researcher, but a doctoral -practitioner researcher and that changed the dynamic in ways I hadn’t fully anticipated. Even now, a month later and with the Christmas break to give distance, I still feel a jumble of emotions when I think back over those 10 weeks. I finished on a high – mainly because I had managed to get through the 10 weeks without completely alienating my students, all the students had signed consent forms and there were lots of pieces of paper in my data file which at least gave me the impression I had something to work with. That high didn’t last long. As soon as the teaching was over, the reality that I had just finished my data collection hit and so did the doubts about the quality and usefulness of what I had just done for research purposes. And they haven’t dissipated yet.  I still haven’t dared revisit my journal and I have a nagging doubt as to whether I will actually be able to find anything relevant and meaningful in my data – at least anything that will be useful to anyone else. Maybe that is another common emotion associated with research. It’s certainly one that I now need to address, and I suspect the best way forward is to just get on with it. So here goes …


  • Richard Fay

    I would be reasonably rich if I received a fiver every time a researcher worries about the usefulness of their data for ‘answering’ the RQs they have asked, for generating insights worth sharing etc. But that doesn’t mean that this type of researcher anxiety isn’t very real. However, it’s good to trust in your well-thought-through research design, and in your conscientious fieldwork practice, and therefore to trust in the data arising from that fieldwork and to let your work with it (analysis and interpretation) flow and see what emerges – something usually does, and a little data, well-engaged-with, goes a long way ….

  • Duygu Candarli

    Very insightful reflections, Susan! Thanks a lot for sharing them with us. 🙂 I am sure that your findings will be of great use to many researchers and teachers…