jessica lian


Resolving My Researcher Identity Crisis

When I started in my Ph.D. program, one major goal I had was to develop my quantitative skills. I had avoided mathematics and statistics during my undergraduate days because I didn’t have the foresight to see the value in them. But when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in research, I realized that I needed to understand statistics, which I would need to be able to read many of the research articles in my field. Fortunately, my Ph.D. program offered an excellent course in quantitative research methods geared towards the statistically challenged like me. After completing the course, I was able to read quantitative studies in my field, and carry out some stats myself.

The revelation that I could, in fact, learn to be a quantitative researcher was satisfying yet uninspiring. On the one hand, I was glad I could add statistics and SPSS to my research methodology toolkit. But on the other hand, acquiring the skills and knowledge to conduct quantitative research in my field did not lead me closer to the answers to my research questions.

In the social sciences, I think it’s fair to say that most of us have subscribed to a postpositivist paradigm. In its essence, postpositivism seeks to uncover some objective, or agreed upon, truth. For many research questions, this paradigmatic approach makes sense, given that the questions are seeking to generalize within a specific context. Generally, postpositivism acknowledges the problem of bias, and seeks to minimize it in every step of the research process. It’s a notable thing to do and is certainly an improvement compared to positivism, which didn’t bother to acknowledge human subjectivity. But what if the research question can’t be answered by viewing it through a postpositivist lens?

For much of history in the ivory tower, academic research—and the legitimacy of research—has been dictated by those in power. Those with access to resources and social influence are the ones who have decided what is scientific truth and what isn’t. And the product of research—the creation of knowledge—has been completed dominated by this small group of individuals. In academia, it isn’t a secret that such knowledge has been dominated by a white male perspective, which marginalizes minority voices.

Accepting my strength as a qualitative researcher has led me to consider how I can build my skills productively towards a meaningful career path. Reaching this point has been an agonizing process of soul-searching during my time in my Ph.D. program. I still don’t feel confident calling myself an expert in anything, but at least I feel more confident identifying myself as an adaptable qualitative researcher. 

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