Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Getting Intimate…. With My (Research Data) Analysis

Meet my Lover
Every morning I roll out of bed and there he greets me at my kitchen table.  He’s with me all morning long and sees me off to practice in the afternoon.  While training I must confess that he has left my mind, and really the only thing I am thinking of is my athletic task at hand.  But, as soon as I’ve finished my cool down and chugged down my post work-out recovery drink and meal, I rush off to meet him – still in my sweats and hair in a ponytail.  But, he doesn’t care how I look; he’s just relieved to see me and I him.  This is true love! 

Our relationship has progressed so much, I can just about recite everything he’s ever said.  I have transcribed all that he has said and committed it to memory by virtue of our frequent encounter.  Recently our time spent together is only a deeper exploration of his deeper meaning…  What is it he is exactly trying to tell me?  “He” is my dissertation data, also known to my twitter followers as Mr. Dissertation.

Lately, I’m frequently asked how my dissertation is coming along.  And likewise I often stop to ask myself the same question.  Indeed, I thought I would be done by now, but in all fairness I’ve had to be realistic.  I’m not just a student; I’m also a professional athlete that is preparing for another Olympic Games.   My day consists of waking up and working on my dissertation, going to practice and training like a woman possessed, only to return home from training to work on my dissertation some more.  Between my academics and athletics I tally up about 90 hours of work per week.  I don’t know the concept of a vacation or free-time.  I’m beyond intrigued with what I might do or accomplish next year when I’ve retired from track and have dually completed school.  I could essentially be employed full-time at two jobs!  (And knowing my desire to be busy I might be crazy enough to do that…lol)

What is Qualitative Data?
Concerning my dissertation, I am in the process of qualitative data analysis.  I’ve been so entrenched in my data analysis that I’m sure my absence has made my advisor, Dr. Feltz wonder what has happened to me.   It is a laborious process.  Essentially, qualitative research attempts to explain the reasons for a given human behavior by conducting an in-depth analysis (usually by interviews or field observation).  Because of the nature of these studies, the sample size typically is smaller and analysis can run easily 3 times longer than quantitative data.

Ironically, my academic experience and background is rooted in quantitative analysis, with my first area of specialization being exercise physiology and biomechanics.  Funny enough, I grew up with calculus and physics as my favourite subjects!  Like George Orwell’s book title, the world of qualitative data analysis is a “New World Order” to me, and I find myself intrigued by it and loving it!  It is a more tedious process, but provides rich data that numbers can’t always provide.  As such, the process of data analysis involves taking an interview and transcribing it verbatim - a process that can take 4 to 6 hours to transcribe per hour of an interview. 

Explaining Qualitative Analysis (Simplified)
Once, you have your transcribe and you’ve reviewed it with the audio again, coding comes into place.  Simplified, coding is essentially reading, re-reading, comparing, and re-re-reading your data and finding central themes.   This process can make your eyes feel like they are going cross-eyed.  It’s best to do this in chunks with planned breaks, otherwise you will learn quickly what mental fatigue means and the quality of your analysis will be compromised.  Once you’ve sufficiently completed this process you need someone else to validate the reliability of your analysis, which in the world of research is referred to as inter-rater reliability.  This process of coding is cyclical, where sometimes the end in sight might feel like a hallway in the movie “The Shinning” – it never ends.  But, I’m told many people have survived this process.

Once this process is done, you begin to put it all together.  In my case, I reveal in my Chapter 4 of my dissertation the results and what it all means!  (Dissertation Chapters:  Chapter 1 – Introduction, Chapter 2 – Literature Review, Chapter 3 – Methods, Chapter 4 – Results & Discussion, Chapter 5 – Limitations).


But in the End
I must confess that despite my whining of the data analysis process, I’m actually enjoying it.  I’ve had the rare opportunity to interview some of the best athletes in the world, spanning various countries, who have done what many dream to do and few have accomplished – to go from Good to Great.  Tracking these athletes down was a task in itself, but the challenge is proving to be well worth it and fruitful.  At times as I’ve found myself hanging onto every word they are saying.   It’s been an incredible and blessed experience for me, both as a researcher and an athlete.  The researcher side of me is extremely curious, while the athlete side of me hopes to emulate what they have done….

Still Coding,
Nicole

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