Pilot studies, planning and preparation prevents poor PhD performance – the value of piloting research methods

Graduation 2016

Tamsin Fisher, Health and Wellbeing, Keele University, 2017 Cohort

Young people’s well-being and autotelic practices: a narrative and go-along inquiry of youth activities

The research process so far has been a rollercoaster of emotions and progress, though I am sure that I am not alone in this. Stepping into the second year of a PhD is daunting but exciting as preparation for data collection is underway and there is hope that the answers to the questions become nearer. For many, the start of the year will be filled with ethics and one can only hope that it takes one attempt! My ethics, however began back in March… 6 months into the PhD and a little earlier than most!

My research is looking at the experiences of leisure activities that young people are practising in their everyday lives to maintain and/or improve their well-being. I want to research beyond the statistics that demonstrate the rise of mental illnesses in young adults, or the copious amounts of literature that explain how taking time out to perform self-care will improve well-being. I want to know how young people experience self-care activities, how the activities improve well-being and how can we implement them into everyday life in a productive but also relaxing way. I cannot claim to know the answer to this, or that I, or anyone will ever know the answer. However, through a process of research methods I hope that I may begin to unpack some of these questions.

The process started with my masters which focused on finding out what young people were doing to improve and/or maintain their well-being. The biggest revelation was how surprised I was at the answers! Almost all of the participants answered… NETFLIX! This was closely followed by computer gaming (this included mobile phone apps) and then walking. The masters also proved a valuable lesson in interviewing. Whilst the responses were positive and many of the participants opened up to me, they largely responded with the same answers.

As such, it was imperative to the PhD that I find another way of exploring the experiences of self-care and leisure activities. My supervisory team and I have now developed an in-depth and somewhat lengthy process to answer my questions, however in doing so we have developed a process that is fairly unique, though there are many unknowns in the method… Hence the early ethics and a pilot study!

  1. Workshops

I will be running eight to ten workshops split across two activities – crochet and mindfulness. I have recruited teachers in both and they will be running 2 hours sessions for up to 10 people to participate

  1. Observations

I will be conducting observations of the two workshops, plus I will be observing a third (sports) activity.

  1. Time diaries and/or journaling

I will be asking participants of the workshops to complete a time diary or written journal which demonstrates how they use their time, specifically, when and how they find time to implement self-care activities into their everyday routines.

  1. Interviews

Interviews will be conducted with two to four people participating in each activity. These interviews will be loosely based on the time diaries/journals that have been completed and will discuss in more depth how they found the activity and if and how they implemented it into their everyday routines.

The pilot run of the workshops were held back in May and they proved extremely valuable. I cannot recommend running a pilot study enough! The pilot has saved a significant amount of time going into my second year of the PhD. They highlighted problems that no one had anticipated, allowing us to work out how long was needed for each activity and, most importantly, they provided myself with an opportunity to try out observations properly for the first time.

Whilst I have completed various courses and training events in observation, it was completely unlike anything that I was expecting. My mind was going 100 miles an hour, trying to take in all the conversations being had, observing the patterns of communication amongst the participants and meanwhile, my mind was also thinking about the connections to the literature on leisure and practice theory. My hand could not keep up with my brain!

Completing a pilot study so early on in the research process is daunting and time consuming. I saw it as an opportunity to get the ball rolling, to get my hands dirty and to prepare myself for the second year. It provided invaluable information and time to develop a sufficient process of methods that will (hopefully!) answer my questions and will provide an in-depth understanding of how self-care activities are practiced.

If I have learned anything over the last 2 years, it is that research is a messy, frustrating and very rewarding process. With forward planning and persistence, it can be done and with time, the mess transforms into an organized mess that opens new pathways to be explored.

One Comment on “Pilot studies, planning and preparation prevents poor PhD performance – the value of piloting research methods

  1. Tamsin…..very impressed with all you are doing… well done and keep it up


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