Candidacy, writing

I’ve been thinking a lot abut writing lately. I talked to a new friend and fellow blogger recently who passed on Nadia Bolz-Weber’s wonderful advice that you should “write from your scars, not your open wounds”. Wounded writing is reactionary but has a powerful immediacy and emotive quality. Writing from scar tissue allows distance, reflection but perhaps doesn’t carry as much emotional punch as the pain is recalled, remembered. I found an echo of this in Gloria Anzaldúa’s autobiographical book “Borderlands”. She describes her writing process as a state of psychic unrest, a cactus needle wounding her skin that she needs to remove and ultimately a way of making meaning from experience.

Experience is at the heart of my research proposal. It was interesting to see the different members of my committee this week reacting to that word. The poet saw experience at the heart of narrative inquiry (NI), my chosen methodology. The authors I am primarily drawing from are the social scientists Clandinnin and Connolly who themselves call on Dewey, the father of learning through experience. The physician saw patient experience, how healthcare professions could judiciously use their own spectrum of identity (such as being a mother, or being a lesbian) to extend themselves and find common ground, risky though that might be.  My supervisor saw recognition of each other – really seeing who that person is in all their complexities and identities – as the first step to experience and the key to moving forward and improving it.

I have written before about how one of the challenges of this EdD is finding other ways to express myself, and write beyond the usual 3,000 passive words describing methods, results, discussion and conclusion.  In my proposal meeting this week we talked about different ways of crafting a narrative inquiry (NI) dissertation. NI has many forms, but I am interested in storytelling and so I need to be comfortable with typical elements like plot, characterization, tempo, genre to produce an engaging and readable piece of work. Some NI dissertations throw off the typical chapter headings and incorporate all the familiar elements (such as the literature review) in a story, poem or other arts based format. I am using autoethnography – an autobiographical way of researching and writing that “displays multiple levels of consciousness, connecting the personal to the cultural*”. My participants and fellow story makers are friends and fellow LGB radiation therapists. From field texts (my interview transcripts, personal writing and perhaps artefacts like photographs) we will negotiate back and forth using interim texts (rough drafts of the final collective story, emails and discussions) as we move towards the final research text – the story or representation we have made together. It’s an intimate and time-consuming process that will involve a constant renegotiation of what is told and untold, what is revealed and what is left private.

With lots to consider going forward, my proposal was approved this week and I am officially a doctoral candidate! After ethics, I can begin my research. I am certainly feeling the itch to write, the needle in the skin and I am eager to get started. If I think about my own stories, there are scars but (now) few wounds. I wonder about my participants who are working clinically and those who are not. Are they smarting from wounds, living with scars? What will we uncover, disturb, heal?

*Ellis, C., & Bochner, A. P. (2000). Autoethnography, personal narrative, reflexivity: researcher as subject. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 733–768). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage p. 739


Pondering the proposal


When I was investigating doctorates – a phase that lasted about ten years – some of the programs requested a proposal up front. The idea was to reassure the university (and any potential supervisors) that the research project could be completed within the allotted time, and that the candidate had the skills and experience to do so.  PhDs and professional doctorates are different. For an EdD the proposal comes after the competency exam is passed but essentially does the same job as a PhD proposal. We have been well prepared to tackle the proposal; our comps paper is essentially the proposal literature review with the theoretical framework in some cases. What we were missing was the methodology – the mechanics of the data gathering and analysis.

When I think of my data analysis, the fitting together of four peoples’ stories, I see myself serenely reclining in a sunlit meadow or sitting at a window (perhaps like a pre-Raphaelite beauty with a loom and pet swan*). The actual “how” was a bit blurry.   For qualitative analysis in general there is a lot of confusion. Vague statements like “emergent themes” sound like a magical process and don’t reflect the reality of a time-consuming slog through pages and pages of words.  I found the book “The Good, the Bad, and the Data: Shane the Lone Ethnographer’s Basic Guide to Qualitative Data Analysis” has a very helpful, step by step way of explaining (text based) qualitative analysis (plus it has cartoons!)  For narrative inquiry I turned to Clandinin and Connolly’s approach. They stress that that the process is never linear, and the researcher continually moves back and forth between field texts (transcripts, notes, reflections made after interviews for example), interim texts (shared with the participants like rough drafts of the story, emails etc.) and final research texts (the final story – my results section) as they navigate the process.

My timeline at the moment is tight; I would ideally like to talk to my participants in Toronto in late September. That means I have to have an approved proposal to attach to my Research Ethics Board application soon, and then pass the UBC ethics approval process in time for my trip to Toronto.  The first full committee meeting is next week, a just-in-time scramble before the committee members leave for their summer vacations.  At the moment I am stalled as I wait for that meeting and any changes that might be requested afterwards. If (a big if) my proposal is approved with minor changes I can apply for candidacy. A doctoral candidate has completed all of the requirements for the doctoral degree with the exception of the dissertation. It’s the next big step!

*I take no responsibility for my imaginative processes


Gaiman S. (2013). The Good, the Bad, and the Data: Shane the Lone Ethnographer’s Basic Guide to Qualitative Data Analysis. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press

Clandinin, D. J., & Connelly, F. M. (2000). Narrative Inquiry: Experience, Story in Qualitative Research. San Francisco, US: Jossey-Bass