Friendships and “research methods”

The temptation and pressure to confirm in one’s research topic is tremendous – especially if you are a PhD student. In the course of the last 3 years many of my friends have asked me to include some quantitative element in my research. When I tell them that it does not suit my question they’d add, perhaps do what you do and then add some statistical work to it. When my (descriptive) interviews were almost done another friend goaded me to code it and regress it. The notion that regression is what makes a study authoritative is so deeply rooted among students today. To depart from it leaves a student in constant doubt.

Leaving quantitative methods is not the departure I did from the norm. Even within the tradition of qualitative research I am not situated in any particular method. I have taken the path that seemed most suitable to my questions and I feel that I have a story to say at the end of the day. But here is the catch. I am very conscious that my study has a lot of gaps (like most other studies do). The added knowledge that I have not stuck to any recognised method has made me feel insecure now and then. I had one such moment last year when I was just finishing my field work.

When I confided in a mathematician friend this is the advice he had for me. He said that it’s good that I have had the courage to choose the methods that I deemed most suitable for my questions. I have my facts and I have theorised the situation (my story) with much effort. Theory unlike a theorem (which is proved and will remain the same) is bound to change at some point of time. It is an attempt at the known amidst unknowns. A theory is bound to be tentative and vulnerable. So go on and tell your story the way it is without compromising your integrity or worrying about its acceptability. The advice has made me feel a lot better and it feels good to have friends who support you in academic adventures.

I have been lucky to have friends who have advised me in my moments of doubt and have nudged me to do what I find most sensible and exciting. In a world where conformity offers attractive dividends, I wonder if anyone could break from the ranks without the support of such friends. Strange as it may sound, and unacknowledged as it often is, friendships have an impact on our research that is as profound as the techniques we learn meticulously at school.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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