Learning methodology can be like learning a new discipline for law graduates. We often understand methodology as analysis and interpretation of cases and legislation via the doctrinal method, the ‘legal method’ that holds an interpretive monopoly for lawyers. Yet when we come to do our PhD in intersectional research, when we are confronted with a need to engage in research involving people, we are asked which methodological practice we will be using. It is a question that is commonly met with a blank star, panic and a furtive search through sociology text books.
In LIRC’s inaugural HDR seminar, which was held on Thursday 18 February 2016, LIRC academics shared their knowledge of methodology with HDR students, as well their own experiences of completing a PhD. Associate Professor Marett Leiboff spoke of the need to consider how we choose methodology, which she referred to as giving ‘logic’ and ‘structure’ to the thesis and explained how as a framework it explains and justifies our PhD. Dr Felicity Bell shared her ‘methodology confession story’, recalling how her enthusiasm for empirical research was tempered by her struggle to find a random sample of interviewees and the uncomfortable realisation that her subjects were not always telling her the whole truth. Dr Cassandra Sharp emphasised the importance of understanding empirical methodology as two distinct stages – the gathering of the data and the analysis – that required different things. She said she spent a whole summer consuming text books on methodology from other traditions and whilst that was a difficult process, it gave her a strong appreciation of how legal analysis can be enriched by other traditions. Professor Nan Seuffert warned of making assumptions about theory and elaborated on how she developed a feminist empirical methodology that foregrounded the views of women victims of violence over the professional experts. Confronted with the initial fears of analysis of pages of interview data, she cited a reassuring quote to remember, “Give me a four line quote [from interview data] and I can write an article”. In other words, much can come from little. The end of the session involved an enlightening discussion about the reality of methodology, which is that much of it is hybrid, evolves as the PhD does and doesn’t always have a name.
After an engaging session on ethics by Professor Colin Thomson, where the ethically dubious practices of past researchers were described, a Q&A-style panel of LIRC academics shared their own experiences of completing their PhD. Brett Heino, who has just submitted his thesis for examination, spoke of the importance of publishing through his thesis, his disastrous foray into EndNote and how his disciplined approach to writing helped him complete his thesis. Dr Niamh Kinchin spoke of her experience of receiving very different reviews by her examiners and how she dealt with that, both practically and emotionally. Dr Linda Steele recalled her positive experience with a collegiate PhD community and the importance of building an intellectual community through conferences and academic associations. And finally, Professor Elena Marchetti gave a hilarious power point presentation that was titled ‘Living wth Phd’, which re-imagined a PhD as an illness that needed both a diagnosis and a cure.
Finally, HDR students brainstormed events for the year, including a workshop on publishing and a works in progress day.