Where’s the Data? Using Data Convincingly in Transdisciplinary Doctoral Research

Jane Palmer, Dena Fam, Tanzi E Smith, Jennifer Kent
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 13  •  2018  •  pp. 009-029

The aim of this paper is to identify some of the issues in writing a trans-disciplinary doctoral thesis and to develop strategies for addressing them, particularly focusing on the presentation of data and data analysis. The paper, based on the authors’ own experience, offers guidance to, and invites further comment from, transdisciplinary doctoral candidates, their supervisors and their examiners, as well as the broader field of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary researchers.

The paper uses the authors’ experience of writing four very different transdisciplinary doctoral theses to examine the diverse responses received from examiners and what this means for the thesis writing process. The theses and examiners’ reports span an array of disciplinary and transdisciplinary epistemologies, ontologies, and world views.

A preliminary review of the examiners’ reports revealed a common concern with the definition of ‘data’ and with ‘data analysis’. The examiners’ reports were then more formally coded and thematized. These themes were then used to reflect critically on the four theses, within a broad interpretive framework based on the idea of writing ‘convincingly’, and in light of current literature on the meaning of ‘data’ and the idea and aims of transdisciplinarity.

The paper offers specific strategies for doctoral candidates, their supervisors, and examiners in working with the burgeoning number of doctoral research projects that are now taking place in the transdisciplinary space.

Doctoral candidates engaged in transdisciplinary research need to define what they mean by data and make data visible in their research, be creative in their conceptions of data and in how they communicate this to examiners, specify the quality criteria against which they wish their work to be assessed and hold discussions with their supervisors about examiner appointments and briefing, and communicate to examiners the special value of transdisciplinary research and the journey on which it takes the researcher. Our conclusion connects these findings to the development of an emerging concept of transdisciplinary research writing.

See below under ‘Recommendations for Researchers’ (For the purpose of this paper, practitioners are the researchers).

The paper makes the following recommendations for transdisciplinary doctoral researchers:
• Make the data visible and argue for the unique or special way in which the data will be used
• Make clear the quality criteria against which you expect the work to be judged
• Be creative and explore the possibilities enabled by a broad interpretation of ‘data’
• Transdisciplinary research is transformative. Communicate this to your examiner.

As more complex and ‘wicked’ problems in the world are increasingly addressed through transdisciplinary research, it is important that doctoral research in this area be encouraged, which continues to develop transdisciplinary theoretical frameworks, methodologies and applications. The strategies proposed in this paper will help to ensure the development of high quality transdisciplinary researchers and a greater understanding of the value of transdisciplinary research in the wider research community. It also draws attention to the potential benefits of similar strategies in multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research.

Further exploration is needed of how researchers across disciplines can ‘talk’ to one another to resolve complex problems, and how the solitary transdisciplinary scholar, such as the doctoral student, can effectively communicate their research contribution to others. These issues could also be explored for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research teams.

transdisciplinarity, doctorate examination, doctoral writing, data analysis, higher degree research students, research communication
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