My Doctoral Journey: An Autoethnography of Doing Sensitive Research in a Different Cultural Context

Uditha Ramanayake
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 15  •  2020  •  pp. 559-573

This paper aims to provide important learning insights for doctoral students, researchers and practitioners who wish to research on sensitive topics with research participants from a significantly different culture from their own.

Embarking on doctoral research in different cultural contexts presents challenges for doctoral students, especially when researching a sensitive topic.

This paper uses an autoethnography as its research methodology.

This paper extends the literature on doctoral researchers’ experiences of exploring the lived experiences of senior travellers who have faced major life events. Little of the previous literature on the experiences of PhD students has explored the experiences they had while researching on a sensitive topic in a different cultural context to their own. To fill this knowledge gap, this paper presents an autoethnography of my experiences.

This paper presents some critical insights into undertaking research in another culture. Its findings are outlined under the following four themes: (a) Feeling vulnerable, (b) Building rapport, (c) Preparing for the unexpected, and (d) Exploring lived experiences.

When conducting sensitive cross-cultural research, understanding researchers’ vulnerabilities, rapport-building and preparing for the unexpected are very important. The use of a visual element is beneficial for the participants in their idea generation process. Visual methods have the potential to capture the lived experiences of participants and enable them to reflect on those.

Doing cross-cultural sensitive doctoral research poses a number of methodological and practical challenges. It was very important to gain a wider cultural understanding of the country and its people in my cross-cultural doctoral research. To this end, this paper suggests that future doctoral researchers consider volunteering with the community as a way to gain understanding of the research context when preparing to undertake cross-cultural research.

The findings support the importance of cultural sensitivity when doing cross-cultural research.

Future research could be conducted in a different cultural setting to reveal whether the key themes identified here are universal.

PhD student, doctoral research, cross-cultural research, sensitive research, autoethnography
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