Course review: Qualitative Methods

Some research questions are better addressed with a qualitative approach. This course was designed to highlight the importance of qualitative methods as we have been focusing on quantitative methods.

Though we are not allowed to do a qualitative study for our thesis project, it is important to understand how to implement qualitative methods if the purpose of our research is understanding meanings and developing theories.

Qualitative methods (7.5 credits) lasted 5 weeks (4 weeks of lecture and a week for self-study).  This is the second to last course before we finish our first year in the Epidemiology program.

I, along with most of my classmates, was skeptical coming into this course. We have been trained to think in terms of numbers and to quantify the burden of diseases using numbers and to test a hypothesis using a statistical framework. Qualitative method investigates the meaning of social phenomenon by reflecting the perspective of communities and individuals in research and identifying a pattern in these perceptions.

The aim of this course was to understand qualitative analysis method and its main applications and contribution. The course schedule included morning lectures (9h-12h) followed by workshops in the afternoons (12h-15h). Lectures comprised of qualitative data collection methods, their advantages and challenges as well recognizing quality in qualitative research in terms of reliability, validity, and transferability. Topics ranged from content analysis to focus groups to Grand narrative, with the most emphasis on transcribing interviews, coding and content analysis.

We had two group assignments and one individual assignment. One of the group assignments was an observational study, where we were actively observing human behaviors in public spaces, take descriptive field notes and add reflexive and analytical comments. The second group project was a mixed method project- a research proposal where we contrast qualitative and quantitative approaches and use them in combination by using sequential designs, convergent or emerging design. As we had attended a Ph.D. defense that used mixed methods 2 weeks prior to this, I really enjoyed designing a research. My group proposed an exploratory mixed method design on ‘Exploring reasons for relapse and quantifying time until relapse after smoking cessation: A mixed method study among adult former smokers’.

Our individual assignment was conducting an interview based on an interview protocol we have drafted in a group. Conducting the 20-min interview proceed to be the easiest part of the process. Transcribing and inducing meanings with codes as well as coming up with shared themes and categories was a long and challenging process. We had an individual written examination at the end of the course, on which our grade is based on.

Though the epidemiologist in me still prefers to read numerical data, the research purpose dictates which method is better to use. Qualitative research helps us obtain more depth and explore something entirely new and can complement a quantitative study.


Staye tuned!

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