Phenomenology and survey analysis

Year: 2001

Author: Barnacle, Robyn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

One of the questions confronting research into the research student experience is how the quality of that experience can be effectively assessed. A conventional approach has been to conduct a survey, and occasionally as RMIT has done recently this has involved combining questions relating to research student satisfaction with others related to the nature of the research experience more generally. When it comes to analysing the results of such a survey, however, certain methodological problems arise. In a survey with both a quantitative, multiple-choice, section and a qualitative, open-ended, section it is not always obvious how the two parts of the survey can be reconciled. In particular, how can different types of findings: one statistical the other evaluative, be credibly integrated with, or related to, the other? What is required in this situation is an interpretative framework for crossing the boundaries of alternative survey methodologies. In this paper I will reflect on how phenomenology can be used in this context. This will be based on my experience analysing the findings of a research student survey at RMIT. There, a phenomenological approach was used, not to overcome the tensions involved in reconciling the qualitative and quantitative dimensions of the survey, but rather to engage with those tensions and thereby enrich the findings.