Reflections on reflection

Today’s post is a guest post from my friend and fellow PhD-er, Lynsey Fenwick. In between coffee breaks where we off-load about life, work, and the challenges of being mature students, she researches men who view indecent images of children online.


At the end of an exhausting hockey tournament, my son and I reflected both on his performance as a player and my performance as a supporting parent.  This is something we have worked on for the past 12 months, with a slow realisation that verbalising our subjective reflections has actually helped us both to be more open and objective. I have seen my son grow in confidence and become more able to take ownership of his own progress.  With this in mind, upon embarking on my PhD, I felt that it was important to develop further my own reflective practice.

Reflective practice is tricky, particularly for someone like me; uncomfortable in turning the magnifying glass on myself and, in relation to publishing my thoughts, has a complete lack of confidence.  This blog is an attempt to confront some of my own fears and hopefully my thoughts may resonate with others, but whether it does or whether it doesn’t, it will inevitably lead to more reflection!  So, initially I wanted to write about how reflection has helped me at the start of my research journey in the following three ways:

Making sense of my own thoughts

I have found the start of my PhD to be confusing. Reading, skill development, portfolio management, proposal writing, training and more reading.  Sometimes being able to see the wood for the trees has been difficult and I have found using a reflective journal has given me the space to describe my thoughts, organise and manage my work and develop my proposal more fully.  Although this has been invaluable, I’ve struggled to dig deep.  Superficial reflection doesn’t provide the in-depth insights required to draw meaningful development from them nor does it allow me to practice the kind of analytical skills I’ll need for my research.  Further reading (such as Neil et al, 2013) has helped me to ask the less comfortable but more enlightening questions!

Finding my own voice                                               

Reflecting on my own thoughts and opinions of what I’ve been learning, reading and writing has helped me become a more critical thinker and to start to identify and articulate my own research ‘voice’.  We are all individuals, with unique backgrounds, thought processes and perceptions and I feel strongly that we should acknowledge this as part of the research process.  My current work, reading widely around research methods (see Forrester, 2010) has provided a platform to position my own thoughts and narrow down the methods that are not only most appropriate for my research aims but by which I will be able to utilise my strengths.

Confidence

Lastly, I am developing confidence in my work and in myself as a result of my reflections.  I have already mentioned earlier one of the ways in which I am using reflection to help improve myself as a parent; but in relation to my work, a detailed journal, used regularly enables me to not only reflect on my actions, thoughts and decisions but to keep track of these and develop a rationale for the decisions that I make.  The more I am able to reflect both as an individual and with others, in for example supervisory meetings, the more I will become more confident in myself and my ability.  I am not convinced however that I am ever going to feel comfortable publishing my thoughts but I hope in time that practice will help me to become more confident and using my reflections will certainly be of benefit.

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Forrester, M. (2010). Doing Qualitative Research in Psychology. A Practical Guide. London: SAGE.

Neil, R., Cropley, B., Wilson, K., & Faull, A. (2013). Exploring the value of reflective practice interventions within applied sport psychology: Case studies with an individual athlete and a team. Sport & Exercise Psychology Review, 9(2), 42-56.

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