Summary of the Classic Grounded Theory mentoring process
I used classic grounded theory (CGT) methodology to conduct data collection and analysis during 6 months of field research in Nairobi, Kenya as a component of an overseas Fellowship. My study was focused on urban refugee and migrant women.
I believe that the use of CGT was one of the best decisions I made for my field research, as the nature of the method itself allowed me to ‘see’ what was otherwise invisible with relation to behavioral patterns and coping mechanisms of participants. Here I include pieces of memos I had written after 4 or 5 months of being in the field, with relation to CGT’s benefits:
At the outset of considering CGT, I participated in a beginner’s online webinar hosted by Dr. Helen Scott. This was a ‘get to know the basics’ introduction about CGT. It also forced me to consider that this is a participant-centric approach as delineated in the method books, and going into it with any other mindset is a hindrance to the CGT process.
Following the webinar and entering the field, I spent approximately 6 months learning classic CGT by reading resources that included Discovery of Grounded Theory (Glaser and Strauss, 1967) and several others listed at the Grounded Theory Institute website not limited to Theoretical Sensitivity (Glaser, 1978), Getting out of the Data (Glaser, 2011), and a recent seminar reader. While these resources were excellent in learning the technical aspects of using CGT method for data collection and analysis, I also made the decision to hire a mentor. While I had outstanding advisors neither of them had used classic GT in field research.
The mentoring process
It is important to note that a mentor does not do your work for you, and data collection, coding, and memoing do not necessarily become easier. As I once told Helen, using classic GT feels like trying to hold water in your hands. She described it as ‘wading through oatmeal.’
In having a mentor however, the process of navigating and applying the CGT method becomes far less overwhelming. CGT is a wonderful research tool, but it is abstract and ambiguous due to its conceptual nature. I found that technical bumps in the road and inevitable periods of frustration/confusion were mitigated with the guidance of a mentor. Also as Glaser describes, there is indeed a ‘delayed action learning’ curve, so a mentor’s encouragement can push you into the ‘doing’ when you at times feel uncertain. I remember looking back at my notes written during meetings with Helen—months later—and having many ‘ah ha!’ or ‘that’s what she meant’ moments.
On a more specific level, as a mentor Helen:
- introduced and explained fundamentals about CGT
- reviewed my research design and provided feedback
- helped me get started with coding interview data and memoing, and also reviewing initial codes/memos with feedback
- provided illustrations of coding and memoing, and during the webinar, actually modeled it
- advised me on small (but important) issues such as labeling memos (this proved invaluable when sifting through 100+ pages of memos)
Given that we were in different locations, we communicated through email, Skype, or the telephone.
In conclusion, please bear in mind that the substantive method resources (e.g., Barney Glaser et al’s books) are critical to building a strong foundation for learning this methodology. However, given that CGT is abstract and conceptual it is tremendously helpful to have a mentor along the way. Helen offered a great deal of technical support through the process of my research, but she also encouraged me during those times when I felt simply confused.
So for the other students out there…go for CGT, and consider a mentor!
Mie-Na Srein, M.A.
15 February 2013
Corporate and Outreach Coordinator
Asian Liver Center at Stanford University