Blog post Part of series: BERA Early Career Researcher Network Symposium Series 2022
Research reflexivity during Covid-19
In this blog post, I reflect on my experience of research reflexivity when conducting a PhD study during the Covid-19 outbreak. This piece is a result of presenting at the Early Career Researcher Network Symposium held in October 2022 and is inspired by the speakers’ critical reflections. As a novice researcher undertaking a longitudinal case study about teachers’ knowledge, beliefs and identity, reflexivity helped me to face some pivotal questions about the lived experiences of international students in the UK on an intense TESOL master’s programme during the Covid-19 pandemic. Asking myself many ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘what if’ questions made me more aware of how I was conducting my study, particularly my responsibility to the participants’ wellbeing and my own.
‘The importance of my reflection was highlighted when I started to recognise some significant unexpected findings that were out of scope of my research objectives.’
The importance of my reflection was highlighted when I started to recognise some significant unexpected findings that were out of scope of my research objectives. The participants’ wellbeing had declined throughout the study and notably during the outbreak of Covid-19. Reflecting on this issue gave me confidence in the importance of my study, which was timely and unpacking issues related to international students’ mental health in the abovementioned circumstances. Like other longitudinal studies (Kim et al., 2021; O’Connor et al., 2020), my research acknowledged the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on adults’ wellbeing in the UK.
Writing reflexive journals helped me as a researcher to engage more critically with the research process and communicate adequately with the participants. This is where thorough analysis was given to my actions, the reasons for doing them, challenging my assumptions, and acknowledging my thoughts and decisions about the research process (Mason, 2018). For example, finding signs of depression and burnout in one participant’s collected data (Mental Health UK, 2020) encouraged a deep dive into my responsibility to the research participants. It was key to explore knowledge about research ethics by referring to BAAL (2021) and BERA (2018). I carefully considered the researcher/participant line, where the participants may misread my capacity to provide help (Berkovic et al., 2020), and I was reluctant to show my feelings to the participants, which may cause stress or other harmful feelings. This problem was difficult to face. It created a dilemma over whether to seek consultation from my supervisors, which may reveal the participant’s identity, or to deal with the problem alone. My ethical responsibility was not letting me smooth away those difficulties and concentrate on the generated findings, and instead I was reviewing studies of international students’ wellbeing and teachers’ wellbeing, for example burnout and depression (Trautwein, 2018; Shirazizadeh & Karimpour, 2019; Fathi et al., 2021).
Facing these emotions was a distressing experience. My research study should not have held any risk for the participants or the researcher, as the context involved mundane settings (BAAL, 2021), but the time of implementing it and the gathered data have certainly posed some emotional and mental challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic has brought uncertainty and moving emotions. My wellbeing was adversely affected because I tried to ignore these signs and carry on with the study to submit my thesis within the timeframe. However, reflexivity made me realise the necessity of developing my thinking about my responsibilities to the participants and their wellbeing as well as to myself.
Berkovic, D., Ayton, D., Briggs, A. M., & Ackerman, I. N. (2020). The view from the inside: Positionality and insider research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 19. https://doi.org/10.1177/1609406919900828
British Association for Applied Linguistics. [BAAL]. (2021). Recommendations on good practice in applied linguistics (4th ed.). https://www.baal.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/BAAL-Good-Practice-Guidelines-2021.pdf
British Educational Research Association. [BERA]. (2018). Ethical guidelines for educational research. https://www.bera.ac.uk/publication/ethical-guidelines-for-educational-research-2018
Fathi, J., Greenier, V., & Derakhshan, A. (2021). Self-efficacy, reflection, and burnout among Iranian EFL teachers: The mediating role of emotion regulation. Iranian Journal of Language Research, 9(2), 13–37. https://ijltr.urmia.ac.ir/article_121043.html
Kim, L. E., Oxley, L., & Asbury, K. (2021). ‘My brain feels like a browser with 100 tabs open’: A longitudinal study of teachers’ mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 92(1), 299–318. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjep.12450
Mason, J. (2018). Qualitative researching (3rd ed.). SAGE.
Mental Health UK. (2020). https://mentalhealth-uk.org
O’Connor, R., Wetherall, K., Cleare, S., McClelland, H., Melson, A., Niedzwiedz, C., & Robb, K. (2020). Mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic: Longitudinal analyses of adults in the UK COVID-19 Mental Health & Wellbeing study. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 218(6), 326–333. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.2020.212
Shirazizadeh, M., & Karimpour, M. (2019). An investigation of the relationships among EFL teachers’ perfectionism, reflection and burnout. Cogent Education, 6(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/2331186X.2019.1667708
Trautwein, C. (2018). Academics’ identity development as teachers. Teaching in Higher Education, 23(8), 995–1010. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2018.1449739