Recent observations from CHEST 2017 by the inestimable Pat Rich!

Days of Past Futures


Last week, I spent valuable time jealously guarding the only power outlet in a conference hall of about 3500 people so I could live tweet the presentations without fearing suddenly losing power in my laptop. At least at that meeting I had a chair pilfered from the rows of interlocking seating rather than having to sit on the floor next to the outlet which has often been the case.

Imagine my awe to read that the American College of Chest Physicians annual meeting being held in Toronto this week was actually holding designated seating for live tweeters at its most important sessions. Wait, there’s more: Delegates were able to add an “I tweet” ribbon to their name badge at the conference as well as find designated selfie areas throughout the conference to take and share photographs.

In addition, many of the sessions were live-streamed via Facebook and YouTube, an educational…

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Sally Thorne’s Interpretive Description: Qualitative Research for Applied Practice is now in its second edition. Among many other qualities, it’s a thoughtful and pragmatic invitation for researchers in applied disciplines to rethink coding. I know this because something interesting happened when I recently attended Thorne’s workshop at the annual Qualitative Health Research (QHR)  2017 conference.

A bit of background: QHR is an excellent conference hosted by the University of Alberta’s International Institute of Qualitative Methods (IIQM). For full disclosure, Sally and I volunteer on the advisory board for IIQM. You might think I am writing this post because Sally asked…But it was actually another respected qualitative researcher who requested a summary of Sally’s workshop.

(It was at this point in the workshop that @trishagreenhalgh asked for a blog, so here we are. When Oxford’s inestimable Trisha Greenhalgh lurks the conference hashtag #QHR2017YQB, you’re doing something right.)

One of Sally’s most relatable points was that qualitative research often is taught as a set of highly procedural, theoretically dense steps. She’s not against using qualitative methodologies, but she reasons that educators, clinicians, and other applied researchers can be distracted by unnecessary methodological procedures.

Sally endorses an approach to qualitative data analysis that centres on how applied researchers understand their data, not how closely these researchers followed a procedural series of methodological steps. A breath of fresh air blew through the room when Sally said she believes coding can become the motivation and driver for research rather than research questions.

Sally defended her position on coding with two key points. First, she reminded us that it is easy to code but hard to uncode. Once we reify an idea into a code it becomes a knowledge object. From this position, then, it becomes difficult for us to ‘uncode’ our work because this involves destroying a knowledge object.

Second, Sally reminded us to consider how coding involves signification, the act of assigning a concept or object to a symbol. While signifying our ideas occurs as an essential part of qualitative analysis, Sally noted a common trend where researchers assign codes too early. Coding too early can negatively impact how researchers think about their data later in their projects. “Coding,” says Sally, “is not the same as deep, real exploration of qualitative data.” When we establish codes too early, they demand we feed them our data instead of supporting the development of new ideas.

Sally invited us to consider some alternatives to our impulse to name and label codes too early in the analytic process. Instead of labelling a code with a word, like Frustration, Sally recommends using labels like Category A or I don’t know why this is important yet. These techniques resist the urge to early labelling that can impact later and potentially deeper thinking.

Sally explained that she sees these coding problems frequently in manuscripts submitted to the journal Nursing Inquiry, of which she is the editor-in-chief. She describes under-theorized qualitative manuscripts that foreground codes as if they are analytic results in and of themselves. “I have 14 codes and 2 categories is not a finding,” quipped Sally to gales of nervous laughter. (Come on, we’ve all done this!)  Writing results involves not only summarizing the analysis, but also creating a rich narrative that can be applied in practice.

Oh. And hell no,  don’t even bring up saturation with Sally! She calls this concept a relic of the early days when qualitative researchers had to measure up to their quantitative colleagues. It’s “absolutely antithetical to applied health disciplines” because after all, “we would never trust a health professional who told us there was no more information to be found” on a topic.

I’ll let Sally’s last slide speak for itself. Needless to say, she’s amazing. Thanks for reading. I hope this was helpful. If you’re interested in this topic and you’d like to know more, please consider following Sally on Twitter as well as the IIQM. 


Dear Lorelei,

Nearly 5 years ago, Stella Ng and I decided to organize the process of nominating you for the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry’s Distinguished Leader award. We brought the idea to Mark Goldszmidt and he was quick to get the ball rolling, whatever we needed he would make it happen.

As it goes with these types of awards, it was a layered process and we knew it would be a big job. Many letters of endorsement would need to be written, documents signed, etc. We were, of course, glad– but unsurprised–that everyone we approached enthusiastically agreed to write a letter. In fact, it came to a point where we had too many offers and needed a backup list. Physicians, research scientists, and even a former Dean wrote on your behalf.

As it also goes with these types of awards, you would not have read my letter, but with the news you have won yet another mentorship award–the 2017 Meredith Marks award!–I thought I would post it online for you in a de-identified format.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Dr. Lorelei Lingard for 4 years, first as a part-time research assistant through the University of Toronto’s Wilson Centre, next as a full-time research associate at the Centre for Education Research & Innovation, and today as a PhD student in the Faculty of Health Science Department of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences. In the medical education research universe, Lorelei is the sun: faculty gravitate toward her ability to support their research, residents are drawn to her ability to connect them with ongoing medical education and surgical education research projects, and graduate students gravitate toward her brilliance, positivity, and poise. She is the best possible ambassador for graduate and post-graduate education at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and worthy for consideration for the Distinguished Leader Award.  

When I met Lorelei, I was in the second year of my Masters degree. Although she was a researcher with a major international profile, she welcomed me onto one of her research projects with kindness and understanding. Being so novice, I was intimidated by her confident, expert approach to a research project involving residents’ comfort-levels with end-of-life care communication. While I could tell Lorelei was extremely busy, I left each meeting with her feeling empowered that I was capable of contributing to her research program and inspired that I was collaborating with someone so generous and knowledgeable.  

As luck would have it, Lorelei was hiring a full-time research associate to begin working with her at Western University at the time I completed my Masters degree. As the successful candidate, I have seen first-hand the impact she is having on the medical education community at Western. I have had the privilege of seeing her work with residents and faculty who come to her with problems and leave with research questions. She never declines to consult with any faculty or student, regardless of their level of understanding of research methods or the stage of development of their research project. Further, no matter how busy she is, she never cancels meetings with her colleagues. Lorelei enables the residents, students and faculty she works with to transform their half-baked ideas into feasible, rigorous, research programs–often projects that end up being funded! She is an inspiration to me, her colleagues, and the students and faculty who work with her.  

I am routinely reminded by others of how fortunate I am to have Lorelei as my PhD supervisor. One colleague has confided in me that they have received more mentorship working with Lorelei for two months than they received from supervisors during their entire doctorate. A recent visiting researcher from [outside Canada] told me that she received more face-time with Lorelei in three weeks than she had received from her doctoral supervisor in six months. These are two simple anecdotes from dozens I’ve observed during my years working with Lorelei. 

Lorelei is world-renowned for her research, but her graduate mentorship, post-graduate student mentorship, and faculty development deserve recognition. I sincerely hope you will select her as the top candidate for this award.

5 years past but the words ring true today. Congratulations (again), Lorelei!



A recent post on the LinkedIn NVivo users page inspired me to write this post on collaborating with NVivo. This is a topic that has been an important component of my work for the past 4 years. I’d surmise that pervasive communication technologies and increased interdisciplinary research mean that NVivo is being used on more research teams now than ever before. This post captures 6 key ideas when collaborating with NVivo. An early caveat is that this post does not discuss the implications for teamwork offered by NVivo Server. With the understanding that I’m excited to see how NVivo Server will develop, I’m not convinced it’s widely available enough to warrant an expanded discussion here.

1. NVivo 10’s collaborative functions

As it stands, only one team member at a time can edit an NVivo project file. However, team members’ identities are recorded when working in a project file at different times. Alternatively, each team member can work on a copy a project file that can later be imported back into a “master” file using the import project dialog box. The “master” file is the main copy of the NVivo 10 project file that contains the most up-to-date source data and data analysis. Crucially, the “master” file should be stored on a computer that is frequently backed up. Anyone who has ever suffered the loss of a project file would likely encourage multiple back-ups on your NVivo project. I use Dropbox as a solution for backing up my NVivo projects, but this solution isn’t perfect as I will expand on below.

Assuming that the work has come to a stage where different members have submitted contributions to the NVivo project file, make sure that the team uses easily identifiable standardized user profiles when they work with their respective parts. User profiles, represented by each individual user’s initials, are an important function when the time comes to compare coding.

Coding stripes can be a useful features for NVivo projects where multiple team members are coding data. Coding stripes allow a team to visually identify how data has been organized into Nodes. NVivo also allows coding stripes to be filtered by team member in order to visually identify how an individual coded the data.

When reporting data analysis findings, a more comprehensive summary of the variance in team members’ coding may be needed. In this case, Coding Comparison Queries allow multiple team members’ coding to be quantified in metrics of inter-rate reliability (e.g., Kappa coefficient).

2. Team roles & responsibilities

Beyond the technical features available for NVivo 10 users, team roles and responsibilities should include some attention to data analysis. On any research team on which I work, I advocate the team appoints an NVivo coordinator for the research project. The NVivo coordinator is the team member responsible for maintaining the team’s “master” project file. The coordinator role entails 4 primary duties:
◆ Ensuring that each team member’s independent data analysis is routinely imported into the “master” project;
◆ Backing up the”master” project;
◆ Importing new data into the “master” project;
◆ and Distributing up-to-date copies of the “master” project.

3. Team workflow plan

Create a team workflow plan that includes how to manage your team’s data and analytic findings. The team workflow plan is a document that capture the team’s shared understanding of filenames, read-only and read-write file access, storage and backup locations, and rules for file distribution and archiving. For example, when it comes to audio and video files, what file formats will the team use? Will those files be embedded items or linked as external items?

The workflow plan should include the team’s approach to creating and maintaining nodes. I always recommend that team members write ‘instructions’ in every Node’s Description field (max 512 characters). Unless using In Vivo Coding, creating a new node results in a new node dialog box that includes a blank description field. What better place for a researcher to capture their thinking at a given moment? A team member’s definitions or reflections on coding and nodes can also be written as a linked Memo, which is easier to write, read, print and code.

4. NVivo and cloud computing

I use cloud-based file sharing services like DropBox, SkyDrive and Google Drive as a working solution for backing up and sharing collaborative NVivo Project files. In theory, these services also allow changes to a NVivo project file to be made across several computers using the ‘cloud’.

I recommend you turn off the live syncing features of these programs while you are running the NVivo 10 software client. Most of these services allow you to toggle live-syncing on a folder by folder basis so that you can sync all other folders but the folder containing your NVivo project. I learned this the hard way by losing hours of coding time due to an error caused by simultaneously using NVivo and syncing its attendant .nvp file in a cloud-based utility. Other colleagues of mine have had similar experiences. Cloud-based utilities can be useful for team collaboration, but taking the proper precautions can avoid costly loss of analysis time due to software crashes.

5. Team meetings

Finally, add the NVivo project file as an agenda item team research meetings. While the meeting agenda will no doubt be packed with discussions of the research process, briefly talking about the tools of your is a good idea.

These insights and many more are contained my technical manual on QSR’s software, “NVivo 10 Essentials” (co-authored with Bengt Edhlund).

I’m on the train returning from Qualitative Health Research 2012 (#QHR2012). I’m feeling inspired watching the beautiful Fall colours of rural Quebec pass by my window. Perfect time to write.

Many moons ago I started a series of blog posts on a concept I termed Academic PR. My first post in this series was me waxing poetic about my observation that academic programs don’t teach students how to network, disseminate research, and discover funding opportunities, especially using the web and new media. My second post in this series was about the academic social networking website academia.edu (a site that I think has been largely subsumed by LinkedIn, but I’ll write about that another day).

BirdThis post has taken me months to write. My excuse has to do with my previous conception of what I am calling academic PR, a set of strategies for academic professionals seeking to network, disseminate research, and discover funding opportunities. I was stuck believing that academic PR has to be an individual endeavour. Yet I realized successful professionals in every field need to engage in an ongoing dialogue with others – whether that dialogue is an argument, an agreement, or, more likely, a little of both. Rather than finding ways to output your ideas to the world, successful professionals in many contexts must listen as much, if not more, than they speak. And it’s this dialogic nature of networking that makes Twitter an essential tool for academic PR.

So with those reflections in mind, I give you the five key concepts that researchers ought to know about Twitter.

Five key concepts for academic PR using Twitter:

1. I know many academics who are apprehensive about joining social networking websites. Unlike sites like Facebook and Academia.edu, Twitter content is largely public. You don’t need to create a Twitter account to know what’s happening on Twitter.

2. Twitter is searchable. Twitter stores information in a database each time a user posts content. Keywords and proper names can be used as Twitter search terms any time by any user.

3. Twitter users use hashtags (keywords followed by #) to create communities and streamline searching. For academics, the most apparent use of hashtags is to follow conversations at academic conferences (e.g., this week’s conference hashtag was #QHR2012). Learning about relevant hashtags can be a powerful way for users to plug themselves into relevant community dialogs (e.g., #cdnpse is a hashtag used for academics interested in discussing Canadian post-secondary education.)

4. Twitter data often contains hyperlinks to blogs, news stories, academic articles, or online photos and videos. Further, Twitter users often link one another’s usernames to create connections and conversations between users.

5. Twitter is a venue for enhancing the discoverability of you work or the work of others in a community that is meaningful to you. You can link your work, join meaningful conversations, and meet other users who are interested in the same things you are.

Please feel free to leave feedback, comments or concerns.

The following set of blog posts summarizes the work I have done with an organization called Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL). This second post, “Interview with Ken,” highlights the unique interview I conducted while at Boston’s Dorchester Court House. I believe a program similar to CLTL could succeed in Canada, but it will require a great deal of lobbying and effort by committed individuals. Now that I am finished my Master of Arts degree, perhaps I will begin this process.


Built in Boston’s densely populated inner city, the Dorchester men’s CLTL program is by far the largest, graduating a cohort of 37 men last year and requiring a staff of eight, including two English professors (Taylor Stoehr and Bert Stern), three to four probation officers, a judge, and two former program participants. The class meets for ten weekly sessions of ninety minutes each and uses Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of an American Slave as a primary text. Ken is a graduate from that large cohort who promptly arrived to meet me at the Dorchester District Courthouse to cover for a last minute interview cancellation.

When asked about his experience in CLTL, Ken particularly appreciated the feedback he received on written assignments:

[CLTL] opened up my way of thinking a whole lot differently. I found myself writing about stuff that I wasn’t even thinking about. And the more I wrote, once I started writing I couldn’t stop. . . Taylor, when he used to give us comments, he said I got a knack for [writing]. Now I want to write my own autobiography one day . . . [Taylor] gave me a lot of input and he gave me some places where I can go if I want to go to school, you know? Like, who to contact for loans or whatever . . . after you graduate you get this booklet, when they read it, they was like, wow man you got some talent . . . [Taylor and Bert] knew I had a real talent in writing, and Taylor he really made me feel good, his comments . . . I felt real good about myself after that.

When asked whether or not CLTL changed his opinions of other people, Ken recalled being struck by a story the presiding judge told during a group session:

We had a judge there, and he made a movie, a documentary about his father. About how him and his father didn’t really get along, and his father was a just a provider and this and that, but there was no connection. And we talked about how a male child needs is his father; even though a girl needs her father too. So, we touched a lot of subjects like that. Which was good because like I said it opened up different avenues of my mind. You know what I’m saying? My brain. Where before I wouldn’t even think of something like that. I started writing you know and I enjoy it . . .

Aside from the interaction between the instructors and students, that he and his classmates mainly agreed to open-booktake CLTL to get six months taken off of their probation:

Some dudes told stories about how what his father did to him to make him do what he’s doing and how he was sleeping in abandoned buildings, and his alcoholism and things like that . . . A lot of people had a lot of different stories. And I think they felt the same way that I felt: that they didn’t realize that they was going to be talking about this stuff. You know what I’m saying? You know, like you going in and you’re like, I’m just going to read some books. But a lot of people opened up.

Ken’s statements reveal that, along with literature, writing, and the facilitators, interactions between class  participants are another important part of CLTL. Ken’s indication that “they felt the same way that I felt” indicates sentiments of empathy amongst the group.

My next post will summarize my interview with former CLTL participant, Sheila. Please leave comments or check other posts I’ve written for the CLTL blog, Changing Lives Changing Minds:

Book Review: “Missing Sarah” by Maggie de Vries

Has the Torch Been Passed? A Review of the 2008 Annual Conference

A Different Light: Report from the 2009 Changing Lives Through Literature Conference

Starting and Maintaining a CLTL Juvenile Program: An Interview with Michael Habib

Patrick Hogan This is the first post in my Great Minds series, a set of interviews with writers who have inspired me. My academic work has introduced me to numerous professors doing fascinating work on literature, cognition, and social action. University of Connecticut English professor, Patrick Hogan, will be my first great mind.

I greatly admire Professor Hogan’s work, his expertise in comparative literature—the study of literature and art from across world cultures—allows him to present evidence of cross-cultural similarities in how humans use arts. Specifically, Dr Hogan is most well known for his work on literary universals, the similarities across all world cultures on the structure and function of narrative and poetic art. His excellent book on this subject is The Mind and Its Stories (2003).

Before entering his PhD studies, Dr Hogan studied under Marshall McLuhan, Northrop Frye, Walter Ong, Jim McCawley, Donald Davidson, and Paul Ricoeur. After completing his MA, and at the suggestion of Walter Ong, Dr Hogan applied to the doctoral program in English at SUNY/Buffalo, primarily because of Norm Holland’s center for the psychological study of the arts. The majority of his ‘literary’ studies there continued to be on philosophical and psychological topics.

Professor Hogan is a prolific author, publishing books and articles on cognitive science, post-colonial literature, and literary theory. He was also kind enough to allow me to publish this interview on his writing habits, his work on Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, and his work on literary universals.

1. How are you such a prolific writer? What is your writing schedule?Cog Sci Lit Art

I don’t really have a schedule for writing. I’m not one of those people who writes every morning from 7 to 10 or something. I mostly write an article or a chapter when I feel ready to do so . . .

I am interested in a wide range of academic topics and, in keeping with that, I am usually working on many things at once—things that are different, but related. For example, over the next few days I have to revise an essay on grief in Hamlet, finish drafting something on guilt (by the way, I do sometimes write on cheerier topics than guilt and grief!), prepare for my class on Medieval Arabic literary theory, respond to your questions, and prepare for a seminar where participants will be discussing something I wrote on nationalism and war. (They have sent me an intimidating 3-page, single-spaced list of questions!) Suppose I only had to revise the grief essay. I simply didn’t feel like doing that now. If I had nothing else to do, I would have piddled around, putting off the revision. Since I have a range of things to do, I was able to choose something that I felt like doing.

On the writing itself, I’m pretty boring as a writer. I am always trying to read things on topics of interest to me. They usually overlap with several things I am working on (e.g., a book on collective guilt might relate to the guilt essay and the war/nationalism chapter). I take notes on what I am going to write about, usually for months beforehand. I then gather the notes, make an outline, and largely follow the outline—though, of course, the argument expands greatly during actual composition. I usually do a lot of focused secondary research after writing a first draft. I incorporate the research, then re-read and revise the essay one or two times on the computer, then several times in print-outs.

2. In my opinion, you’ve written the best analysis of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. Can you tell me about composing that piece? How long did it take? Was it frustrating dealing with such a complex text?

I’m very pleased that you know that article. People who know my cognitive work tend not to know my postcolonial work (and neither tend to know my political writings), though they are interrelated.

Midnights Children Well, here’s a sort of long version. I don’t really have any training in any literary period. I was hired at the University of Connecticut to teach literary theory. But that is only two courses a year (at most). So they had to have me teach something else. I had done some work on Irish literature, mostly Joyce, so they put me in the Modern British course. I soon noticed that postcolonial authors didn’t fit anywhere in our curriculum. I began teaching them in Modern British, eventually creating new undergraduate and graduate courses in “world literature in English.” (I had to teach myself a slew of new authors anyway, so why not African and Indian authors, who interested me more anyway?) I somewhat foolishly began teaching Midnight’s Children in those courses. I say “somewhat foolishly” because it is a complex book, which means that you either spend a lot of time on it in class or you cover it only in a cursory way.

Anyway, having taught the book several times, I knew it pretty well. I had also read some criticism about the work and largely felt that criticism to be misguided. You may remember my analysis of Gandhi’s death happening at the wrong time in Rushdie’s novel. The usual interpretation of this, which questioned the objectivity of historical events, seemed to me to miss the point entirely. This is just one example of the problems I felt were present in that body of criticism. This led me to wish to write on Rushdie’s book, if only to respond to some standard views that I felt really were not helpful to people trying to understand the novel.

My wife is Kashmiri and I had been to Kashmir with her before the revolution began. For this reason, I had a particular interest in the Kashmir section. When working on postcolonial literature, I usually do a fair amount of scholarly research on culture and history before I begin writing. Given the fairly close historical emplotment of Rushdie’s novel, I knew that the Kashmir section would almost certainly be tightly interrelated with Kashmiri history. So I began reading about Kashmiri history. I was already partially familiar with the Islamic (specifically Qur’anic) backgrounds, but I checked those as well. As sometimes happens, I was (I believe) fortunate in what I found.

3. What has the response to your work on Literary Universals been like? What do your critics have to say?

GilgameshMy work on literary universals is by far the best known of anything I have done. It is what has led to invitations to write articles in various outlets and to speak in many places over the past several years. The idea excites people, and there have been some interesting and valuable developments of the idea (e.g., in the special issue of Consciousness, Literature, and the Arts 6.2 [August 2005]). But I must say that, when I go to give talks, I find that almost no one has any concrete idea of what I have said about literary universals, other than the actual person who invited me. When I submit articles or books, referees routinely ask me to explain and often ask me to defend the idea. This gives rise to a logistical problem of how to get the relevant information into the new work while still leaving room for whatever is new in that work.

But I don’t at all want to complain. I’m grateful that the work has gotten any attention at all. Moreover, there has been an enormous change from, say, ten years ago. When I first started submitting The Mind and Its Stories to presses, they wouldn’t even look at it. I remember putting the manuscript in the mail one Thursday and getting it back the following Tuesday. From what I could tell, the editor at the press simply saw the word “universals” in the title and sent it back. Indeed, when it was finally accepted, it was done in a psychology series, not a literary series. (An exception to this general literary aversion to universals was Bill Germano at Routledge, who commissioned Cognitive Science, Literature, and the Arts.)Beowulf Manuscript

For the most part, prominent mainstream literary theorists have not dealt with the issue of specific narrative universals. However, there is far more openness to the idea of universals, not only among editors at presses, but among mainstream theorists—in part because of some recent work by Judith Butler (very different from mine, of course, though we share some criticisms of identity politics).

I would say that the most hostility to my work has probably come, not from social constructionists (as one might  expect), but from critics drawing on Evolutionary Psychology (EP). Of course, some have been very supportive of my work. But the problem is that I have been very critical of the EP program. My contention about narrative universals is that they are not innate per se. Rather, only proto-emotion systems are innate as such. These emotion systems tend to develop in similar ways due to similar physical and caregiving environments. The caregiving environment is only in part the result of genetic predispositions. It also results from convergent development through group dynamics. Moreover, narrative structures themselves undoubtedly stabilize after periods of innovation, again with convergent results. Put differently, my contention is that there is only very limited and somewhat distant genetic determination of narrative universals. To a great extent, universals result from historical and cultural developments. However, my contention is that such historical and cultural developments may be convergent rather than divergent in some cases—perhaps even in many cases.

Finally, unlike most EP critics, I see literature as circulating a great deal of dominant ideology. So, I do not see literature as evidence for, say, gender differences. Insofar as research apparently reveals a consistent pattern of such differences in literary representations, my hypothesis would be that this shows converging patterns in patriarchal ideology, not some truth about men and women. Moreover, even apparent patterns of this sort may reflect the ideological orientations of the researchers (including coders who have been trained to produce matching results) more than unequivocal patterns in the texts themselves.