An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) student’s survival guide to finding your tribe and surfing the tsunami of your research journey

Updated February 2022

There is no doubt that navigating a qualitative research project that employs Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) can be tricky. This is the case regardless of the level of study you are at and especially if you are a novice IPA-er, learning the ropes for the first time. This article outlines ways to find and access support for your IPA that could be a total game-changer, in my humble opinion!

My IPA workshops have been carefully curated to support you through the process of conducting your IPA research project from start to finish. I aim to demystify the process of planning, designing, conducting, and writing up your project, so that you can feel confident about what you are doing and why.  

My qualitative awakening

When I chose to pursue a qualitative paradigm for my doctoral-level research, I had never done any qualitative research before. I had come from a background in pharmacy and had been trained in and conducted only quantitative research up to the point of my training as a Counselling Psychologist. I decided to challenge myself and take on a qualitative research study as I was keen to investigate a different approach to research.

In all honesty, it absolutely blew my mind! The depth and complexity of epistemologies that come with a qualitative approach ignited my inner geek and I was hooked. Nonetheless, it was a hugely steep learning curve for me, and my supervisor was not a qualitative expert. This forced me to immerse myself in the study of this paradigm and the methodology I chose to employ: Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA).

Getting into Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) and its community

I went all out: I read absolutely everything I could lay my hands on, I attended every training that I could find (literally following Jonathan Smith around UK universities like some sort of super fan), and I joined my regional IPA group, attending every meeting without fail.

As time went on, I developed a deep understanding of IPA and benefited enormously from the camaraderie of the regional group – in fact, I continued to attend even after I finished my doctorate and went on to co-facilitate with a colleague for three years.

The moral of this story is this: with determination, application, and a supportive IPA community, you too can master IPA and produce a project that you will be proud of. 

Before I engaged with the IPA community and hoovered up every training I could get myself to, I felt lonely, bewildered, and confused. I initially found myself adrift in the world of IPA with no IPA-ers around me. It was not a happy or comfortable place.

So, grabbing the bull by the horns and getting connected early on in my doctoral journey into IPA was an essential component of my (eventual) success. I benefitted immensely from seeking out like-minded others and building a community around me that supported my exploration of qualitative research in general and IPA. I certainly found it easier and more productive to reflect collaboratively with my several peer researcher study buddies.

Ways to connect with the IPA community

There are numerous ways to get connected and here are some suggestions that you might like to pursue to help you feel better supported and perhaps find that study buddy:

Review what is available at an institutional level – the Grad School or other research support

What resources do you have at your disposal? Find out what events, forums, and grad school communities are available to you. Check out your grad school learning and teaching training offices and become known as a research student who wants to learn more, train more, and most importantly, connect!

Find yourself that all-important study buddy – they are out there somewhere!  

Ideally, this person will be doing an IPA too, but this is not a pre-requisite! If they are employing a different methodology this could stimulate some very interesting discussion and debate. It will most likely reveal new avenues of learning and will also help solidify your understanding of your own approach.

Together you can construct resource lists, identify supplementary training, and source the materials that you will need to support you in moving forward, whichever stage you are at in your research journey.

You could set weekly/monthly online study dates to review current or past seminal papers (the British Psychological Society’s QMiP section is a great place to start looking for input) or even to discuss any issues and impasses you are facing during your research journey.

A study buddy can be a huge source of general research and moral support, especially if you are flagging. How often you meet, and on what topic you focus, is up to you and your research project. The important thing here is feeling connected and supported – something that pays immeasurable dividends!

Find your tribe and engage in the IPA community

The IPA community was something that really appealed to me from the get-go and was one of the reasons I looked to this methodology for my doctoral research study. It is supportive and active and provided a secure base from which to conduct my research. For example:

  • The IPA online discussion group is a fabulous resource where no question is a stupid question and the ‘big names’ are super generous with their time and attention. They respond to any and everything posed and there is an archive with a useful search function so that you can check if your query has already been posed and answered. Find information on how to join here
  • Find and join Facebook groups or other research forums where you can post questions for peer or sometimes expert advice
  • Find and follow researchers and research organisations on social media and places like ResearchGate
  • Seek out your local Regional IPA Group and start attending. Alternatively, now that most are operating online following the pandemic, you can literally go global and attend whichever meetings you chose! (time differences notwithstanding, obvs) Personally, my local group was a lifeline for me throughout the process of executing my research and I made many good friends there. Find information about these resources here for the UK and here for international groups
  • Sign up to any newsletters, online events and bulletins that are relevant for methodology and topic area. A good example if you are a BPS member is to join the Qualitative Methods in Psychology (QMiP) section – its only £10 per year and the Bulletin is a fabulous publication, rich in many IPAs, although not peer reviewed.

What if there is nothing local? Build something yourself!

If you are passionate about your research, and no support group exists in your area/country, why not create your own peer support forum!? Not only could this provide a rich seam of support, but it could also help to grow your confidence and independence as a researcher. And who knows… maybe your study buddy is out there somewhere, waiting to be found for a promising research camaraderie…

Connecting with the IPA community can be a game changer

My experience of doing an IPA study was so life-changing I made a career out of it! I had honestly never considered a career in academia and teaching; however, I found my inner geek while conducting my doctoral research, and this led me down a fruitful and fulfilling path of teaching, supervising, and examining IPA, alongside many other topic areas related to my discipline of Counselling Psychology.

I firmly believe, from my own experience, that you can conquer your IPA study and I would love to be part of the armoury that you develop to support you in your mission!

Engaging with expert teaching and an active and supportive IPA community helped me become an expert in the methodology and succeed with my doctoral research.

It also taught me valuable academic and life skills that I have been able to apply in all areas of my life…

Take a look at the workshops I offer and let me take you from confused and unsure to competent and confident!

Until next time!

To your research success, Elena

Copyright © 2020-24 Dr Elena Gil-Rodriguez

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The information contained in this article or any other content on this website is provided for information and guidance purposes only and is based on Dr Elena GR’s experience in teaching, conducting, and supervising IPA research projects.
All such content is intended for information and guidance purposes only and is not meant to replace or supersede your supervisory advice/guidance or institutional and programme requirements, and are not intended to be the sole source of information or guidance upon which you rely for your research study.
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Finally, please note that the use of my content/materials does not guarantee any particular grade for your work

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