PhD graduate obtains international commendation for groundbreaking work

Rose Richards

A doctoral dissertation produced by a PhD graduate from the Psychology Department at Stellenbosch University (SU) was recently selected as one of the 10 most highly commended dissertations by the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology (IIQM) in 2011.

The Institute is based at the University of Alberta in Canada and receives dissertations from all over the world for the IIQM Dissertation Award competition.

Ms Rose Richards, who works at the Language Centre at SU, explains that her research focused on the experience of chronic illness. She used her own “experience of chronic kidney disease, dialysis, transplantation and life after transplant to explore what it means to tell the story of the experience of chronic illness”.

The research work for the PhD dissertation was conducted by using autoethnography – using both academic and personal writing – as a methodology. 

“Autoethnography also allowed me to contextualise my own narrative and experiences against the larger field of Qualitative Health Research, illness narratives and a growing body of research into the liminal state of surviving something that used to be fatal and lingers with you for the rest of your life. I discovered that growing well was as traumatic as becoming ill,” explains Richards, who will receive her degree during the SU graduation in March this year.

“It also allowed me to play with academic form and to see how far I could change the conventions of the genre without becoming non-academic. That part was a lot of fun.”

Richards says she was thrilled to learn that her dissertation was considered good enough to compete for the award and even more delighted to be in the top ten.

“It was a tremendous validation of my work. My research has had immense personal significance for me and it feels really good to know that it is meaningful to others too. At first I worried that what I did would have limited value to others, but being shortlisted tells me that my work can speak to others too.”

According to Richards’ supervisor, Prof Leslie Swartz from the Psychology Department, her work is “amongst the most interesting and original” that he has had the privilege to supervise. “I therefore believe that her groundbreaking work richly deserves international recognition”, says Swartz.

Richards was encouraged to submit her work for consideration by Professor Sally Thorne who is an examiner and Professor of Nursing at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Thorne is well-known across the world for her substantial work on Qualitative Health Research Methodology. In 2009, Thorne received Canada’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women Award from the Canadian organisation, Women’s Executive Network.

Thorne described Richard’s work as one of the “most exciting and powerful pieces of original scholarship” that she has had the pleasure to read.

“It set out to ‘perturb’ thinking, in both the author and in her eventual audiences, and it clearly accomplished that in a brilliant and compelling manner,” wrote Thorne.