Friday, 17 March 2017

Floating Office

The 'floating office analysis' approach was developed as an element in the methods I am using to analyse recordings of narrative interviews with HE students. It is the 'Revisit audio' stage below that was carried out at sea.

Overall Process

Carry out the interview via Skype or Phone.

Listen and Transcribe.

Listen and annotate.

Break down text into small meaningful units and paste into spreadsheet rows

Develop codes using colour tags and identify themes.

Reassemble rows from individual spreadsheets onto 'theme sheets' to organise a synthesis of themes across participants.

Revisit audio, listen at whole story level to check for possible misinterpretation and any missed aspects. This is a checking stage during which I wanted to re-engage with the whole story of each narrative by listening to recordings in the same immersive way I would listen to a radio play.

Revisit spreadsheet analysis and augment with comments from this vocalised analysis.


I transferred two 1 hour interview recordings to my phone, put it in a waterproof phone case put my headphones on and set off for a gentle sea kayak trip. Recording comments on the GoPro worked reasonably well in practice, battery life is over 4 hours so it was running continuously. Wind noise was low although I had to speak loudly for my voice to register through the waterproof casing. Operating the phone with wet hands wasn't feasible so I listened without pause and rewind /replay.

Standing on the beach ready to set off I felt almost like this was skiving, that this might be an excuse to go and play rather than to study. I felt a sense of guilt despite being aware that this was a planned step on my journey and that there are many good reasons why it is important to escape the traditional office. Doctoral study is well known for being stressful, it is a high stakes process that is reliant on surviving a viva, failure can potentially mean 4-6 years of intensive effort leads to no qualification. Preserving personal well-being throughout this time is important. I feel totally at home on water, and being in or on the sea has pretty much been a lifetime addiction, I feel connected and relaxed in this environment, in calm seas it is a meditative experience, in rougher seas it gets the adrenaline flowing and is a joyful experience. This day was relatively calm and ideal for my purpose.

As I paddled along listening to my interview recordings I felt more connected to them than when I was transcribing. It was very much like listening to a radio play, it also reminded me of watching TV with people who are into watching sport. I found myself verbalising commentary in the way they do although I was not shouting at the ref or the players but I was expressing my empathy with some comments and being a little critical of others.

There were times when i would have liked to pause - rewind - re-listen to some bits but that was not particularly practical. The emphasis and the weaving of themes throughout the narrative became clearer on this listening. The extract below is the opening words of one interview with a graduate whose first language is not English. The strength of her emphasis seemed clearer, the theme of prioritising her role of being a mother to four young children was apparent on my spreadsheet but after this listening I added words like 'firm' and 'strong' to better indicate the depth of the emphasis. It felt like she had revisited the prioritising of being a mother repeatedly during the whole of the interview in order to ensure I picked it up and to convey clearly why she had made certain decisions during her study.

"For me, being that I am also a mother of children, and also part time working it was very important for me that I could do it online as opposed go into uni...[pause] That was the main reason for me to choose the course…[ 4 sec pause] for me it was ‘always mother first.’ [firm conviction] so that was the main reason at outset - it was manageable. [strong emphasis] ."

The message that rang out during this listening was that the participant had set clear parameters in order to manage her study along with life and work commitments without significantly compromising the life experience for those around her. Her strategy for achieving this was to create a detailed individual learning plan and to modify it regularly to track progression. The more detail she put into the ILP the more useful it became and the more confident she felt in respect of her ability to be flexible.

Below is an edited extract from my third cycle of inquiry into analysing audio recordings of interviews while doing one of my favourite activities. In the extract I am reflecting on the experience rather than the actual interview data. Unfortunately on the day I did not notice a splash on my camera casing - hence the blurred centre.

Notes on literature

I have only recently started to explore literature relating to the impact of stress on psychological and physiological well-being, some notes are included below:

Cells with shortened telomeres are likely to show increased cell senescence (cell ageing and loss of the ability to replicate) and/or apoptosis (programmed cell death). This increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, vascular dementia and degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, diabetes and other lifestyle diseases with the potential to develop chronic states likely to provoke early mortality. Hezel, Bardeesy and Maser (2005) link positive states of mind to increases in telomere maintenance and the healthy functioning of eukaryotic chromosomes.

In 2013 White, Alcock, Wheeler and Depledge carried out a panel survey in an attempt to counter potential weaknesses (Wheeler et al., 2012) by analysing self-reported health from individuals who have lived at varying distances from the coast in England. This data is longitudinal in structure but still had inherent weaknesses; however, it does include people who have and have not lived at varying distances from the coast during the period of study so enables consideration of other factors such as changes in employment status. In-line with findings from Wheeler et al. (2012) this study also found that individuals reported better health in years when they lived within 5 km of the coast. The effect was marginal in the sense that beyond the 5km proximity band there was little additional impact no matter how much further from the coast individuals lived.

The authors acknowledge a potential benefit relationship and point out that further research is needed. These studies were based on self-reported perceptions of health, it would be interesting to carry out a longitudinal study based on medical health records to compare with perceived health although perceptions of benefit could be considered as relating to the well reported placebo effect in that if perceived benefit is part of a belief system it may have physiological and psychological impact regardless of the inherent properties of the source of that benefit.

Hartig et al. (2003) identified that regular access to restorative natural environments can interrupt processes that reduce health and well-being. In 2004 the Chief Medical Officer in England identified that regular exercise of a minimum of 5 periods per week has a similar impact to treating moderate depression with antidepressant drugs. The physiological processes underpinning these changes are discussed by Epel, et al. (2009) and Epel (2009) who show that telomere shortening is linked to chronic stress exposure and depression. Telomeres are protective nucleoprotein structures which are located on projections present on eukaryotic chromosomes.

Free radicals (red) and a mitochondria - these were once free living organisms that now live within our own cells in an endosymbiotic relationship.

Psychological stress causes excessive release of free radicals which leads to an imbalance against available antioxidant defences. This ‘oxidative stress’ damages telomeres.

Mitchell and Popham (2008) discuss how contact with natural environments can reduce stress and blood pressure and that people living near natural green spaces are likely to have less health problems, and to live longer, than those living in highly urbanised environments. Depledge and Bird (2009) highlight that: “less than half of all men and a third of all women are active enough to support good health, creating additional vulnerability to cancers, heart disease, stroke and, mental and physical disability.” they also point out that both coastal areas and inland water bodies are particularly effective in stimulating people to be more active and that regular contact with natural environments improves health in particular mental illness such as depression and lifestyle diseases associated with obesity. The Natural England (2011) survey generated data that indicated that visits to the coast were more effective in generating stress-reducing, positive emotions than visits to natural or man-made green spaces, this is reinforced by Ashbullby et al. (2013) who point out that a strong body of evidence is emerging that blue spaces can be particularly beneficial for psychological wellbeing.

Wheeler et al. (2012) analysed 2001 census data and reported an “apparent gradient of increasing self-reported good health with proximity to the coast in England”. They also noted the effect possibly being strong enough to mitigate negative health effects due to low socio-economic status. The sample size was large; however, they note that despite a relatively limited evidence base acknowledgement of the effect in health policies is growing. Shortcomings include the fact that the data cannot acknowledge potential effects due to migration of richer and healthier people to coastal areas; however, they point out that the coast - health association appears to be greater in deprived areas.


Ashbullby, K. J., Pahl, S., Webley, P. and White, M. P., 2013 The beach as a setting for families’ health promotion: A qualitative study with parents and children living in coastal regions in Southwest England, Health and Place, September 2013, Vol.23, pp.138-147
Chief Medical Officer, 2004. At Least 5 a Week: Evidence on the Impact of Physical Activity and its Relationship to Health. HMSO.

Depledge, M. and Bird, W., 2009. The blue gym: health and well-being from our coasts Marine Pollution Bulletin 58, 947–948

Hartig, T., Evans, G.W., Jamner, L.D., Davis,D.S. and Gärling, T. 2003. Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol.23(2), pp.109-123

Epel, E.S., 2009. Psychological and metabolic stress: a recipe for accelerated cellular aging? Hormones 8: pp 7–22.

Epel E., Daubenmier J., Moskowitz, J.T., Folkman S. and Blackburn, E. Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness, and telomeres. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2009;1172: pp 34-53.

Hartig, T., Evans, G.W., Jamner, L.D., Davis,D.S. and Gärling, T. 2003. Tracking restoration in natural and urban field settings Journal of Environmental Psychology. Vol.23(2), pp.109-123
Hezel, Aram F., Bardeesy, Nabeel., Maser, Richard S., 2005. Telomere Induced Senescence: End Game Signaling. Current Molecular Medicine, Volume 5, Number 2, pp. 145-152(8) Bentham Science Publishers

Mitchell, R., and Popham, F. 2008. Effect of exposure to natural environment on health inequalities: an observational population study. Lancet 372: pp 1655-1660

Natural England, 2011. Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment. Annual Report from the 2010–11 Survey. Natural England, Sheffield.

Wheeler, B. W., White, M., Stahl-Timmins, W. and Depledge W.H., 2012. Does living by the coast improve health and wellbeing? Health & Place 18 1198–1201 Elsevier

White, M. P., Alcock, I., Wheeler, B. W. and Depledge, M. H. 2013. Coastal proximity, health and well-being: Results from a longitudinal panel survey. Health & Place 23 pp. 97–103 Elsevier.

White, M. P., Smith, A., Humphryes, K., Pahl, S., Snelling, D. and Depledge, M. 2010. Blue space: The importance of water for preference, affect, and restorativeness ratings of natural and built scenes. Journal of Environmental Psychology 30 pp. 482 - 493 Elsevier

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