Meet the Qualitative Researcher: Nathan Stanley

Nathan is a Research Assistant at King’s College London. His primary responsibility is qualitative data collection and analysis for the TIDES (Tackling Inequalities and Discrimination Experiences) study. He has a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Medicine, Health and Public Policy; and has previously worked in public health to help carry out research looking into sexual health.

Sohail: Tell us a bit about your research.

Nathan: My research is looking at discrimination experiences in health care services. So I look at how discrimination begins and how harassment affects workers in the NHS and social care, and how it impacts things such as career progression or their ability to carry out care. I also look at things like their belief in themselves, psychological trauma, and things like that. At the moment I’m also doing some research with the Policy Institute at King’s, where we’re working on a proposal for drug policies.

Sohail: What got you into the NHS discrimination stuff?

Nathan: Well, my undergraduate degree was in biology and I enjoyed it, but I discovered that the practical side of things, like lab work, wasn’t really my thing. I really gravitated towards the social aspects of biology, primarily the social determinants of health. So that spurred me to go on and do my masters in medicine and public policy, which gave me a really solid foundation in the social determinants of health, including the philosophical underpinnings as well as the health disparities that we see within the population. Then I became interested in the disparities we are seeing within health care staff themselves, and how that plays out with the general population in terms of patient care. So wanting to do academia from a social justice standpoint, something that's going make a real-world change was a key driver.

Sohail: So why is your focus on having a real world output?

Nathan: I would say that's generally just because how I view the world. I am someone that likes to look at history, particularly history of marginalized people, especially that of African descended peoples. And the reason why I'm interested in that is it really contextualizes the position that such people see themselves in today. I believe I can make a better future for the generation that's going to come after me, because I've seen the work that previous generations have done , and I think it would be a shame to just sort of see it stagnate with my generation or at my level. So I'll do what I see as my parts to do towards it. Not everyone has to be a politician, not everyone has to have a huge amount of power. But I know each little cog works towards the bigger machine and that can help to bring about a huge amount of change. I know that sounds a bit idealistic!

Sohail: I'm all about idealism! What is it that you see in the previous generation that you like and that gives you that sense of wanting to continue that work?

Nathan: The fact that they had the courage to define themselves. Because, well, I'm thinking about my parents’ generation. They were the generation that were the children of the Windrush generation, so they weren’t necessarily Caribbean, Caribbean. But neither were they seen as British either, so they had to really form their own identity of, whether it be Black British or Caribbean British or Jamaican British. And that is something that obviously shapes my understanding of the world. So creating things for themselves, such as drum and bass, and lover’s rock, as well as the rich history of like the, almost like civil rights movement of like the 60s and the 70s and even 80s, which isn't so much talked about today. So that's the work that I've seen them do or read about them doing and it's obviously shaped the work that I’m doing today. A lot of people don't know it but yeah, without them I probably wouldn't be able to have the opportunities I have now.

Sohail: So did your parents do a lot of social justice work?

Nathan: Actually, as far as I know, no, but it was the actions that they took in their personal lives, I would say. So actions such as going to university later in life, because when they were thinking about leaving school and the next stages in their life university wasn't necessarily presented as an option for them, as individuals from a working class background and as individuals from a Black background, that sort of intersectionality playing out there. So them going on and getting further qualifications that then allowed them to progress within this system, which obviously values qualifications. I do see that as a sort of form to not just better themselves, but better those around them, because they then use those skills, say within their informal networks or say our own church. So it was nothing formal, but it was giving themselves the skill set to help others progress in a system which doesn’t allow them to progress as easily as their white counterparts.

Sohail: So from starting to become interested in this kind of work after your undergrad, what brought about your move into qualitative research?

Nathan: I saw it as a mechanism to capture voices which were or are unheard. So I found that to be a particular draw for me, and especially how you can also bring in a creative side as well. Because I also found that there’s a very rigid idea about what an academic piece of work is, and what counts as “real data”, as “valuable information”. Coming across qualitative research, seeing that you can actually create an academic piece of work with someone's narrative, over quantitative numbers, helped to reframe what I thought about academic research. This is as for me, numbers can’t kind of separate the humanity from the people that you're researching , it's quite easy to forget that these are real people with real lives, not just a statistic. So yeah, qualitative research really helped me to get to grips with the humanity of people by understanding their narratives and giving power to their voice.

So that's what really interested me with that, it feels that you can bring about more change through that or more power through that because, when you use qualitative data, you can understand the mechanisms of why someone may think a certain way, or why someone may act a certain way. This can allow you to make a deeper analysis about the effect a social process has on someone and their outcomes. In general media, and in academia, there can be a certain narrative around the information we collect around certain communities, which can negatively shape the social narrative around such communities. So again, just circling back to my point, I feel like qualitative data can help to take away some of that power from whatever system you may call it and bring it back onto them (the people being researched), as their narratives are now being championed.

Sohail: Final question, what are your top tips for a qualitative researcher?

Nathan: I’m still early in my qualitative research career, and I’m really appreciating how much longer it takes to analyse qualitative data than it does to analyse quantitative data and how much of an iterative process it is. So bearing that in mind, I would say to someone, either new or kind of battle-hardened in qualitative research, is to remember to still take that time. Keep in mind the reason why you first got into qualitative research and make sure you're not replicating the same things you may see happen with, the numbers of quantitative data. So yeah, make sure to take your time to understand the narrative, understand the context, and don't remove any of that power from the information that these people have so kindly given you.