Interview with Valentina Petrova, a qualitative research consultant with a passion for healthcare and education policy
Thank you for your time today, Valentina Petrova! Can you please tell our readers about yourself?
My first career was in journalism and public relations. In graduate school I channeled my love for writing and storytelling, and my experience interviewing various sources, into qualitative research. I became a largely self-taught qualitative data analysis consultant at a social science research center at the University of Washington. There, I taught crash-courses in ATLAS.ti (at the beginning of the version 7 release of the Windows platform) and helped grad students and faculty navigate several QDA software programs for their own projects.
An interest in education policy translated into my master’s research on Teach for Australia. I did a case study, analyzing a few key informant interviews and triangulating them with newspaper archives and government evaluation reports on the nonprofit’s teacher training program.
What kind of work do you do?
First as a student and later as the Program Manager of QUAL (the Qualitative Multi-Method Research Initiative), I taught ATLAS.ti workshops at UW for several years. After completing my double-master’s degree, I also became a certified professional trainer. Through my QDA Consulting business, I have worked on a variety of projects, topics, disciplines, and types of qualitative data. I’ve helped healthcare and education policy research teams set up collaborative coding projects, assisted graduate students working on theses and dissertations, and completed deadline-driven coding projects for marketing research efforts. I have consulted on projects, conducted analysis, and trained researchers or organizations in all three sectors – nonprofit, public, and private.
Since the beginning of 2019, I am a Qualitative Team Lead at the Seattle-Denver Center of Innovation (COIN) in the VA Puget Sound Health Care System. In this role, I get to contribute to health services research aimed at improving the quality, access, and value of Veteran-centered care. Many of the projects have practical impact on existing and new VA health services and programs. More than just being rewarding, this work is an opportunity for me to continue to learn and grow. Healthcare is a fascinating and fast-changing field to study. I also get to do some consulting and training within the COIN – and I love learning more about ATLAS.ti by engaging with different researchers on how to best adapt QDA software to their particular research aims, unique project designs, or creative method approaches.
How do you use ATLAS.ti?
I love that I now use ATLAS.ti 8 almost daily for coding and analysis, and often for consulting and teaching. In my own work, I have most often used semi-structured interviews and usually employ a deductive-inductive content analysis approach to coding. But I’ve consulted on team projects, mixed methods data, grounded theory designs, case studies, personal narratives, focus groups, scans of archival documents, and many other varieties of qualitative research.
What are your favorite tools from ATLAS.ti?
I am a staunch proponent of using Memos to keep copious notes on the research questions at hand. As someone who can easily generate an avalanche of inductive codes, I often use code merging, smart codes, and code groups. But I can just as easily gravitate to more broad buckets during coding, so I truly appreciate the Split Code function in version 8 of the software. One of my favorite niche tools, which has become more prominent with the Links Manager, is hyperlinks. I love when quotations inform each other so strongly that they merit a direct connection – whether one interviewee contradicts another, or expands on the same idea as someone else did – I love making those connections.
From a purely technical design viewpoint, I thoroughly enjoy how flexible ATLAS.ti 8 is, allowing a researcher to set up a custom workbench to facilitate their own coding style and analysis approach.
Do you have any advice or tips about using ATLAS.ti?
With so many great tools, it is easy to get swept up in coding and playing with different output and report functions. When I teach workshops, I keep one sentence on a slide by itself: “ATLAS.ti does not do the analysis for you.” On this slide, I talk about the importance of staying in control as the researcher and not letting the software hijack your process.
The single most important advice I offer novice users of the software, whether they are experienced qualitative researchers or not, is to think through a project and plan out the analysis before jumping into the program. I think it’s best to go through one small (aka manageable-size and less-hefty than a dissertation) project from beginning to coding, through analysis and writing up the final results (paper, presentation, or poster). Once a researcher has experienced a project through its full lifecycle in ATLAS.ti, it is much easier to anticipate how to setup a subsequent project, so that the most relevant tools and analyses can be applied at a later stage. This is an iterative learning process and to this day, I continue to learn new functions inside ATLAS.ti, or creative ways to use some of the most common tools.
Thank you, Valentina Petrova!
You can contact Valentina Petrova by writing to [email protected]
You can visit Valentina Petrova’s website here: https://qdaconsulting.com