The Grounded Theory Club (GTC) at UVic

By Lenora Marcellus, Marjorie MacDonald, Rita Schreiber, Silvia Vilches, Susan Tasker, Darlaine Jantzen, Steve Gentles, Faye Strohschein, Michelle Phoenix, Mindy Swami


With the development of the collaborative nursing program in the early 1990s, many doctorally-prepared nursing faculty were hired in the School of Nursing at the University of Victoria to meet these new academic needs. Marjorie MacDonald and Jane Milliken were enrolled in doctoral programs at the University of British Columbia and the University of Alberta respectively, using grounded theory (GT) methodology. Their offices at UVic were located close to Rita Schreiber’s and they learned she had just completed her own GT dissertation. In late 1996, they began to meet together informally as a form of peer support, along with a psychology graduate student also trying to do a GT study. Exciting activities included popcorn and chocolate at every meeting, waterslide visits (“retreats”), and slide show parties.

By early 1997 the Grounded Theory Club (GTC) became more formalized and began meeting on a regular basis. Rita, Marjorie and Jane found that they were talking about methodological issues that were not reflected in what was available in extant research texts, including reflexivity, constructivist principles, compatibility of the methodology with a range of philosophical perspectives, and most importantly, the actual “how to” of the methodology. In these early years of the group, Rita Schreiber co-edited a research textbook (Using Grounded Theory in Nursing) with Dr. Phyllis Stern, who was well known as a leading nurse grounded theorist. Rita, Marjorie, and Jane all had chapters in this text.

Past: r-l Marjorie MacDonald, Chieko Iwanaga (visiting scholar in 2001, Silvia Vilches, Nancy Wright, Jane Milliken, Linda Flato (recent PhD grad), Rita Schrieber

How do people find the GTC?

The GTC started out with UVic faculty and graduate students from nursing, where GT was becoming increasingly popular, and from other disciplines. Participants across a range of disciplines have always been part of the group. Students who were interested in this methodology are often not usually able to access methodological courses specific to GT where they could learn how to engage with the methodology, so finding a mentor is a challenge. Faculty members also find themselves with students who are using GT, and want to increase their knowledge so they can better guide and support them. Students and faculty usually hear about the GTC informally from someone who is aware of the group. Students from other parts of the country and even internationally have also found their way to the GTC, facilitated through virtual technologies.

What keeps people coming back?

The GTC has been meeting regularly now for over 20 years. When we asked current members why they joined and kept coming to the GTC here is what we heard:

• I don’t get this level of conversation anywhere else on a regular basis. I learn a lot from all the brilliant minds. Everyone is well read in the field and can draw you back to different sources.

• There is an authentic joy of learning in our conversations – everyone is a scholar by nature.

• It is a comfortable, friendly and welcoming group. I enjoy the camaraderie and I find that students and faculty are on a respectful equal footing. I can ask anything I want in this group.

• I keep coming so I can give back to the group – the group helped me so much and I would now like to help others.

• I have found the GTC valuable for the consistency over time. We are able to see how other people’s projects evolve and develop over time at various stages of the GT process – learning from those ahead of us, and contributing to those in phases we have already completed. It is also valuable to have feedback from a group that has known the evolution of my work over time.

• The mock defence is a rite of passage that many of us work towards and ultimately get a turn at. It’s the best, and most rewarding, experience I had in preparing for the real event at my home institution.

• This group is a lifeline – I come to recharge, learn from the struggles of others, and get motivated by seeing the progress of other students.

• It’s such a great source of authoritative knowledge—and confidence!—regarding grounded theory methodology.

• Grounded theory is more complicated than you think – it helps to come and talk to people who know the method well and work through methodological challenges.

Present: Right screen, Michelle Phoenix; Left screen, Lenora Marcellus, Susan Tasker, Darlaine Jantzen

Where are we now?

As of 2011, we shifted from face-to-face, and occasionally teleconference meetings, to using whatever virtual technologies are available through the university. We would like to thank the BlueJeans team who support our ability to connect virtually. We also communicate and network through the use of Facebook and Google Groups. This fall, the GTC has members who live in Victoria, Montreal, Hamilton, Alabama, Edmonton, and PEI. These members are nurses, educational psychologists, developmental psychologists, counsellors, urban planners, and rehabilitation scientists. We have also had past members from theatre, the nuclear industry, counselling and social work. As two of the original founders have retired, early graduates of the GTC (including Lenora Marcellus, Silvia Vilches and Darlaine Jantzen) alongside newer faculty members (Susan Tasker) are now leading, with guidance from the senior (now retired) members.

There have been some great successes through the GTC. Over 25 GTC student participants have completed their theses or dissertations. In 2015 Rebecca Hudson-Breen (supervised by Susan Tasker) was the recipient of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association’s Outstanding Dissertation Award. Many students have gone on to faculty positions and continue to build expertise in GT methodologies. For example, Wanda Martin (now at the University of Saskatchewan) has conducted research using situational analysis, and published papers in this area with Marjorie MacDonald. There have been many inspired methodological conversations over the years, and some of these conversations have been turned into publications, with both students and faculty taking the lead. The references below have all been published by GTC members in the past five years.

These are just focused on methodology and do not include the many publications that are based on substantive areas of research. GTC members have developed creative strategies to support students in developing their research expertise. Rita Schreiber and Lenora Marcellus have offered directed studies in GT methodology, and
participation in the GTC has been incorporated into these courses.

We look forward to many more years of grounded theory, popcorn and chocolate!

Methodological publications developed by GTC members (last 5 years)

Gentles, S. & Vilches, S. (2017). Calling for a shared understanding of sampling terminology in qualitative research: Proposed clarifications derived from critical analysis of a methods overview by McCrae and Purssell. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 16, 1-7.

Gentles, S., Jack, S., Nicholas, D. & McKibbon, A. (2014). Critical approach to reflexivity in grounded theory. The Qualitative Approach, 19(44), 1-14. Martin, W., Pauly, B. & MacDonald, M. (2015). Situational analysis for complex systems: Methodological development in public health research. AIMS Public Health, 3(1), 94-109.

Milliken, J. & Schreiber, J. (2012). Examining the nexus between grounded theory and symbolic interactionism. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 11(5), 684-696.

Nagel, D., Burns, V., Tilley, C., & Aubin, D. (2015). When novice researchers adopt constructivist grounded theory: Navigating less travelled paradigmatic and methodological paths in PhD dissertation work. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 10, 365-383.

Schreiber, R. & Tomm-Bonde, L. (2015). Ubuntu and constructivist grounded theory: An African methodology package. Journal of Research in Nursing, 20(8), 655-664.

Schreiber, R. & Martin, W., (2013). New directions in grounded theory. In C.T. Beck (Ed.), Routledge international handbook of qualitative nursing research (pp.183-202). New York, NY: Routledge.