Qualitative data analysis is recognized as a threshold concept in research education and can be conceptually challenging for doctoral students. While retreats are common approaches to support dissertation writing, we propose an unconventional approach for doctoral education with the use of retreats for qualitative data analysis. Analytic autoethnography was used to examine what features of an off-campus retreat supported data analysis of dissertation research, With the use of a focused agenda, the retreat space offered opportunities for icebreakers to stimulate synthesis thinking, student-led analytic activities, and reflective writing. Data were collected from documents, analytic artifacts, photographs, and reflective journals. We identified three themes pertaining to retreat features to support qualitative analytic work: Analytic Immersion, Analytic Support, and Analytic Reflection. Findings suggest that retreat spaces can be used to support doctoral students navigating the challenges of knowledge acquisition associated with qualitative data analysis. We recommend four key considerations when designing a qualitative analysis retreat: (1) create a space for analytic immersion; (2) design activities to cultivate student agency; (3) situate faculty for optimal student mentoring and support; and (4) allocate time and space reflective practice. This paper contributes to the ongoing conversation of threshold concepts in doctoral education and offers a new approach for supporting students during data analysis.


qualitative research, data analysis, retreat, doctoral education, threshold concepts

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Deborah Tyndall is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in the School of Nursing. She is a mid-career nurse scientist whose developing program of research focuses on the use of community-engaged approaches to examine the mental health needs of school-aged children aimed at advancing health equity. Additional interests include doctoral pedagogy, student and faculty writing groups, and innovative qualitative design approaches. Please direct correspondence to tyndalld@uncw.edu

Dr. Mitzi Pestaner is an Assistant Professor at East Carolina University College of Nursing. Her research interests include adolescent/adult mental health, the role of protective factors in suicide prevention, and disparities in mental health care among underserved populations.


We would like to thank Dr. Shannon Powell (dissertation committee member) for participating in this retreat experience with us.

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