AIM: To highlight from a doctoral student's perspective some of the unexpected and challenging issues that may arise when collecting data in a complex, qualitative study. BACKGROUND: Using a qualitative approach to undertaking a PhD requires commitment to the research topic, the acquisition of a variety of research skills and the development of expertise in writing. Despite close research supervision and guidance, the first author of this paper experienced unexpected hurdles when collecting data. This article highlights these hurdles and compares them with similar and dissimilar challenges raised by a social researcher with 30 years' experience (White 2012). DATA SOURCES: The first author's experience of field research during her PhD candidature. REVIEW METHODS: Informed by a critical theoretical perspective, a snowballing technique was used to examine issues related to data collection by a doctoral student in a qualitative research study. DISCUSSION: The first author found the logistics of qualitative data collection, concerns about transparency, role confusion and power differentials with participants, and the effective use of video recording technology, unexpectedly challenging. Many of these issues are highlighted in the literature and/or during research supervision. However, the student researcher remains a novice when entering the field. It is often only on reflection after encountering the hurdle that the student recognises future pre-emptive or alternative methods of data collection. CONCLUSION: The challenges faced as a doctoral student managing the data collection phase of the study concurred with White's discussion of some of the 'real life challenges that novice researchers might face' (2012). Specific guidance and prudence are needed by research students to know when enough data have been collected for manageable analysis within the limits of candidature. Use of reflexivity and mindfulness practised by the student during this phase assisted the ability to reflect, respond and learn from issues as they arose and aim for a harmonious work, study and life balance. IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE/RESEARCH: This paper highlights these issues and offers suggestions for other research higher degree students facing similar challenges when collecting data in a complex qualitative study.