August 28, 2017
Interviews are wrapping up, focus groups are motoring along, coding in earnest has begun. I feel like I’m in the somewhat abstracted and murky middle ground of discovery. Stuff kind of comes into focus for a few minutes and I can see a larger picture. Then it all spins like a kaleidoscope and I lose all sense of direction. It’s dazzling. It’s disorienting. And I have a sneaking suspicion…it’s right on par for life as a researcher.
The last couple weeks of life as a research gathering instrument have once again taught me that this work is way less difficult in ways I initially expected it to be. People are more than willing to share their stories, ideas, etc. I still am totally amazed at the power of open space, an open mind and (on my part anyways) focused listening to create the atmosphere that leads to a genuine connection with another human. I think in many ways this personal learning might be one of the best things externally to come out of my doctoral journey. Well…clearly the 200+ page dissertation will be what brings world peace and makes me a rock star but…the listening and being present thing too I think might be a good side benefit!
On the flip side, the last couple weeks of life as a research gathering instrument have once again taught me that his work is way more difficult in ways I never imagined it to be. Synthesizing, abstracting, and generally sorting through all the pieces for the bits that are salient to my own tiny slice of research is a mental cardio workout, to put it mildly. When I was designing my study, I loved Charmaz’s perspective that as researchers we co-construct the data with our participants because this view felt alive and energetic. It resonated with my own views. While I still love it on some level….I’m realizing that co-construction requires a depth of engagement that basically takes all of your focus. Coding this data is nothing you can do while concurrently watching television or when you have a couple minutes waiting for a take out order. It requires space and time and a conscious clearing of your schedule. (Things I may or may not have said over the past couple weeks: I’m sorry I can’t hangout with you anytime this weekend because I need to spend time with my data.) Once you get into the flow it does indeed flow but…I must bring the intense focus I’ve learned from interviewing to the data itself and once again learn to listen in written words and typed metaphors.
And so…a new week begins. Back to opening time, opening space, opening the data, opening myself, and giving the kaleidoscope another twirl to see what might emerge.
August 7, 2017
And just like that…five weeks have passed. Week seven is in the books and I’m on the brink of my eighth week as a research gathering instrument. Though I had all good intentions of keeping up the weekly check in, the past month plus has been spent on the road visiting friends, visiting family, being a bridesmaid, and further fine tuning my packing skills by moving locations every two to three days. It was amazing though it did make me realize that life on the road and life as a writer are, for me at least, not so compatible.
The good news is I was interviewing (from such memorable locations as small closets and many a hotel room) and transcribing consistently so now have fourteen interviews down (when I left though I hoped to hit ten…I was stuck for awhile at seven…well laid plans are basically a siren call for unexpected chaos to enter the research process…frustrating but you do survive). I will have number fifteen tomorrow and will, hopefully, reach twenty by the end of August. I also have the first focus group scheduled for today beginning phase two of my research design.
Looking back at my life as a researcher these past five weeks, I can say with complete certainly I’ve become a much better interviewer. I’m much more comfortable listening without low grade panic that I won’t get good data. I’m much better at ignoring the voices of my own neurotic insecurities and entering wholly into the world of my interviewee. Its been such an honor to receive stories from each of my participants and I hope for them too it has been a good experience of being heard. As a person who naturally skews private and may even be guilty of seeing people more as a bit inconvenient to a very rich personal, interior world in my own head…the gift of intimacy has been humbling and inspiring to me on a personal level.
On a more practical note, its also been interesting going so deep into the qualitative research process. In many ways, it feels like a totally inefficient method and one I’d kind of not recommend to anyone who isn’t okay with very high levels of ambiguity. There is such a steep learning curve—the friction in human to human communication of any sort is a challenge to navigate and requires pretty deep reflection to test out and sort through. You will become hopelessly interwoven with your data and vice versa. This will most likely bring up things you never anticipated…its good stuff if you discipline yourself to work through it but…it will require work.
For example, I’m beginning to code my data which means I’ve concurrently begun fantasizing about algorithms that might do this all for me—computer code lines that I can blindly trust so I don’t have to deal with learning to trust myself again in this new endeavor. Like interviewing, like presenting, like writing…I know the early stages of fear and uncertainly always evolve into some level of mastery but like all of the former…knowing and feeling are sometimes diametrically opposed.
And so week seven of being a research gathering instrument finds me back at it again, showing up for the work with eager anticipation and a humble spirit ready to learn remember that this time and this challenge truly is a gift.