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Week 7 of life as a research gathering instrument

August 7, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

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.

Week 2 of life as a research gathering instrument.

June 25, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

And just like that, I’ve amassed another week of life as a research instrument. This week has brought three more interviews and revealed what I hope are the first glimmers of actual categories emerging. In addition, I’m getting way better at interviewing, meaning I’m talking much less and listening feels like it’s slightly less exhausting than it was last week. Finally, I think I’m about 20% speedier with transcription and data cleaning than I was last week…which is massive.

My goal for this upcoming week is to get in four more interviews and bring my total up to ten. Though I was hopeful that having two people tell me almost verbatim the same info meant I was saturating a category thus could be one of those GT anomalies that only has to interview like eight people total to come up with a brilliant and robust theory…on my last chat with the supervisor he seemed to be using the phrase “at least twenty” quite a bit. If I can hit ten by the end of next week, I can use the following week when it seems many people take vacation to do a deep dive into actually assessing all thats come in on a somewhat deeper level and then strategize from there (yeah…gathering and assessing concurrently is a not so much thing not because I don’t believe in it but it feels like so much mental gymnastics to go back and forth so for me at least I think I need one of the other.)

In all honesty, the prospect of chatting with at least fourteen more people doesn’t feel like a bad thing because while its challenging and all to hold interviews, transcribe, etc. its even more super interesting to get a window into how diverse the world of design education really is. So far I’ve only swam in the pool of North American educators but in many ways between institution type and student population, all my participants seem to be worlds apart. This week I begin adding in international perspective to the mix (yep…first interview time where time zone is completely not in my favor but all part of the process) so it will be very cool to see if/how that perspective shifts anything.

And so week two check in seems a bit less dramatic than week one but I’m cool with it. There is indeed beauty in the routine slog and much celebration too that I’m actually at. this. place.

Week 1 of life as a research gathering instrument.

June 17, 2017

lisa hammershaimb

  • Three interviews down.
  • Two more scheduled.
  • Multiple memos on all sorts of things.
  • A coding scheme (that admittedly only exists in my head so far but still…that somewhat counts, eh?)

Time to make good on the whole “back to blogging” promise of last month and actually get back to the writing process about life in this interstitial place that is being a doctoral candidate and now also a research gathering instrument (related: I now relate way more closely to the non-human actors of surveys, questionnaires, etc.)

I still think that the whole doctoral process has two distinct parts to it. There’s the “constructing new knowledge part,” which is why you initially write the application letter, how you justify the tuition payments, what you tell people you want to impress at parties, and generally what seems to be the main impetus for doing a doctorate.

Then there’s the “constructing a new you part” which you definitely don’t put into the application letter, makes you constantly question if those tuition payments might be better spent on therapy…or maybe a beach house, and what you only likely bring up at parties after copious amounts of whiskey have made an appearance. As this is based on a sample of one, I cannot say this is a universal but I’m pretty sure “personal growth and transformation by being forced to work through my own issues” has not been on anyone’s list of “why do a doctorate?”

Yet, through my own nearly four years in, it is the latter that keeps surprising and fascinating me. Though this may be because I’m introverted and more than a little self absorbed, I still think there’s something to it.

And, as this is my blog for the next couple weeks “back to blogging” is going to look a lot like “here’s what I learned this week” through the process (and yep, these learnings are all helping me work through my “issues”.)

  1. Follow the flow. (or how I’m learning if I want people to take me into the rich parts of their stories, I must show up and be patient.) 

Though I’m tightly planned in this endeavor and have the whole process journey mapped out, researching with humans (and I’m going to even say researching as a human) means it’s all inherently an experimental process. Hands down the biggest thing I learned this week is to be present fully with participants so they trust me and allow me to meander along with them as they share their ideas and process their motivations. It’s not a linear process for my participants and I must be open to the wander because then I can be part of the discovery. As a researcher I never realized what an intimate thing it is to gain access into participant experiences but I now realize these interviews are indeed somewhat sacred moments.

  1. Video is worth it (or how I’m learning to cringe a bit less at my own voice, gesturing, and generally be less self conscious.)

On my REB application, I had to do all sorts of justification as to why I wanted to use video. At one point I was ready to scrap it as in all honesty I didn’t have a great reason beyond just I thought it would be more personal to have faces than to just have voices. Though it was a hassle to justify, I’m 1000% glad I did because seeing expressions and gestures has made the data much richer than just voice alone could. Conversely, I feel like my participants seeing me in all my quirkiness (including with a small dog at one point) has made them feel more open and again helped them trust me.

  1. Listening is hard work. (or how I’m learning to not just nod and murmur comprehension all the while daydreaming but actually internalize what is being said.) 

It seems fairly straightforward that in an interview you’d ask a question, the participant would answer, and you’d follow this pattern for the hour. Turns out because my interviews are unstructured, questions don’t occur in a linear manner but instead weave in and out of what is being said. Many times multiple questions get answered without me explicitly asking and even better, often questions I didn’t even think of are “answered” as I learn to step back and listen to my participants. This is hard stuff to navigate because if I haven’t been listening carefully it’s immediately apparent. On the other hand, if I am listening closely I can further prod and we can go even deeper together as we connect past segments together and see what more emerges.

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