Learning throughout the research process

This afternoon I sat outside on my balcony, opened up NVivo, and got back to coding. The interview I was tackling one of our first interviews, done way back in October. It might have been the first solo interview I did out of the 24 and the one the interviews where, in the interview, I realized I was finding the information I had hoped to uncover in this project. The student was a senior and did a lot of undergraduate research. This was also a student who took a while to get engaged, and throughout the interview speaks about the blame they place on themselves for not getting involved sooner. It’s an interview that has stuck with me and I was excited to code it.

As I started my first read, I immediately could tell this was one of our initial interviews. My questioning wasn’t as precise, and I could see gaps where I should have probed farther. The student frequently mumbled, and this resulted in his transcript being a little inaudible. I sat with sentences for several minutes, trying to piece together what the student was trying to tell me. I could reach back to parts of the interview, but overall, what I have remembered are the overarching themes and feelings during the interviews, not specific moments.

The perfectionist inside of me started to get really frustrated. Did I just squander a potentially good interview? Would we be able to use it in the ways I had envisioned when the interview was taking place? Why wasn’t I a better interviewer in October? As my critiques built up, I had to tell myself to take a step back.

I’m learning and that’s okay.

Each time I conduct an interview, I’m getting better at this research. I remind myself that this is my first, large-scale, multi-phase research project. There’s no way I was going to be perfect the first time around but I have the tools to get better. Research is messy, especially when you’re doing interviews with a matrix protocol! Each day I work on this project, I learn a little bit about myself as a researcher and the type of information I need to tell the story of student engagement at Penn State. Being on the tenure-track means I should be learning like this, and using reflection to pull these strands together and find ways to keep moving forward. Even though there are questions I wished I had asked this student, his story is still information we can use. We have his map and the overarching ideas, even if there are some sentences that are garbled. His story will be shared and will be used to help inform best practices for student engagement.

Once I processed these facts, I got back to digging through the interview. There are some really rich insights in there and I’m excited to expose them and start to put them in conversations with our other students. This is a work in progress and I’m glad I can use this blog to share with you about my process. The good, the frustrating, and all the learning that’s happening along the way.

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Head of Education & Outreach Services at Northern Kentucky University. When she's not in the library, Hailley is an avid oatmeal connoisseur, baseball scorekeeper, bike rider, embroidery queen, and reader of memoirs. Check her out on Twitter @hailthefargoats.

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