I had my very first participants this week, for my first study http://runningcommentarystudy.wordpress.com/ This is the stage at which you realise just how unrealistic your plans for your study are, and try to tweak accordingly. I don’t think there is anything drastic to change, but I certainly learnt a few things:
1. If you are working with participants over 40 and they’re not likely to have their reading glasses on them, take some larger print versions of your participant information forms/consent forms/questionnaires so they are actually able to read them!
2. Less is more when you have to squeeze questionnaires into a short period of time when people are waiting for you. I’m so glad I didn’t add anything extra and kept it as simple as I could.
3. Fieldwork is noisy. I’m almost too frightened to start transcribing my recordings for finding out just how much is unintelligible due to planes/motorbikes/drunk people/cricket teams. At least there’s not been too much road noise so far. Though I’m anticipating having to listen to a lot of heavy breathing…
4. Going out and meeting people and asking them to participate in your study is very different from dragging undergraduates into your lab in exchange for credit. It’s a lot of fun, but does involve an extra visit to introduce yourself, and to convince potential participants that you don’t have 3 heads and you don’t want to delve into their unconscious.
5. Running around (literally) trying to tell people when they have to answer a question at a certain timepoint involves an excellent interval workout. I don’t need to bother too much with the speed training.
6. People outside the academic world are generally interested in psychology and research, and will usually be supportive if you contact them and ask to come and see them. Also, people are busy, so it’s best to give a very brief summary of what you are doing and answer any questions they come back with rather than bombarding them with details of just how groundbreaking and wonderful your research is from the outset. Asking ‘is it convenient for me to come along to see you on xx date?’ is better than asking a vaguer question about whether you can visit.
7. Doing this helps your elevator pitch too, you need a very simple way of describing your study and methods with no bamboozling terminology. It’s actually very grounding to have to talk about your research in a way which doesn’t patronise people but conveys enough information for them to understand the basics. I think it’s also important ethically as well. Many participants don’t read participant information sheets, skimming them at best, and describing your study to them verbally seems to be better understood.
8. Running a longitudinal study requires a mountain of admin. I have spreadsheets and Google calendar appointments coming out of my ears.
9. Facebook is a medium par excellence for finding groups and relevant individuals, seeing what groups are up to, and finding information unavailable by other means. Whilst Twitter is great for academic updates and PhD chitchat, Facebook is a great resource for making connections in the community.
10. None of my education so far has prepared me for how different field work is from testing people in a lab (and chaotic. But interesting!). I found a book called ‘Qualitative Field Research’ by C.A. Bailey was very helpful in thinking about some of the issues, though it’s aimed more at sociologists doing full-on ethnographic studies I feel. I’ll do a short review of the bits of the book I found most useful. I don’t want to get too bogged down in the ins and outs of fieldwork versus lab studies in psychology, but there are some important differences which have become apparent to me, and hopefully thinking about these will help make for better research. My study tiptoes round the edges of so many areas that it would be easy to become entangled in each. On the one hand, it’s (semi)-qualitative, but also (semi)-quantitative. It’s fieldwork, but not an immersive ethnographic experience, just a few visits to each group. It’s not really an interview situation, but I’m asking participants to report how they feel during exercise every 5 minutes. I’m hoping for richness of data and new insights into behaviour which might not be accessible with single participants exercising on a treadmill in a lab (personally I hate treadmills), but I’m having to cross my fingers that the study doesn’t end up as a methodological mongrel.
11. Children can be willing helpers if you ask them nicely. Both my sons were to be seen this week running round a local field talking to themselves loudly in order to test out all my audio recorders. I figure if they can withstand a pair of screechy, bouncy kids singing and hopping round trees then they ought to be ok with beginner runners 🙂