Monday, 17 March 2014

Post 9: Celebration! And Qualitative Research Explained -- Short (and necessarily incomplete) Overview.

I thought that I would have had a celebratory burst of a post to say that I have finished transcribing last week, but that little bubble burst quickly after I realized the next big thing: analyzing my data!

So I'm using this post as a recap on the celebratory stage that'd already passed. I spent months transcribing 16 interviews that ranged from 1 hour (the shortest) to 2 hours (the longest). Typically, the ratio ascribed to transcribing is 1 hour of audio will mean 4-5 hours of typing, depending on how proficient you are. So, there were a lot of hours in there...! Between my shoulder injury due to poor office ergonomics, I wasn't able to perfectly transcribe, and it's very likely there are other things that influence the pace of transcription, such as other obligations (aside from just life), like teaching, TA-ing, attending conferences and workshops, seminars and talks, meetings, being a loving partner, eating well, and exercising. So, in a perfect world, this part of my research would have gone a lot faster, but I am also happy for the time to reflect and nudge my thoughts around my research project.

For this short celebratory recap, however, I did a short and rough little tally:

I have 539 pages of transcripts, excluding all the pages of follow-up questions and responses;
and a total of 221,956 words that were expressed during those many hours of interviews.

Amazing! I think it really speaks to the generosity of all the researchers who I interviewed. They shared their time, their ideas, their perspectives, and their knowledge with me, and I feel very grateful to each and every one that agreed to participate in my study.

                                       Some pretty awesome graffiti! Very fun. Love the grin.

Now, on to making sense of what all was said!

What I've described above (interviews, transcripts, follow-up questions) is all part of what's called qualitative research. Qualitative research opts for small sample sizes, which in my case is the 16 scientists that I interviewed. This allows for gathering rich and detailed data, which are not representative of the views of all scientists in the community researching the mountain pine beetle. Qualitative research can help me understand and build a complex and detailed understanding of the implications of the mountain pine beetle outbreak that recently happened in BC, and spread to Alberta.

The in-depth, semi-structured interviews that I conducted help me to gain perspectives into the worlds of the scientists - sharing their stories and ideas and perspectives with me are exactly the kind of information that's not readily available in professional, published journal articles. I see this research as lifting the lid and letting me understand what happens behind the published research.

Qualitative research is a fantastic was to explore a problem or issue. And in my case, I wanted to understand what's happened for scientists as a result of the mountain pine beetle outbreak; and second, I want to understand if in this case of significant ecological change, there is evidence of the spread of the concept of 'novel ecosystems', even if researchers weren't explicitly using that terminology.

A great resource (and there are many) to further understanding what qualitative research is, can be found in this book: Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches, by John W. Creswell. 

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