from the Library of Maura

Into the Field

October 15th, 2010 by Maura A. Smale · 1 Comment

This year my research partner and I are expanding our qualitative study of student scholarly habits, so this semester I’m taking one RT day a week for fieldwork. We spent some time over the summer working on a preliminary analysis of last year’s data, and it’s great to get back to collecting data and interviewing students again. Though my field days can be long and tiring it’s completely fascinating to learn about students’ lives at school and beyond.

Last year I collected data at my own college (City Tech), but this year I’m working at another CUNY school: City College. I expected that the surroundings and students would be different — many of our programs at City Tech are unique in CUNY, and CCNY has grad students, while we don’t at City Tech. But I hadn’t anticipated the many other ways that fieldwork would be different this year.

In a sense I’m like a new student. I don’t know where anything is, though posting fliers to recruit students helped me start to internalize the layout of the college. CCNY has a much bigger campus than City Tech, so at the beginning of the semester I constantly underestimated the amount of time I needed to get from one place to another. Sometimes the cafeteria is so crowded that it’s hard to find a spot to eat lunch. I can’t ever seem to find an outlet to charge my phone and netbook when I need it. And until I scored a guest wifi password last week I was (guiltily) jockeying with students to use computers in the library (I have trouble typing lengthy emails on my phone).

Like many CUNY students, my commute is long: 1+ hrs each way, whether I come from home or from work. I need to carry what sometimes seems like a ridiculous amount of stuff: reading material for the commute, notebook, consent forms and instructions for students, disposable cameras (sometimes), voice recorder, netbook, stapler, tape, lunch, water, jacket (and–perish the thought–sometimes it rains, so add an umbrella to the list). A colleague in the library has graciously offered to let me stash my outerwear at her desk when I’m up at City, but it’s so different from last year, when I could meet students at my own desk.

As I’ve interviewed students I’ve found that I’m learning a lot from them that’s not only great project data but also immediately useful to me. Where are the best bathrooms in the NAC Building? What’s the quietest spot in the Cohen Library, esp. during the very crowded afternoon hours? What’s the best food in the cafeteria? Where are the working electrical outlets?

It’s interesting to consider my own experiences as project data. I’ve kept a research journal since last year so I can keep track of how things are going in the study. Last year it mostly included personal thoughts and notes about best practices for data collection method, but this year my journal could be an additional data source, too.

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