from the Library of Maura

The Data Left Behind

March 10th, 2013 · 3 Comments

As my research partner and I have been wrapping up our research project I’ve been thinking about all of the data we have that we’re not going to use for the book we’re in the midst of writing. We have transcripts from interviews with 178 students and 63 faculty; we have photographs from 60 students and maps and drawings from over 100, as well as syllabi and assignments from faculty. We have a LOT of data. And then I read a great post not too long ago by art historian Renee McGarry on a similar theme, about the objects she’s researched that haven’t made it into her writing.

Such is the nature of research, though maybe studies like ours, in which we started by asking open-ended questions of the participants, are more susceptible to it. It’s good to have lots of data from our study, certainly better to have too much than too little. We’ve ended up with some “extra” data: stuff that’s not necessarily relevant to our plan for the book. It’s not a ton of data, certainly the minority. But sometimes I get a little sad when I think about it. Collecting data is time-consuming; we spent 2 years traveling around CUNY talking to students and faculty, experiencing, just a little bit, the commuter scholar lifestyle of our students. I’m also a no-leftovers, waste not want not kind of person, so it pains me a bit to think of the insights from interviews and images that we won’t include in the book. Our participants shared so much with us, and I want to be sure that we do justice to them and their stories.

But those data aren’t necessarily irrelevant either; they all say something, even if those somethings don’t fit into the narrative we’re weaving together for the book. We can return to some of them–the side conversations and explanations, the material culture in photographs and drawings that doesn’t primarily speak to students’ lives as scholars–later, after the book is finished, and analyze them further. To this end I’ve started a list of the very beginnings of ideas I have about some of the information we gathered, ideas that don’t work for the book but could turn into something else, maybe. The list has made me feel a bit better about the data left behind. It’s not going away, it’s just waiting, patiently, for us to have a chance to think on it more thoroughly, and to give it the respect and consideration it’s due.

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Into the Field

October 15th, 2010 · 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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