Let’s File this Under…Lessons Learned

It’s been a little while since my last post. I took a vacation…actually, my honeymoon…last week to New Orleans. Getting away in the middle of the semester…and in the middle of data collection…was exactly what I needed.  The problem with “getting away” is the “getting back.”  No matter how wonderful and relaxing a trip was, stuff piles up while you’re gone and…well, let’s just say it’s a good thing you just rested up for a bit because the stress is going to be a little higher for a while. This week’s stress could be filed under any of the following labels:
Data Issues
Preliminary Analyses are No Joke
Proof. Read. Everything. (At least 25 times)
Save Your Data File Before Trying Something New

But…probably fits best under “Lessons Learned”. 

Regardless of what we label it…I’m going to open the file and share a little bit about my data stress this week.

As I said in my last post, it is time for a mid-data collection hiatus to analyze the data I already have. This includes over 200 surveys (at varying levels of completion) and 7 interviews. I’ve been cleaning the survey data in SPSS to prepare it for analysis. I am privileged to have two students working with me and so I saved some of the cleaning to do with them so they could learn how to do it. After the last student lesson, I had to rush out for a meeting. I knew I’d be coming back to work in SPSS again so I just left it open. A couple hours later, I’m back and finish the cleaning–days worth of work–hundreds of rows of variables cleaned. I had a little time left so I decided to explore the data a bit. What happened next is a little fuzzy (or maybe I’m just embarrassed to admit it)…but it involved something along the lines of this:
Me (to myself): Huh, I haven’t seen this before…I wonder what this command does.  (Clicks it…doesn’t understand what happened…goes to “undo” and gets a message similar to “Undo did not undo previous step”)  
Me:  Huh?  (clicks undo again, gets same prompt, realizes it’s “undoing” the last 2 steps of cleaning, and not the other prompt)
Me: (Not sure how to make the prompt go away, comes up with a genius plan) I’ll just exit and not save because I saved after cleaning earlier and it will go back to that state.  (Engages in said “not saving” and re-opens. Realizes file was not saved after earlier cleaning. A decent amount of work is now undone. Cue tragic music.)  

Lesson learned: Always save. Constantly. Especially before trying something new you don’t understand. 

So, I re-cleaned the data. It was easier and faster the second time around…and there’s still more to do, but everything is labeled and has the appropriate variable type, etc.  As I finished this second round of cleaning, I remembered that one of my measures has both positively-worded and negatively-worded items. I looked up the original measure to check the scoring so I could make sure it’s scored correctly in SPSS. The original measure has 20 items. My survey had 19. <Insert Panic Here>  Not only had I somehow forgotten an item, but I had also repeated one making my measure 18 instead of the full 20. Now, if you’ve used validated measures you know this is not okay. It’s important that the measure matches (as closely as possible) the original measure. I immediately went to the place where I start exploring alternative career options (Elephant Handler) because I’m sure it’s all over. I’ve screwed it up completely.

I may have jumped the gun a bit…As luck would have it, I had a meeting with one of my advisors the next morning. The measure is an index (it’s a summed total–the higher the number the “more” the person reports whatever that measure is measuring), not a scale where there are required scores (for example, to reach clinical significance) based on previous research. This is good because I just make 18 the highest score instead of 20. Do I wish I still had the full 20 in there?  Of course.  But is it ruining my dissertation?  Nope. Now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, how did this happen?  Did she just not proof read her survey?  This would never happen to me. And you’d be fair in thinking these things. I might have. But here’s the thing, I did proof read it. So many times, I can’t even give you a number, but it’s probably at least 10. I have no idea how this happened. But it did. And I’ll deal with it. Just another fun lesson learned!

As I’ve written these two incidents out they hardly seem as significant as they felt in the moment. Maybe that’s the real lesson learned: Take a step back when things feel completely overwhelming (or messed up or impossible or…) and let it sit for a bit. It’s not the end of the world and it will probably be okay. Most things are eventually. Oh, and breathe. And don’t run away to work with the elephants no matter how tempting it might sound in the moment. 

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Engaging participants in interviews?

I may have to write down this week as one of my most productive. Like…ever. There’s something about a large to-do list with a vacation at the end of it that provides some serious motivation. So much motivation, in fact, that I am done with the list and sitting in my office (impatiently) waiting for my wife to pick me up so we can go home. Our (honeymoon) trip to New Orleans doesn’t start until Saturday, but I’m ready to start preparing…even if it means doing laundry and dishes. Alas, this has nothing to do with my dissertation, except that the timing of this trip is exactly what I need right now and I hope to come back refreshed and ready to dive back into data collection.

Until then…I want to spend a little time talking about interviews. I love conducting interviews. It very much feeds the social worker in me. I like talking to people and hearing their stories and getting their perspective. I especially love conducting interviews with teenagers because they’re fabulous. I love their honesty and willingness to say what they mean, regardless of how I, as the adult, might perceive it. I love that (for the most part) they want to share their stories and haven’t been asked over and over to do so. I love how they will tell me what they think is important…not let me dictate what I think is important.

My first interview for my dissertation was over an hour and a half. This kid could talk and it was awesome. Most of the others have averaged around an hour. I’ve had a few that were really short, though (less than 30 minutes). These were the ones that I felt like I tried and tried to ask follow-up questions when participants provided short answers, but it was to no avail.  It’s not to say there isn’t data there…good data….there is, but it feels not as good as it could be. As much as I enjoyed talking with these participants, I left the interview feeling as if I’d missed some sort of opportunity. What could I have done differently to engage more with the participant?

Anyone else had this experience?  (Seriously, I’m sure it’s not just me.)  What do you do when the participant seems willing to be there and open to answering questions, but just doesn’t provide much detail?  Is it just a part of research I’m going to have to get used to?

Assorted updates

I’m a little behind in posting. I try to post weekly and it’s been nearly 2 weeks since my last post. Sometimes there just isn’t room on the to-do list for a blog post…but I’m trying. It snowed (again) in Illinois last night and this morning and my morning meeting was cancelled so I’m taking that opportunity to catch up on some work…at home…in my pajamas…with an unlimited supply of coffee.  This generally involves more procrastination than when I work on campus, like cleaning instead of reading or writing…but at least my procrastination is productive. Like how writing this blog post is me procrastinating from reading one more chapter on cluster analysis. 

It’s been a pretty good two weeks overall. I’ve done 3 research recruitment trips in the last month and I’ll do 2 more in April. I found out this week that I’m getting an award through my university and that I’m a finalist for a fellowship for next year.  I’ll be interviewed for the fellowship next week and find out in mid-April if I get it or not.  In terms of data collection, over 100 people have taken my survey and I’ve conducted 5 interviews.  I feel good about these numbers I’m also finally getting to go on my Honeymoon (5 months after the wedding) to New Orleans in less than 2 weeks and I’m very excited.  

Despite the progress this semester, I’m definitely feeling the stress of projects and deadlines piling up. Between now and the end of the semester, I have an article to write and submit for a special issue, an abstract to submit to another special issue, a draft of a third paper to complete, another fellowship application to write, 6 presentations to prepare or help students prepare (which includes finishing preliminary analyses of dissertation data), data collection to (mostly) finish, a grant report to write, and probably some other stuff I’m forgetting–and none of this includes the day-to-day work associated with my research assistantship or dissertation. I know it’s all part of the process…and I’m mostly used to it…but it still gets a little overwhelming at times. 

Speaking of my dissertation, here’s a funny (at least to me) little update:  As I mentioned before, I’ve conducted 5 interviews and I have 2 more scheduled. My goal is 30-40 interviews total, although I’m engaging in theoretical saturation so that number may vary. The other day I was thinking about my interview participants and how they’re similar or different. I realized that 4 of the 5 are similar in some pretty major ways and that I may need to attend to this when I’m recruiting survey participants (some diversity in the sample would be good). About the same time I realized that I should probably be starting to do some preliminary analyses for upcoming presentations and that, while I’ve been analyzing interview data, I have yet to do any mixed method analyses which I’m supposed to be doing throughout.  As I realized all of these things in the span of just a few seconds, I thought to myself “I should pick a week to stop doing data collection and just focus on these issues and doing some analysis to see where I’m at with things.”  Feeling proud of myself for coming up with such a smart idea, I remembered a moment back in November when my dissertation committee recommended I do just that–build in analytic stopping points into my data collection timeline. I looked at the timeline I created back then…and there was the first scheduled stopping point–a few weeks ago. Oops. It’s a good thing my committee had such a smart idea.  I guess I’ll go follow it now 🙂  

One last random update:  I ran a quick report of demographic data for the surveys and told my wife how the majority of the youth participants (so far) have been identifying as pansexual, as opposed to the “traditional” LGB or even queer. In our discussion about this she proclaimed “Your research is really exciting!”.  Have you ever had that moment?  The one where someone in your life who is not in academia, not interested in research, and whose eyes tend to glaze over when you say things like “theoretical saturation” or “logistic regression” takes a legitimate interest in your research?  I don’t mean to say she’s never been interested–she has–but in a different way. She knows it’s my education/future career and wants me to succeed and be happy…but this was different…this was authentic interest in the actual research itself. It felt amazing.  A few days later I said something about “cluster analysis” and her eyes glazed over again, so I’ll take it when I can get it 🙂

Sorry for the scattered selection of updates. I’ll try to find some focus in my next post.  What are things you want to read about? 

On the road again…

For several days over the past two weeks I have traveled around the state to promote my study. Two weeks ago: Chicago. This past week: Southern Illinois. Next week: St. Louis area (mostly the Illinois side of East St. Louis). In two weeks: Central Illinois. And at some point in the not-so-distant future: Northern Illinois (beyond Chicago). I’m mostly posting flyers at libraries, coffee shops, and anywhere else youth might hang out, but I’m also meeting with people who can help me promote the study (social workers, teachers, LGBTQ advocates/activists, etc.).

First, let me just say that traveling is exhausting for an introvert. Being away from home requires talking to more people during the normal course of a day…even if much of that day is spent in the car. I’m always nervous to walk into a new place and ask them to post a flyer. I wonder how much of my anxiety has to do with just talking with someone I don’t know (and asking them to help me promote my research) and how much of it is directly LGBTQ-related. I do worry a little that I’ll get the Look and the Polite Decline indicative of a lack of acceptance for LGBTQ people. For the record, no one has refused yet, and I’ve met several excited librarians, which is awesome. But the fear is still there. Do I have any readers doing non-LGBTQ research with similar anxieties?  If so, speak up in the comments…I’m curious.

Regardless of the cause, the anxiety also contributes to the exhausted feeling I have after a day of travel, flyer-posting, and talking to strangers.  And then there’s the bed that’s not my own and the way hotel doors have of being the loudest doors. EVER. (Seriously, what’s up with that?) So, despite the fact that I’ve been working all day to try and get caught up on some things…I’m exhausted and appreciating some at-home time.

As exhausting as these trips are, so far they have been totally worth it. Yesterday morning, before leaving the town I stayed in overnight, I met with a staff and volunteer at a small LGBTQ youth program. I had anticipated it being a 30-45 minute meeting and we ended up talking for an hour and a half. They were excited to tell me all about their program, including their successes and challenges. They were also excited about my research which was so affirming at this early stage in my research career. If that had been the only thing I did on my trip, it would have been worth the time and money!

So, that’s where I’m at. Despite the exhaustion, I know these next 2 trips will be worth it. And after they’re over, I get to travel for fun (on my delayed and highly anticipated honeymoon to New Orleans), so there’s that. Traveling without flyers will be a much-needed break 🙂

Until next time…

On Data Collection (Where My Participants At: Round 2)

A few days ago I posted about the ups and downs of data collection. Well, mostly the downs. Today, I want to share with you the ups…and some things I learned over the past few days.

As I mentioned before, I went to Chicago late last week to do some in-person research recruitment. Before I left, I posted a study announcement on the Facebook page I set up for the study. On a whim, I decided to “boost” the post. I set a budget of $25 and “targeted” the post to reach my target population for the qualitative portion of my study (one county in Illinois). I also tweeted about the study and tagged (is that what it’s called on Twitter? I’m still figuring this Twitter thing out) several organizations and people asking them to RT (re-tweet). Then I left for Chicago and let the internet work its magic (or so I hoped).

Chicago is only a couple of hours away from me, but I ended up stopping after an hour because of fog so bad I couldn’t see cars in front of me.  It was so bad that 3 separate accidents shut the interstate down for long periods of time.  I’m glad I stopped. Once I got settled into my hotel for the night, I had a chance to catch up on emails and social media. I was blown away. In a matter of hours, the number of “likes” on my Facebook study page had increased by 20, I had 2 emails from youth requesting participation in the study, and my post had reached nearly 1,000 people–and only $5 of my $25 budget had been spent. Needless to say, I decreased it to $10 with the goal of spreading that “boost” money out over a couple of weeks. By the end of the 2-day boost/promotion, the number of “likes” on my page had nearly doubled (52 to 99 as of this morning), 3 interviews have been scheduled with youth, a couple new surveys have come in, and the post was seen by over 1,500 people. Totally worth it.

The next day I was able to make it to Chicago and had one day to get 1 1/2 days worth of research recruitment in. I met with a school social worker who was very excited about the study. She plans to inform the youth she works with about it and gave me some contacts to follow-up with. It was a wonderful meeting. I also met with a friend/colleague at a university in Chicago. We spent some time catching up but she also provided some ideas for reaching out to Chicago organizations to help promote the study. After the meetings, I went to post flyers. Thank goodness my amazingly supportive wife was with me because a) navigating Chicago by myself would have been a nightmare and b) by the time I got around to posting flyers, my introvert had taken over and I just wanted to go back to the hotel and take a nap (which she wouldn’t let happen–despite the fact that she, too, wanted a nap)!  It was cold and windy, but we walked around Boystown and posted flyers anyway. We met a few particularly nice individuals at LGBTQ-related stores. One talked with us about possible places to advertise the study and another talked about how he’s been working in Boystown for decades and how he’s seen so much change (for the better and the worse). Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Andersonville or Bronzeville on this trip, but I plan to go back later in the Spring (when it’s warmer!).

Driving around all day, I didn’t get much chance to check my emails or social media. When we finally got to our hotel, I had over 30 emails. I realized quickly that half of them were from Twitter and I sat down to figure out the chain of Twitter events that I had missed. And here it comes. The 2nd exciting social media event of my week:  Kate Bornstein retweeted my post about the study. Yep. That happened. And then a few more people retweeted it and I lost count. I love Kate. I’ve seen her speak twice and met her both times and I just adore her. To have her retweet my study meant the world to me–even if it doesn’t go “viral”–the support there is immeasurable.

Alas, I am home now. And thankful for it. Time to rest up for a few days (and by rest up I mean catch up on lots of work) before heading to Southern Illinois late this week to do some more research recruitment. This morning I created a new post–specifically targeting my quantitative sample–all of Illinois, rather than just one county–and “boosted” it. And I have an interview in a few hours. Look for updates on all of these fabulous happenings this week later. And thanks for reading.

Where my participants at?

It’s been a somewhat slow week or two in the data collection department. I’ve had a few surveys completed, but not nearly at the rate they were coming in a couple of weeks ago.  One to two a week now instead of one to two a day. I also haven’t been able to get many interviews. One, to be exact. This winter has been cramping my dissertation. The youth group from which I’m doing the majority of my interview recruitment takes place on Monday nights. Most of the really cold/snowy/icy days we’ve had this year have fallen on Monday nights which means group gets cancelled.

I’m mostly worrying about the time factor because I have a small grant for this research study that ends on June 30th. I have money for transcription and incentives that has to be spent by then. I also owe the funder a report about where the study is at and preliminary findings.  This is over four months away…but it feels like it’s creeping up on me. It’s nearly March, which is music to my ears and also terrifying.

It’ll get done. I keep telling myself that. Things always get done.

The next few weeks are filled with research recruitment travel. I’m going to Chicago today and tomorrow to post flyers, meet with service providers, and try and get the word out about the study. Other trips include southern Illinois, central Illinois, and the St. Louis area. It occurs to me that I haven’t written much (here) about what my actual research study entails. I’ll do that sometime soon. But, right now, I gotta go try and get some participants!

Imposter Syndrome Strikes Again

This week was rather slow for data collection. I got one new survey all week. I did spend a lot of time writing and pulling together some of the public data I need for my dissertation. In hindsight, I can see how much I got done: submitted 3 conference proposal abstracts and one paper for a journal review; completed all but one component of one part of the public data I need (and the last part isn’t available yet); scheduled some meetings about my research study; submitted a fellowship application and started another; submitted a large grant application for a local nonprofit; got everything on my to-do list done on time or early; and still had time to plan a casual Valentine’s Day with my sweetie.  This is an accomplished week.

So why did I spend a good part of the week on the roller coaster of Imposter Syndrome?  You know, the one that goes up and down and around and around and upside down and then you get off and somehow you end up back on it despite your best efforts at hanging out at the snack shack instead. Whew. It’s exhausting. And I wasn’t alone this week. In addition to the list of things I managed to complete this week, I also had countless conversations with friends and colleagues about feeling the same way.  One minute we’re confident grad students ready to take on academia and the next we’re tearful insecure 13 year-olds looking for a bedroom door to slam so we can be melancholy all by ourselves. If this sounds a bit melodramatic, good. It should. It is.

If you’ve never experienced Imposter Syndrome, this is what it looks like (for me, at least).
Wednesday morning I was reading over a final draft of a paper to submit for review to be published in an academic journal. This paper has been previously rejected and significant revisions have been made. As I read through it, I kept having moments of “Wow, I wrote that!” and “Damn, this is good!” I submitted it and felt amazing. Two hours later, I was feeling dumb about the same stuff I was feeling dumb about last week (you know, the stuff my advisor helped me figure out already).

Imposter Syndrome is this little voice in your head telling you that you’re not really good enough…that somehow you’ve skated by and no one has noticed, but eventually….eventually they will. It’s a lie. Clearly. In the moment, one may even know it’s a lie…but it doesn’t make it go away. And it doesn’t matter how successful one is or how many papers they’ve published or how many grants they’ve received. I’ve talked with faculty who felt this way. I once asked a very accomplished Assistant Professor who had significant federal research funding when the Imposter Syndrome goes away. The response:  “I’ll let you know.”

So what do we do with it when it happens?  We know what it is (or if you didn’t, you do now). We can see it in ourselves. We can see it in others. But how do we stop it?  I talked with colleagues and friends this week who felt completely inadequate because ONE thing wasn’t working…one scholarship or grant wasn’t received, one goal wasn’t met, one paper wasn’t getting written, etc…but what about all the great things that were happening?  What about that list of accomplishments I made this week? Is that somehow overshadowed by the fact that I couldn’t figure out some public data again? Or that I couldn’t find the words I was looking for one morning this week?

I don’t have any answers. Feel free to discuss in the comments. I’m interested in others’ experiences with this.

Until next time…