Good news!!! My IRB was finally approved!  Yesssss!  I have several phone interviews scheduled, which is SO EXCITING.  I really enjoyed my practice interviews and look forward to talking with COASST volunteers.  It feels really good to get my project moving… but I can’t help thinking about all the hard work that’s left to go!

I find it difficult to think of my masters thesis as simply one product that comes out of my graduate education.  Sometimes it seems like a giant solitary mountain, filled with large predatory mammals (sorry Smokey, I hate bears!).  Now that my IRB has finally been approved, it is daunting to think I’m still at the base of this monolithic monster.  On the other hand, I don’t think I could ever get tired of thinking about people’s perceptions of science, and the appropriate role of science in society.  My research questions continue to fascinate me, which is a good sign.

And I have done a lot of work preparing and writing, which I hope will make things go smoothly and quickly.

Check out and test the H1 Zoom digital audio recorder…. check.

Test the backup voice recorder app on my phone…. check.

Review interview questions…. check.

Look over transcripts of practice interviews…. check.


Guess I’m ready!  Wish me luck!




With IRB approval “just around the corner” (ha!), I’ve been making sure everything is in place so I can hit the ground running once I get the final approval.  That means checking back over my selection criteria for potential interviewees.  For anyone who doesn’t remember, I’m doing phone interviews with COASST citizen science volunteers to see how they describe science, resource management, and their role in each.


I had originally hoped to do some fancy cluster analyses to group people using the big pile of volunteer survey data I have.  How were people answering survey questions?  Does it depend on how long people are involved in the program, or how many birds they’ve identified?  … Nope. As far as I could tell, there were no patterns relevant to my research interests.


After a lot of digging through the survey data, I felt like I was back at square 1.  Shawn asked me, “Based on what you’re interested in, what information would you NEED to be able to sort people?”  My interview questions focus on people’s definitions of science and resource management, and their description of their role in COASST, science, and resource management.  I expect their responses have a lot to do with their world view, their experience with science, and what they think about the role of science in society.  Unfortunately, these questions were not included in the 2012 COASST volunteer survey.


As so often is the case, what I need and what I have are two different things.  When I looked through what I do have, there were several survey questions that are at least somewhat related to my research interest.  I’ve struggled with determining which questions are the most relevant.  Or I should say, I’ve struggled with making sure I’m not creating arbitrary groupings of volunteers and expecting those to hold through the analysis phase of my project.


This process of selecting interviewees off survey responses makes me excited to create my own surveys in the future!  That way I could specifically ask questions to help me create groupings.  Until then, I’m trying to make do with what I have!

I recently found myself in a moment of panic.  I was visiting Austin, TX and had arranged to meet with an education director at a science museum.  I plan to move to Austin after I graduate, and wanted to get a feel for potential employment opportunities.  It wasn’t an interview, and we weren’t meeting to discuss a specific position, but I still felt unprepared.  The night before my meeting, I sent out a panicked email to the FCL lab group titled, “What should I ask the museum lady???”  To their credit, this amazing group of people immediately sent me responses with thoughtful questions to ask.

Talking with the group once I returned to Corvallis, we thought it might be handy to have a “back pocket” list of questions to ask your interviewer when you go interview for a position.  Here’s what we have to start, any other suggestions?

Let me know.  Katie W.

  • What direction do you see the museum and the (education, etc.) department heading in the next 3-5 years?
  • Are there any new initiatives or plans for expanding?
  • Does the program have guaranteed long-term support?


  • What is the education or teaching philosophy of this museum/department?
  • Where do you see yourself as an educator in 3-5 years, is this a place you feel would support your goals and future plans? (getting at if they are stuck in the same habits or willing to change)
  • Are there opportunities for professional development?  What are those like?
  • Do you have anyone that does research and evaluation?  If so, what kinds of things have they been working on lately?  If not, is the museum supportive of employees doing research and evaluation to improve programming?


  • Can you tell me more about the visitor demographics?
  • Do you host school groups?  Are there they have special classes for those groups?  Who is in charge of writing the programs, leading the classes, etc.?
  • How does the museum handle adult/child interactions?  (Such as parents to kids – do they see them as separate audiences?)
  • How does the museum train their volunteers?


  • What kinds of partnerships does this museum have with other museums or scientists in the area, or with the university?
  • Can you give me some examples of interdisciplinary projects that happen here?
  • How does the museum see themselves in relation to the community?
  • How are community resources leveraged in the museum?


  • What’s it like to live here?
  • I know a lot of museums are doing 21+ evening events and employees can attend for free.  Does this museum offer any adult only programs?  (It’s a great way to get to know other employees…)
  • How are salaries and raises determined?

Part of my thesis project involves semi-structured phone interviews with COASST citizen science volunteers.  I’m patiently awaiting IRB approval for my project, and in the meantime I’ve completed 4 practice interviews with COASST undergraduate interns.  I ended up using the ZOOM H2 recorder, which has a lead with an earpiece microphone.  It worked great!  If anyone needs to do phone interviews, I recommend this audio recorder.  A friend also told me he used the Olympus digital voice recorder (VN 8100PC) for his interviews, which was sometimes tucked into his shirt pocket around a campfire… and he said he could hear everything perfectly!  Just thought I’d share.

Now that I have 4 transcriptions from my practice interviews, I’m getting more familiar with what the heck I’m supposed to do with my interview data once I actually collect it!  I re-read the book Qualitative Data: An Introduction to Coding and Analysis by Auerbach and Silverstein, and organized the practice transcripts into relevant text, repeating ideas, and themes.  I first did this in a Word document, but it seemed a little clunky.  I learned some people use Excel for this too.  Now I’ve downloaded NVivo and am learning my way around that program.  There’s a little bit of a learning curve for me, but I think I’ll really like it once I get the hang of it.  It’s been fun, and admittedly a little intimidating, to work through the mechanics of coding text for the first time.  Luckily for me, I have some great mentors and am getting great advice.  I’m excited to see what I’m able to make of the interview data, and looking forward to using NVivo for other projects I’m working on too!

If you google “record phone call” or “digital audio recorder+phone,” you may end up watching spy videos.  Thanks for the entertaining spy videos Google, but I’m just trying to do my thesis.  I’m trying to figure out how to record my phone interviews, and this won’t be done secretly.

The OSU Student Media Services desk at the library is extremely helpful, and they have a ton of equipment to check out.   They have a device that connects to the Zoom H2 digital audio recorder, and plugs into your ear.  Both me and the person on the phone will be recorded.  Unfortunately, it’s broken!  They said they will try to order another device soon, along with some other types of leads (things that plug into my phone and the recorder).

I’ve heard it’s good to have 2 recorders working, just to be safe, so  I’m also looking into apps that record calls.  I’ve seen a few for iPhones, but I have an Android.  Free Android apps include Record My Call, Call Recorder, and Auto Call Recorder.  One question… What are the privacy rules with these apps?  Will any outside party be able to access the recording?

If anyone has suggestions for recording phone interviews, PLEASE (!) let me know!  Thanks 🙂

At a student conference recently, a man in a plaid jacket with elbow patches was very upset about my poster.  He crossed his arms across his chest and made a lot of noises that sounded like “Hmph!”  I asked if he had any questions.  “Where’s your control?? How can you say anything about your results without having a control group?”

Both the natural sciences and social sciences both share common roots in the discipline of philosophy, but the theoretical underpinnings and assumptions of those two fields are completely different.  I don’t know what happened when science and psychology were young siblings, but man, those are two are separate monsters now.

Just so you know, I have never taken the Qualitative Methods course.  I have never conducted interviews, or analyzed qualitative data.  But I find myself in situations where I need to explain and defend this type of research, as I plan to interview citizen science volunteers about their experience in the program.  I am learning about the difference between qualitative and quantitative data which each step of my project, but there is a LOT I still need to learn.

Here’s what I know about interviews:

  1. They are an opportunity for the participant to think about and answer questions they literally may have never thought about before.  Participants create/reflect on reality and make sense of their experience on the spot, and share that with the interviewer.   Participants are not revealing something to you that necessarily exists already.  Interviewers are not “looking into the mind” of the participant.
  2. It’s important to avoid leading questions, or questions where the answer is built in.  Asking a volunteer “Tell me how you got interested in volunteering…” assumes they were interested when they started volunteering.  Instead, you can ask them to provide a narrative of the time they started volunteering.  When volunteers respond to the prompt “Tell me about when you started volunteering with this program…”  they may tell you what interested them about it, and you can follow up using their language for clarification.  Follow-up and probing questions are the most important.  Good default probes include “Tell me more about that,” and “What do you mean by that?”
  3. You don’t necessarily set the sample size ahead of time, but wait for data saturation.  Let’s say you do 12 interviews and participants all give completely different answers.  You do 12 more interviews and you get fewer new types of responses.  You do 12 more and you don’t get any new types of responses.  You might be done!  Check for new discrepant evidence against your existing claims or patterns.
  4. Reporting qualitative data involves going through your analysis claim by claim, and supporting each claim with (4-5 paragraphs of) supporting evidence from the interviews.  I’ve read that there’s no one right way to analyze qualitative data, and your claims will be valid as long as they represent consistent themes or patterns that are supported by evidence.  Inter-rater reliability is another way to check the validity of claims.

And to the man in the plaid jacket, there are plenty of fields within the natural sciences that are similar to qualitative research in that they are descriptive, like geology or archeology, or in that it may be impossible to have a control, like astronomy.

Let me know what your experience is defending qualitative research, and what your favorite resources are for conducting interviews!