QUALITATIVE METHODS: PART FOUR
 
C. George Boeree
 
Shippensburg University
 

 
FOURTEEN
 
NONDIRECTIVE INTERVIEWING
 

        As already suggested earlier, when we developed an "ethnomusicology," sometimes the best thing to do is to ask.  Interviewing is the mainstay of many different kinds of qualitative method, from case studies to ethnography.

        For this project, find someone slightly different from yourself and interview this person.  Ask them for an hour or two of their time; explain what you are doing and ask their permission to record the interview.  If you have a taperecorder, you may use it if they don't mind.  Otherwise, take notes -- minimal ones that don't interfere with the flow of the conversation; later, you can sit down by yourself and "fill in the blanks."  Even if you do use a taperecorder, you might want to try this to sharpen your recording and remembering skills!

        You are to pick a topic that might interest both you and your interviewee.  Make it a value question, something the person will have an opinion on, something concerning judgements of good and bad.

        This is to be an unstructured interview.  This means that, although you may interact with the person  --  ask questions, ask for detail, for clarification, and so on  --  you should avoid, as much as possible, forcing the person in any direction, other than keeping their attention on the original topic.  In other words, back off and let them express themselves.

        Summarize the conversation in approximately four pages, paraphrasing or using the person's own words where they are most effective, using your own words otherwise.  Communicate to the prospective reader what the person was expressing!  You will  --  necessarily, I think  --  need to use your "empathy" or "intuition" to do this.  but take great care not to put your ideas into his or her mouth.

        One outstanding technique for the unstructured interview is what Carl Rogers (1951) called reflection:  To get more detail or additional insight, especially when you sense uncertainty in the person, rephrase what they have been telling you and put it in the form of a question.  If they tell you, for example, that life sucks, a difficult phrase to interpret, come back with "life has been getting you down lately?"  A question like his says to them (1) I need more to go on, (2) I care about what you have to say, and (3) I respect you enough not to force you.  It takes a lot of practice to get this right  --  essentially, it must come from you honestly  --  so don't overwork it at first.  The most common mistake is to rephrase every other comment, which makes you sound like a parrot with a psychology degree (and may cost you your interviewee's trust).

        When you finish writing up your interview, reread it and ask yourself these questions:

        1.  Was I fully present, phenomenologically?  Or did I sink into routine, a sort of semi-conscious scribbling?

        2.  If I was fully present, did I nevertheless take care not to allow my own desires, interests, needs, or thoughts to distort the interview?

        3.  How was my "esthetic" sense?  Did I see the patterns or essences?  Did I communicate them to the reader as the interviewee would have wanted me to?  Did I check my intuitions with the person by reflection or by simply asking?

        4.  Did I capture the person as well as the topic?  Did I capture the conversation, the flow of words and ideas between two real people in a real setting?

        Discuss your interviews in class.
 



 

A STUDENT'S INTERVIEW

Topic Choice:

        "What does it mean to be a Christian?"

        I do not refer to the majority of us who are not Jewish, Moslem, etc.  I am interested in the highly emotional, highly convinced subgroup sometimes referred to as the "charismatics."

Statement of biases:

        I grew up in a theologically/philosophically sophisticated home environment.  My father has published a number of writings regarding religious matters in the Catholic Church and is a consultant for the American Council of Bishops.  Professors, bishops, even two cardinals were/are visitors frequently and conversed with my father into the morning hours.  I went to a Catholic high school and received an excellent religious education.

        Perhaps I am subtly rebelling by my present agnostic/secular humanist stance.  I know for sure that I had to fight the tendency to debate the merit of religiousity during the interview.  I struggled to check my bias of religion-as-childish at all moments.

Explanation of technique:

        My first step in the interview was to clarify to my informant the nature of my technique.  I made it clear that I was the student and she (Tracey) was the teacher.  I explained the techniques of reflection and open questioning as well as non-judgementalness.  She seemed to be quite flattered and was eager to commence the interview.

Body of the interview:

        After posing my initiating question to Tracey ("What does it mean to be a Christian?"), I learned the following:  There is a "special" feeling that comes with a "special" relationship with God.  There is feeling of change when one is converted--a feeling of rising above the crowd.

        Tracey was very careful to note that God loved her no more than any other human.  In her words:  "God gets as close to humans as he can on his own.  Then he will call each of us to step forward from our own free will...  Some come, others don't... (but when) we take those few steps that we have the power to take, we become 'more special' in his eyes...."

        She explained that Christians were given an "inner glow" as a gift.  At this point I asked her to tell me more about an "inner glow."  She said that an inner glow was a happy feeling or a special sort of energy.  It was a feeling much like one feels before something good is about to happen.  It was much "...like (how she) felt on the night before Christmas when (she) was young...."  She felt loved by someone who was "all powerful and all knowing."  It seemed like she had sided with a true champion.

        Tracey may have startled herself by using the term "more special" (as I have quoted above) because I sensed a growing need for self-explanation at this point.  She explained that she was no better than anyone else.  In fact she ".. was more of a servant now than ever..." and she cited examples from the bible that Christ himself washed his followers' feet and even died a horrible death in our service.

        It is in serving that she sees the purpose of the "inner glow" previously referred to and the meaning of being a Christian.  The "glow" is given with the following stipulation:  it has to be shared.  It is her duty, she believes, to make others as happy as she is.  Tracey shares the feeling by encouraging others in all of their endeavors and to remind them that God loves them (if they are receptive to religious sentiments).  She also believes she can spread happiness to others by praying for them.  Prayer also "...rekindles the fire in her heart, especially communal prayer...."

        Tracey seemed to become a little defensive for some reason at the possibility that I may think she was boasting.  She insisted that it was not she or through her merits that she can do all this good.  Her only outstanding merit was that she opened her heart to the Holy Spirit for him to work through her.

        The interview ended at this point with a mild suggestion that I develop my own spirituality because she gets good "vibes" from me.  She then went on her way to class.

Post-check:

        I gave this protocol to her to read and she agreed with the majority of the transcription--it was an accurate portrayal of the transaction, or at least acceptable.

(Note:  Tracey is a pseudonym.)
 
 



 
FIFTEEN
 
BEING AWARE OF YOUR BIASES
 

        Bracketing is possibly more important when doing interviews than in other qualitative methods.  It's also more difficult.

        Like so many things, bracketing is something you must learn through experience:  By "keeping your eyes open," by being hard on yourself, by working with others, you will become sensitive to the intrusion of biases into your descriptions.  However, we can get a start on developing this sensitivity with a "simple" homework exercise:

        First, make a list of your characteristics:

        1.  your gender;
        2.  your age;
        3.  your ethnic or national identification;
        4.  your religion or philosophy of life;
        5.  your political party or orientation;
        6.  your favorite psychological theory.

And four more characteristics:  words or phrases that are descriptive of you as an individual.

        It is likely that these ten characteristics will be at the roots of your more obvious biases; that they will underlie the ethnocentric and egocentric tendencies that we all have.  And that is the second part of this exercise:

        1.  List ways in which your characteristics might bias you in your efforts at research interviewing.

        2.  Then write how you might counteract these biases.

        3.  And then write how these efforts to counteract your biases might themselves lead to other biases!

        Push yourself!  Some of the biases may surprise you.  Share them with the rest of the class.  Remember, though, that bracketing is much more than just being aware of your biases; it is a special openness to what is there.  I don't know of any simple exercises for that!
 



 
SIXTEEN
 
INTERVIEWING AS DIALOG
 
        For this project, I want you to find a friend who is different from yourself in some way, and interview him or her about those very differences.

        Begin by asking them for an hour or two of their time (you may well find yourself needing and wanting more), explain your purposes, and ask if they mind if you record the conversation (tape or paper and pencil).  If you tape the conversation, still have the paper and pencil handy to record non-verbal happenings or thoughts that occur to you during the interview.

        This will be a dialog:  Relate to your informant as a co-researcher.   For example, you might use what happens in the conversation as topics for the conversation:  "I find myself avoiding looking at your eyes  --  did you notice?  Do you feel the same way?"

        Be careful of imposing yourself to much.  Keep your focus, and your co-researcher's focus, on the problem of your differences, but don't put your ideas above thieirs, don't put words in their mouths, don't force them into a position that is not in fact their position.

        You may feel uncomfortable.  Try to understand the discomfort.  But remain open to the other person.  Do not aim to resolve all your differences  --  you are not expected to convert.  Neither should you pressure your co-researcher to come to your point-of-view  --  you are not to convert him or her.  If they should want to end the interview, please respect that desire.  Remember:  You are the beneficiary of this interaction; treat your informant as your benefactor.

        Discuss the interviews in class.
 



 

ALCOHOL
 

For the second interview I conducted, I chose to question a friend of mine that had only been back in town a few days.  We went out to eat and then retired to my house to talk.  Throughout the interview, I will refer to her as “Kate.”  Kate is a young woman in her late twenties.  She grew up in Pennsylvania and later moved to a mid-western state after she married her high school sweetheart.  Kate is very comfortable with speaking about any subject, so we got started right away.

For the most part, Kate lived a very normal and happy childhood. She had a wonderful mother and father, and two caring brothers.  her father had a full time job and her mother occasionally worked at the supermarket in town.  She was the youngest of the three children, so she was quite spoiled as a child.  The family lived in an average looking house, with the two boys sharing a bedroom, leaving Kate to have her own.  Everyone had their own set of chores to do, but homework always came first.

Kate believes that her parents started out to be a happy couple.  Kate’s mother was not one for public affection, so Kate hardly ever saw her parents hug or kiss.  If Kate did happen to walk in on a stolen moment, her mother would push her father away as if he had violated her.  Affection toward the children was different.  Kate and her brothers were always being squeezed and kissed by both parents.  Kate figured that her parents just did not think public displays of “lusty” affection were appropriate, especially in front of children.

As Kate grew older, she realized that the relationship her parents had was not so perfect.  Kate’s father used to leave late at night saying that he had to run to the grocery store or pick something up at the office or meet a friend for a drink.  Being a small child, Kate never thought to second guess her father.  However, as a preteen, she often stayed up late at night to wait for her father.  One night when her father did not come home, Kate walked out to the garage, only to find her father sleeping in the back of his truck. Kate never asked why...  she figured it was none of her business.

Kate explained that she had always been Daddy’s girl. Her mother was more strict that her father, and Kate knew exactly how to get her father to say “yes.”  While growing up, Kate’s brothers would try the same tricks, but would never succeed.  After years of trying, her brothers gave up and began to sabotage Kate’s efforts.  This continued for only a short time until the boys realized that it was no use.

The fighting between Kate’s parents intensified. The quiet little fights late at night in her parents’ bedroom turned into loud voice battles that took place wherever, regardless of where the children were.  Kate’s mother often threw things, screamed, and ran out of the room, leaving Kate’s father standing alone with his hand to his face.  Occasionally, after a particularly bad fight, Kate would run and hug her father and tell him that things would be alright.  He would hold her in disbelief.

At some point during Kate’s sophomore year in high school, her parents moved into separate rooms.  Her mother stayed in the bedroom, and her father slept on the couch in the den.  Sometimes, Kate would finish her homework early and fall asleep in the den watching basketball with her father.  If her mother ever found her in the den in the morning, she would accuse Kate of horrible things.  The accusation would start another fight between her parents, and Kate would run out crying.

Kate found herself trying to avoid her mother at all costs. For awhile, Kate managed to steer clear of her mother until one day.  One afternoon after returning home from school in her junior year, Kate walked into the living room to find her mother sprawled on the couch holding a bottle of vodka.  Kate’s mother screamed at her and then screamed for Kate’s father to come downstairs and get Kate out of the room.  Kate’s father came running down the stairs and grabbed Kate’s arm and pulled her into the kitchen.  Kate was shaking and crying while her father tried to explain that her mother had a bad day and just needed to be alone.  Kate ran out the door and did not come home until late that night.

During her time away, Kate had figured out the big mystery. All these years, her mother had been an alcoholic, a drunk, and Kate’s father had worked hard to hide it from his children. All these years, her mother’s addiction had been tearing the family apart while her father suffered the most pain.  Kate had had enough.  She stormed into her mother’s room screaming and accusing.  Meanwhile, her youngest brother had heard the racket and ran to his mother’s room.  He accused Kate of being the family-wrecker and screamed at her to get out.

Kate grabbed a few things and went to stay at a friend’s house for a couple of days.  Kate’s father moved out of the house as well and left Kate’s mother to pick up the pieces. When Kate returned a few weeks later to retrieve the rest of her things, her mother was still drinking and still blaming Kate.  When Kate left, she went to live with her father.  A few days after graduating from high school, Kate married her boyfriend and they moved far away from her mother.  Kate still keeps in touch with her father and one of her brothers.  Rumor has it that her mother has started to clean up her act and move on with her life with her youngest son as her only family.

This might seem like a narrative story, but Kate felt that the only way to express her feelings about alcohol and drinking was to tell the story that caused her to form such strong negative opinions.

Kate feels that drinking in unnecessary for anyone.  Throughout school, Kate had always been tempted, but her father’s teachings had kept her strong.  Even in the social setting, Kate never took a drink.  Instead, she would order a seltzer or a glass of tea.  She gets chills every time she reads stories in the newspaper about alcoholic parents beating their children and about college students drinking themselves to death.  Kate has often though about joining an organization to help herself and others in her situation.  She says that will probably never happen, because she just wants to put that part of her life behind her.

Kate believes that people do not know what the signs for alcoholism are.  She lived with an alcoholic for a long time and never knew it. She wants everyone to know that alcoholism can be quiet.  The victims do not have to be poor or stupid or mean.  The disease can affect anyone.  For some time, Kate looked into her mother’s family history to try to blame it on someone else besides her mother.  But Kate’s mother had good parents who were not alcoholics.  Kate, like most children who face alcoholic parents, desperately wanted to find a way to forgive her mother and make things better.  However, that was almost impossible, at least for right now.

Kate does not believe that any type of alcohol consumption is safe. In her mother’s case, the consumption was obviously harmful, as anyone could have easily determined if all the facts had been known.  But even a social drink can turn into a disaster.  One social drink might lead to another and cause a rational person to do things he or she would not normally do.  Alcohol can cause accidents and outcomes that are disastrous.  The problem is that nobody knows when the accident will happen, or how many drinks is too many, or what type of behavior constitutes alcoholism.  People do not learn from other people’s mistakes.  The phrase “it won’t happen to me” has been used too often with certainty that can not be known.

The interview ended here because Kate did not want to discuss the topic any further.  She was not emotional, but she felt that we exhausted the topic as far as she was concerned.  We both agreed that the next time we talk, it should be about a subject that is not so personal.  In a way, I felt as if I was invading her privacy even though she had agreed to be part of the interview.
 



 
SEVENTEEN
 
FOCUS GROUPS
 

        One of the most popular techniques today is the group interview, better known as the focus group.  The idea is very simple:  Instead of interviewing one person at a time, get a group of people of one sort or another, and discuss some topic of interest.

        When done in a phenomenological fashion, focus groups can be quite revealing.  Unfortunately, focus groups are quite popular among researchers with strong ideological predispositions.  Because of the dynamics of groups, if you discuss something that has great emotional meaning for you, it is quite likely that you will steer the group to express precisely what you had in mind.  This might seem marvelous from the researcher’s point-of-view -- what other technique is so self-validating? -- but it is clearly not honest.

        People with strong interests in women’s or men’s issues, religious issues, political issues, labor-management issues, and so on, easily fall victim to this little bit of self-delusion.  Keep in mind that, the more ego-involved you are in something, the less likely it is that you will be aware of your biases!  Like with so many qualitative methods, everybody thinks they can do it, and do it well.  As you know by now, that just isn’t true.  If anything, the more confidence a person has in their abilities to be unbiased, the less I trust them!  A good researcher is always questioning his or her skills.

        There are other pitfalls as well:  Groups are often dominated by strong personalities;  Groups can generate more emotion than any one individual might feel about the issue;  Groups can focus in so tightly on one issue that they can’t think of any others;  Groups often appear more consistent than they are because individuals who don’t agree don’t want to disturb the peace; and so on and so forth.  Particularly when issues are “hot” and group cohesion is strong, focus groups can degenerate into something resembling an afternoon talk show.

        But if the researcher is well-trained and open-minded, focus groups are a good research tool.  They are especially appropriate for beginning an investigation, for example, into how a company runs or into the dynamics of a social club.  They are often used in consultation work.

        For a project, try organizing your class into a focus group.  Discuss something controversial and emotional, just to see what happens!
 



 

 SUMMARY OF PSYCHOLOGY GRADUATE STUDENT INTERVIEWS
 

On March 2, 1995, I interviewed a total of eleven Psychology graduate students -- seven in one group, four in a second (with one attending both), and one independently.  I asked open-ended questions such as “What do you like about our program,” “What do you dislike,” and “What suggestions do you have for improving our program,” plus a number of follow-up and encouragement questions.  I also asked for some details concerning their individual situations and progress.

To alert you to potential distortions, let me acknowledge several biases:  I am skeptical of the graduate program’s quality;  I have found the graduate students to be pleasant and well-motivated and fairly intelligent;  I have a decided bias against the experimental approach, and for phenomenological-existential alternatives.  I am sure there are many more, but these are the ones I believe might most impact this study.

I have organized the results of my interviews by broad topics.  Simple statements reflect the opinions of the majority of the students.  Where the opinions are of the minority or an individual, I so specify, with some indication of the “dynamics” involved.

Courses

There was generous praise for the quality of our teaching.  It was mentioned that we have an “interesting” variety of personalities and styles, but that most of us seem fully involved in our field and interested in our students.  We are apparently good at explaining things and particularly open to questions.  The amount of material we cover was compared positively to other schools -- one person saying that she learned more in her two years with us than four years in a biology program.

They particularly like the smaller, seminar-style courses, which provide more opportunity to get to know professors and fellow-grads as well as a greater understanding of the field.

The number one problem is the number of courses available.  This problem has two sides.  The first is that there are not enough options available each semester.  For example, while Life Span is offered every semester, Group Dynamics and Tests and Measures are seldom or never offered.  This is in conflict with our advertising.  Further, the scheduling seems to change from year to year, so if you wait with a course because it conflicts with another, it may conflict with yet another course the following year.  Summer courses in particular tended to be sparse and offered at overlapping times.

Although one full-time student would like more day courses, most need night courses because of work.  The biggest scheduling problem seems to be that the History and Systems course, now a requirement, is not offered at night.  Several said they had no idea how they would handle that.  They also would like summer courses offered at night.

They suggested a consistent schedule with every course offered at least once a year.  If student numbers are a problem, they suggested we recruit more students.

The second side of this problem is the actual number of different courses we offer.  They considered this to be the more serious issue.  Specifically mentioned were two broad areas, Industrial-Organizational and Clinical-Counseling.  They pointed out that these were the two areas most of them intended to work in.  Many students intend to go on to a PhD in clinical-counseling and felt that a few courses would help prepare them for their PhD programs.  Specifically mentioned were courses in Abnormal, Family Psychology, and Theories of Counseling.

I pointed out our ethical concerns, but they felt those concerns were misplaced.  First, the courses mentioned are not practicum courses.  Second, no one had any intention of going into practice without further education and appropriate certification.  Third, if anyone were unethical enough to “hang up a shingle” with only our Masters program, they could do so with or without these courses -- the latter being even more dangerous.

A smaller number of students, with more immediate employment intentions, felt that a small selection of I-O courses would be wonderful, particularly in the personnel area.  A testing course was mentioned.  It is important to note, I think, that students with no career interest in Clinical or I-O strongly supported the addition of appropriate courses, in that they would add to their breadth of knowledge.

Two students intending to go into physiological PhD work expressed an interest in more physiological courses.  One person mentioned an interest in courses in computers and legal psychology.  On the other hand, it was generally felt that there were enough developmental and cognitive courses.

Mentioned often was their hope for more Special Topics presented by different professors at least once a year and/or during the summer.  They were particularly interested in knowing “what profs were into.”  They suggested that we tell grads that they “sign-up or the course won’t go” -- i.e. apply a little pressure by putting the responsibility on them!

A third issue concerns scheduling.  Many expressed their need to know course offerings far in advance in order to arrange their schedules.  A couple knew that the secretary had future semester schedules available, which led others to suggest that we print them up or post them somewhere, even if it was to be understood that these schedules were tentative.

Even better would be a consistent schedule that carried from year to year.  Several were surprised to hear that I teach Personality every Fall, as they were unaware of this regularity.  A brochure with a list of all the courses, who teaches them, and when they are offered would be appreciated.  Best would be that even the times at which they were offered would be consistent from semester to semester.

The students complained of the “hierarchy of values” regarding types of research.  They would like more information about qualitative methods.  They suggested that either RDS be optional or qualitative methods should be made an equal requirement.  Their rational was that few intended to make research a priority, and although they would need RDS for their PhD work and to be good consumers, qualitative methods were far more relevant to their interests.

Concerning this issue, they expressed annoyance at requirements generally.  They saw themselves as adults capable of making their own choices, and of taking responsibility even if they made poor choices.  They disliked the “you don’t know what’s good for you” attitude implied.

Most felt that some classes were too large.  Specifically mentioned were History and Systems, Life Span, Sensation and Perception, and Qualitative Methods.  They didn’t feel it was too great a problem in content-oriented classes such as S-P, but that it was bad in discussion classes such as H-S.

When I pointed out that three of these were 400 level courses and the other a “service” course, they understood the problem but made specific complaints about H-S:  There are often undergrads in H-S that not only do not participate but are disruptive.  There was unanimous support for the idea of a 500-level H-S class (offered at night).  It was pointed out that our requiring H-S at this time prevents them from taking more than two additional 400-level courses.  When it was suggested that H-S be made optional, they responded with support for our policy (in spite of their desire for more autonomy!).

One person brought up an interesting problem:  Full-time students can get a full-time assistantship, which they may have difficulty handling, while part-time students, who could handle a full-time assistantship, are only allowed a part-time one!

Interaction

Perhaps the most consistent praise our department received from these students was the quality of student-professor interaction.  We are apparently always willing to talk and good at listening. They perceived nearly all of us as friendly, open, flexible, and concerned with their welfare.  They were particularly impressed by those of us who invite students to their homes.  Among one person’s comments:  “You are not just profs;” “We don’t have to be afraid to say how we feel or to have a different point-of-view;” “You treat us like adults.”  Others felt that it was possible to develop a real relationship with a professor here.  A couple of them, however, wanted to know how to do this!  One in particular noted that he was half-way through the program before he first met his advisor, and a few others agreed.

They would like to get to know us better, though, especially early on.  One suggestion was to have an introductory meeting where each professor would give an overview of his or her interests and research.  The little orientation luncheon we give is greatly appreciated, but they want each of us to give a presentation on ourselves.  At least we should have a full description in a brochure for the grad students.  Several wanted to go a step further and have research colloquia every two or three months.  When I described our old Spring mini-conference, they seemed quite enthusiastic.

More than one noted that being a graduate assistant in the department was very helpful in getting to know professors and fellow students.

Interaction among graduate students, unfortunately, was another matter.  Many indicated a desire to get to know other students, for reasons such as studying together, sharing information about courses, professors, thesis, and career preparation, and just for comradery’s sake.

It was felt that there was little collegiality among the grads, that they didn’t get together to study or to relax.  A student pointed out that in some schools the “older” students help the “younger” ones, something she felt would be valuable here as well.

The small classes helped a little, since they could get to know each other there when time allowed.  They particularly liked classes with group work.  They noted, though, that the relationships stop when the class stops.

A major desire was for a regular grad student get-together, perhaps three times each semester.  They suggested that we “just do it,” that people will catch on and it will become routine.  Particular suggestions included advertising well and holding it on class nights, 4:30 to 5:30 or so, and having food available (pizza was mentioned most frequently, at the students’ own expense) since some would otherwise not have time to eat between work and class.  Each meeting would have a different focus, addressing such issues as PhD programs, thesis planning, career possibilities, professors’ research, etc.

One person suggested a formal graduate student-faculty association in order to “promote the career of the major.”

Advisement

Most of the students felt a real need for better advisement.  First, they would like a better introduction to the department, its faculty, its facilities, its requirements.  Commuter students especially felt this need.  Some suggested that the college has tours for new grads, but most were unaware of them.  This led to the suggestion that we should also try to make grads aware earlier of facilities outside the department.  For example, while most were dismayed by our limited computers, few knew there was a sizable lab with nice new Macs right next door in Horton!

A much more serious need was for information about what one can do with a Masters.  They suggested that we have a person, or minimally a bookshelf, that has such information.  About one quarter of the students I spoke to were “terminal Masters,” and others were interested in the information in the event that they had difficulty getting into a PhD program.  Several mentioned that some profs had a “bad attitude” about the value of the masters and the quality of the school, and that this did not help them.

About three quarters said they were using our program as a “way station” towards a PhD  Others also said they wanted to keep their options open.  They felt fairly optimistic, noting that PhD programs seemed to be interested in us, and seemed to accept most of our courses, as well as our thesis, according to their sources.  They appreciated those of us who have networks of relations in other programs.

They would like information on how to get into a PhD program.  Some noted how a faculty member served as an “advocate” for them, and others wanted to know how to develop such a relationship.  Again, they wanted to know more about the faculty, to find out who could, and would, help them in this regard.

They felt that we should try to match students with professors in terms of interests.  Perhaps we could have them fill out a questionnaire concerning interests which would then be used to make a match.  Few were aware that they could switch advisors at all, much less easily.

There was a strong need for better a explanation of the thesis.   Few realized (until it was too late) that you should begin thinking about your thesis long before you sign up for your first thesis hours.  They would like a pamphlet that explains the process, as well as listing the faculty’s research interests.  They also wanted to know how relevant the thesis was to getting into a PhD program.

As one person put it, they need to know “the administrative business.”

Dropping candidacy was thought a good idea.

Facilities

The students like Gilbert Hall for its quaint coziness.  The praise stops there.

The most commonly expressed need was for computers.  They compared our department negatively to other schools (specifically mentioned were Bloomsburg and Penn State at Harrisburg).  Most who commented said they used Macs.  They also wanted more applications, though they could not tell me off-hand what.  One suggested  that the faculty donate their computers to the students and get new ones for themselves.  When I told him that I just this year went from an Apple II to a Mac Plus, he withdrew his suggestion.  Another suggestion was to contact former grads for donations.

Two students with serious experimental interests indicated a need for better and larger laboratory space.

The favorite classroom was the seminar room.  They would very much like more rooms like it.  Our upstairs classrooms get very low marks for their “undergrad,” “authoritarian,” and “run down” feel.  Small desks were mentioned as a complaint by several larger graduate students.  (As a large person myself, I can vouch for the fact that sitting in one of those desks through a night class is tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment.  I am serious about this.)

A coffee-maker was requested.

The only time I had to halt discussion was when someone brought up parking and things got entirely out of hand.  Apparently, parking is even more difficult for graduate students than for the rest of us.  It seems that it is a major reason for no-one coming in during the day-time, if they can avoid it.  They often park behind Heiges.  This is a real problem for people who work full-time, go to school full-time, and care for their families full-time!  Suggestions included being permitted to purchase faculty stickers, having the power plant lot open to them, and getting special permission to park where they otherwise could not.

They told me that “parking is horrendous” and that the administration should be made to understand that it is not a “joke” issue.  It reflects on the respect the college shows its students (and, if I might add an editorial note, its faculty).

Other comments

The students were generally happy with the size of our program, department, and school.  They felt that it allowed for better relations with professors an d more potential for personalizing their studies.  They mentioned that they liked the fact that the program was “open-ended” and that they could do anything that interested them.  They liked the “general” nature of the program, and felt that it was a great opportunity to test themselves in terms of readiness for further education and to try research and the thesis.  In other words, despite the large number of criticisms and suggestions, they considered this a good program.

When I asked how they came to know about our program, the responses were fairly consistent:  They had heard about us from a friend, relative, or undergrad professor.  The major considerations that made us a good choice for them were our location  (usually based on a one hour travel radius), our affordability, and the fact that we seem to be the only college offering a general Masters in the state.

All the students felt that the “focus group” was an excellent idea.

I was quite impressed with these students.  Although one seemed rather cynical and another somewhat naive, all were enthusiastic about psychology and pleased to participate in anything to help the program.  They were also thoughtful and articulate.  I came away from this experience with a sense that this program is, in fact, well worth saving, and this population of students worth serving.

[A description of the students and a summary of suggestions followed]
 



 

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Copyright 1998 by C. George Boeree