Friday, 22 October 2010

Researching food choices

Trees in their autumn colours
On Tuesday I went into uni to start transcribing the interviews I've recorded for my research. It was one of those mornings when nothing went to plan.

I arrived at my usual time, around 8.30 a.m., knowing that the office doesn't open until 9.30, but I spent the time checking my mail and blogs and doing a little bit of research into Social Marketing. At 9.30 I went down to the office, but a sign on the door said it would be closed until 10.30, so I went back and did some more research into Social Marketing.

At 10.30 I picked up the transcription machine, which allows you to play the recording through headphones and control the speed and playback using a foot pedal. Except that the software it needed wasn't installed on the computer, and I didn't have administrator rights so I couldn't install it myself.

I had a backup plan, which was to install it on my own laptop, but that would be breaking the terms of my agreement with the Medical Ethics Committee who approved the research, because data security and confidentiality are key features of this programme of research. So I went in search of technical assistance, which couldn't be supplied until about 11.30, so my next thought was to find one of my student colleagues who wanted some help with referencing software. But she didn't answer her phone.

Because mobile reception is pretty poor in most places on campus I actually headed out to see if she was in the library, and found two of her friends, who said she was probably in the shower and called her again. So I met her eventually, and went through the referencing software, and then realised I hadn't taken my student card with me so I couldn't get back into the main building. Eventually I found someone passing to let me in, and the transcription software installation was just finishing up. I got started on the transcription, but I had previously arranged to meet a friend for lunch, so I had to break off again pretty soon.

The interviews are between 25 and 35 minutes long, but each is taking about 4 hours work to transcribe - half a day each. It's not mentally demanding, and my touch typing is definitely improving in its accuracy rate, so at the moment it's fairly relaxing in comparison with all the coursework that is clamouring for attention: an essay about Social Marketing, a research proposal about something I saw on my placement, a plan for a nutritional intervention in a community of my choosing, and a poster and short presentation about the role of Dietetic Assistants.

I did the final two interviews today, and the next job (after transcribing them) is to examine the transcripts for 'themes', and thoroughly analysing what people have said. There's a software tool to help with this, and I shall be getting an introduction to that in a couple of weeks together with other students who will be doing the same sort of analysis.

I really enjoy interviewing. The first two volunteers were in Birmingham, and I knew one of them quite well from when I used to work there. The other five interviews have been at drop-in sessions run by the local Society for the Blind, and it has been an absolute pleasure to work with them. All my volunteers have been interesting, warm, pleasant people, with amazing life stories to tell.

I've been asking them about any difficulties they have had due to their visual impairment when shopping, cooking or eating out. I've also asked them about the history of their sight loss, and a description of what they might eat in a typical day. Sometimes it has been a little tricky to focus the conversation on these topics, and I've heard about all sorts of other things too.

Transcribing the interviews has been very revealing too, in terms of the manner in which I ask the questions, and the extent to which I have been listening to the answers. It ties in nicely with my particular interest in carrying out effective consultations, and with the research I took part in a few weeks ago, when I was a simulated patient with type 2 diabetes. The complexity of communication between clinicians and patients cannot be overestimated; it is extraordinarily difficult.

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