Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Starting to research

decorative bargeboard and old-fashioned lamppost
I have embarked upon the interview phase of my research project. This is all about finding out about how real people who have vision impairments make choices about their diet, and what the difficulties might be, in order to inform the dietetic profession and perhaps contribute to the sum of human knowledge.

I am down to three organisations for my subjects, since my contact at the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association had changed jobs and wasn't terribly encouraging about the options for interviewing guide dog owners. To be honest, it would have been difficult to meet the requirements of the Medical Ethics Committee who gave me permission to carry out the work, because I would have had to meet my volunteers in unfamiliar places and out of work hours.

The main source of my subjects is therefore the Warwickshire Association for the Blind, and I went along to one of their drop-in sessions last week to canvass for volunteers. Out of the five members present, one lives in a residential home and so is limited in his food choices by that environment, and one has a sight impairment but isn't registered as blind or partially sighted, so can't be included. I have lined up the three others for interviews, and may be able to recruit one or even two more next time I visit.

I have actually carried out two interviews already, using my other two organisations to provide volunteers. It was a very new experience and there's room for improvement in my interviewing. It's a difficult balance trying not to ask leading questions, but still prompting when the subject isn't sure what my questions mean. I'm not familiar with the dictaphone recorder that's been loaned by the university, and despite practice I worry that I've erased something by mistake, or it hasn't recorded, or the sound hasn't been picked up properly. Next I have to locate the transcription equipment that the university owns, to help me transcribe the interviews word for word. Getting my hands on the gear may be more difficult than it sounds.

Another lecture has gone by in the Community Nutrition module. It was an all-day exercise in groups, where we were given the task of devising a food-based intervention for an imaginary population of lone parents at risk of heart disease, living on a council estate. What makes this noteworthy is that I actually enjoyed myself. It was down to the group I was in, who made me laugh all day, often due to their inability to concentrate on the task in hand for more than about 30 seconds.

It might have been irritating if it had been an assessed exercise, or if I had been intent on squeezing the most possible benefit out of the day's teaching, but instead it was just fun. A chance remark about fried chicken led to a story about a trip to KFC in Loughborough. Fruit on the desk prompted discussion of russet apples looking like pears. There was talk of whether it is bad to lie to someone about the kind of car one drives, what type of robes university graduates wear, what photos people carry in their wallets, whether one should fancy boys who look like your brother, which of the three marker pens we'd been given smells the nicest, how one's husband has been coping with revising for an exam for the first time in about 30 years (oops, that was me), and no end of other spurious chat.

Yes, Mr A has taken his first exam for his Open University course, on some sort of computing topic. He has the same ambition as I do about doing as well as possible, and he has been revising hard for at least a week. I believe it went quite well, and going through the process has given him much food for thought on how he will adapt his approaches to learning for the remaining modules of his course.

I have now made my choices for the C placement, of which two are too far distant to commute. We should be notified of the outcomes before Christmas. Of course I may get allocated to somewhere else, but I'm ready to face the probability that I won't be living at home for those 12 weeks.

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