A full set of data, at last!

dataThis week marked a very exciting, very important part of my PhD research: I completed my data collection! That means I now have a full set of data from 45 participants. Which is even more exciting for me, as I have experienced a few delays in my data collection.

At this stage, my participants have been divided into three sets: Generation Y (born 1981-1997), Generation X (born 1965-1980), and Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964). It is possible that I will divvy them up into narrower age groups for some or all of my findings, but this is where the groupings are at this time. Regardless, my intentions are to analyse my data through an age-based lens. (With an open mind to considering other ways of looking at the data.)

Each participant provided three general types of data: Some general background information about their education levels, employment, and social media history; information from a week’s worth of data collection; and the responses from their interviews. The background information will be used to help me classify my findings during the analysis stage and may help to determine sub-groups within the generations or other age bands. The data from diaries and interviews, however, will largely be treated as the same type of information—at least in the beginning.

Now that I have all of my data, I need to complete the transcription of the interviews. And then it will be time to code everything up before the all-important analysis stage. I will share a bit of insight into each of these steps as I go along.

Things are certainly looking up in my world of PhD dreams… and I am feeling more and more confident about those dreams becoming a reality. And that means that I will likely be sharing a bit more of my progress and thought processes with you. But for now … it’s time to crack open a bottle of Prosecco to celebrate this great research milestone!

Data delays

2015.12.11.deadlinesI began recruiting participants for my main study in early-September. At the time, I had this silly notion that I would be finished with my data collection by the end of October. Easy-peasy, right?

Wrong.

Because that naïve notion came with the assumption that people would be so excited to participate in my study that I would have all of my participants identified and signed-up by mid-October. But by the time October came to an end, only seven participants had completed the study—less than 20% of my total sample of 45 people. (I didn’t even have all 45 participants by then.)

So… that was my first delay for my data collection.

But by that time, I had increased my participant numbers enough to where I thought I might be able to finish my data collection by the end of November—so long as I could identify a few more participants. But then, as often happens, some participants withdrew due to other commitments (whilst some just never responded past their initial agreement to participate). It happens. And It’s nothing personal, right?

By mid-November I found myself sending out more calls for participants, wondering just how I would manage to find a full set for each of my three age groups. And I realised—with great disappointment in myself—that I would have to delay my desired data collection deadline to the end of December. That’s OK though, because it’s only a two-month delay, right? And surely I won’t have to delay again, right …?

As November began to crawl to an end, I was excited to see that I had all of the Generation X participants I needed—and I even had inquiries from enough Generation Y- and Baby Boomer-aged people to complete those groups.

Yes, December was going to be my month! I just knew that by the end of December—by the end of 2015—I would have all of my data collected. And for a while, I was actually convinced that I would actually manage it; that I would actually manage to collect data from all 45 participants (15 per group).

In fact, by the 3rd of December, I had successfully completed data collection for Generation X. (Which is my generation group, so I took extra pride in my fellow X-ers for that.) By that time I also had a full set of volunteers who were on track to complete by the end of the month; by the end of the year.

However, as often happens, I lost a couple of people again. Darn! (No hard feelings; I totally understand that other things come up.)

I am now sitting on the very edge of my (delayed) goals of completing data collection by the end of 2015. I have enough volunteers (and a couple of back-ups in case there are more withdraws). I have two more interviews scheduled and another three tentatively scheduled. I also have two participants geared up to start the process next week—which might give me just enough time to get their interviews completed before the Christmas holidays.

In fact, it is possible that I will be able to complete my data collection for Generation Y before Christmas—assuming no one drops out before then. (There are only three more interviews to go for that group, two of whom might be done before next weekend.)

However, I won’t be able to complete my Baby Boomer group until the New Year as I still need one more (confirmed) participant—and two of my participants can’t begin the process until January. (I need a total of six more completed data sets for that group, though one is scheduled to complete tomorrow.)

Am I a bit disappointed with the delay? Yes, of course, I am. Not because of the participants (for whom I am ever-so-grateful) but because I didn’t anticipate the process taking so long. I’m disappointed in myself for not having started to recruit earlier and for not having developed a better way of communicating with potential participants to minimise attrition rates.

However, a PhD isn’t just about the research and the thesis. A PhD is about learning how to do academic research. It’s about making mistakes and learning from them; it’s about creating best practices for the future; it’s about trial and error and coming out on the other end as a successful researcher.

So, are my data delays a failure? No, not really. They are merely a lesson in how best to manage the process for the next time. And explaining these learnings will be a great way to pad out that 80,000-word thesis at the end of it all!

And, of course, at least I can go into the New Year fairly confident that I will have successfully completed my data collection by the end of January. I think. I hope. And I pray.

(And again, I have to say thank you to all of the people who’ve participated so far. Because without you, there would be no data. And no data means no PhD!)

A recruitment ramble

2015.11.06.recruitment-low-6629310209_b41f348fc3_oI began recruiting for my main doctoral study in September. When I did so, I had this naïve vision of finding enough participants within a few days and completing my data collection by the end of October. Though I did give myself a wee cushion, realising that some participants might not complete the study until mid-November, I had expected that I would be done recruiting people long before then.

Only the reality of participant recruitment began to present itself early on. Still, I had hoped that one or two strong social media blitzes would get me the numbers I need.

But here I am at the start of November, still trying to find more participants for my study.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a complete ghost town around here. It’s just that it’s a little (a lot?) more challenging than I had hoped it would be. And I don’t know why. I mean, it’s an exciting study, right!?

I am trying to find 12-15 people in each of three age groups:

  1. Generation Y: Born 1981-1997
  2. Generation X: Born 1965-1980
  3. Baby Boomers (or older): Born 1964 or earlier

My recruitment process has been fairly basic. I’ve created a short description of the research and a general overview of the participation activities, along with a short form to fill out for more information. From there, I send on a fuller description of participation details, along with the option of completing diaries electronically or by hand.

Once I hear back from potential participants, they are sent a second email with a consent form and diary instructions—as well as a couple other bits of information and a prompt to schedule an interview. Then there might be a couple of follow-up emails to answer questions, check in on the diary process, and confirm an interview time.

If everyone who noted interest followed through, I would have more than enough Gen-Xers and Boomers. But I would only have 11 Gen-Ys. And if everyone who is actively engaging with me completes, I would have enough Gen-Xers. But I would want another 2-3 Boomers—and twice as many Gen-Ys.

And it’s those Generation Y folks who have me stumped!

I honestly thought that younger people would be more eager to participate in a study about online information and personal reputation. I honestly thought that these people would jump at the chance to talk about how they engage with social media.

Instead, it’s people from my own generation (Go, Gen-X, go!) who seem more eager to participate. And, to a slightly lesser extent, the Boomers are noting an interest.

But then life gets in the way and people decide to withdraw from the study.

I’ve spoken with other digital researchers and have heard that they, too, have struggled with finding “younger” participants, so I know it’s not just me. But that knowledge doesn’t help me find a solution.

I am trying to reach out to the younger people I know, to ask for their help in spreading the word. And I am trying to think of clever and interesting ways to reach the Gen-Ys I don’t know. But I’m running out of ideas—and time!

Still, I’ve not given up all hope; I’ve not considered shouting defeat.

But I am—as ever—happy to hear thoughts and suggestions on recruitment in general or recruiting those young whipper-snappers! (And I’m happy to hear from potential participants, too!) And hopefully, I’ll be sharing a story in the not-too-distant future about a full set of participants.

[Note: Image by John Seidman, sourced on Flickr and used under Creative Commons License.]

Participants wanted!

help-meI am currently recruiting for my PhD research and would love some help in building my participant list. I am recruiting participants aged 18 and older who live in the UK and use social media and social networking sites.

The study will investigate the role of online information in creating, building, and assessing personal reputations. I am using a combination of participant diaries and interviews to gather data, and aim to complete my data collection by the end of November.

Participants will be asked to keep a diary of their social media use for one week followed by an interview. Diaries can be completed by hand or electronically, and interviews can be face-to-face or via Skype.

If you are interested in participating, please visit my recruitment page.

And if you could please share this page with your connections, I would appreciate it!

And, as always, thank you for your support and encouragement as I work towards becoming Dr Ryan!